The Life of JaWS

A blog by Jason Sansbury

Friday, August 25, 2006

Is it 1943?

From the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal:

"SALTILLO - Twelve-year-old Joe recently asked Jesus to live in his heart.
Yet the church where Joe accepted his Savior not even two weeks before will no longer allow the biracial boy to enter."

In short, the article is about how a church decided race was more important than the love of Christ. It is really unbelievable. What is sad is that the child had evidently been involved in the life of the ministry of this church.

In the early 1990s, I worked at a church that shall remain nameless. It was in a denomination different than the one I am most accustomed to. The church was located in a thriving part of Augusta in the 1950s and 1960s until the decision was made to put an overpass right over its neighborhood. So the community it was located in suddenly underwent a major demographic change that the church never made. It was a lower class white congregation when I began serving there doing youth and children ministries. In the midst of my time there, I began to make some inroads to kids that were from the church's neighborhood, mainly because we had a monument to 70s gaudiness in a youth room complete with pool, bumper pool, etc. So in a run down neighborhood, once the Boys Club closed everyday, we became the place to hang out. It was great ministry until it began to bother some of the older folks.

From there, I had several run-ins with people. Once an elderly lady told a young African American girl that she wasn't allowed to use the restroom at the church. Several major run-ins that were for the most part handled by a fantastic senior pastor, who exemplified the idea of loving the church even when it is majorly messed up. (His sexuality was called into question at a church elder's meeting once, despite the fact that he was married and had a loving wife. And the sexuality question was just being used to give him a decrease in salary.)

So here is the best story of the time there and the part that leaves me hopeful for the future.
As the outreach to these kids grew, some of them started coming to youth group and eventually youth retreats. In particular, a kid I will call Carlos started coming a lot, asking a lot of questions and was clearly trying to find himself through some tough times. He was involved in a gang, though I should clarify that being in a 1990s gang in Augusta, GA isn't like hardcore gangsta land. But it was a real struggle for him.

So Carlos goes with us on our fall retreat and accepts Christ. Completely surrendered to Him. He counted the costs, all of them and made the decision to put Jesus in charge of his life. And he really did. Over the next month, God began to do some amazing changes in Carlos. He became more gentle, discovered that he could be a great student with some help, started caring for his little brother and sister. He left the gang. That isn't to say that Carlos was perfect. He had some issues that were still there: he smoked, he drank some, and he had a pretty foul vocabulary. But I just tried to love him and encourage him and realize that God was way bigger than I ever thought he was.

So about a month after the retreat, the pastor asks if I can have some students share at a Sunday night worship service. I ask for volunteers and get a couple, including Carlos. I just coached them a very little bit, encouraged them to be real, honest, authentic. Think about what you are going to say but don't write down something and read it.

That Sunday comes, the first two kids do a great job articulating what God is doing in their lives through the youth ministry at the church. Then Carlos gets up and he starts off fine explaining a bit about who he is and where he came from. He talks about feeling safe at the church, of feeling loved. And then he begins to talk about the fall retreat.
About 90 seconds in, he gets a little choked up. And then the tears really start to fall. He is sobbing. This tough, "gangsta" Latino kid is standing in front of all these old white people and weeping. And through his sobs, he is working incredibly hard to try and talk about who Jesus is and how He is changing his life. But it is coming out as jumbled phrases between his sobs and Carlos realizes it.

So he takes a deep breath, composes himself and says loudly and clearly, "Jesus is one bad MFer." Only he doesn't use MFer. He says it and he sits down. I have never in my life been in a place that was so quiet. All I can think about is how much of my stuff can I fit in my Chevy Sprint because I am certain there is about to be a meeting which will end with my release from my position at the church. The awesome pastor looks stunned and has this "you are on your own kid" look. (And who could blame him?!?) So as I am thinking these thoughts, sitting in the front row, well aware that everyone in the building is looking at me, I hear a pew in the back creak. And an older man clearly his throat. We all begin to turn and look. And he simply says "Amen!"

In that 30 seconds between Carlos' unique proclamation and this old man's affirmation, there was tension. And one of the older leaders of a church that had a bad history of racism, of pain, of hurt decided that caring for the people was more important than the color of a man's skin or his vocabulary. His affirmation, his joining his voice with Carlos' was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. He choose to love the one different from himself rather than trying to make him fit a mold.

The night ended with people thanking the youth, people coming to thank Carlos for his sharing of his story and with me still having a job. Because the truth is, Jesus is exactly who He is, no matter what language you use to praise Him.


At 1:28 PM , Blogger clave said...

That is fantastic! But what do I know, I am moving to a lily white neighborhood up north!!

At 7:48 AM , Anonymous Turff said...

This remains one of my favorite accounts from your life.

At 10:33 AM , Blogger Will said...

Dude. I have to stop reading your blog at work. I was just asked why I was tearing up.


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