Back in the early ‘90’s I was asked by a pastor friend of mine if I would consider being the youth pastor for his church in Detroit, Michigan. He didn’t really need me for a long term stay... only long enough to set up a children’s church and train someone to be their leader. I, of course, was thrilled to accept the call.
“I have only one caution before you accept.” the pastor said to me, with a curiously nervous voice. “My church is in a very rough part of Detroit. A white man wouldn’t be safe walking the streets alone after dark.”
That didn’t bother me at all. I’m the type of person that has never believed people are as bad as their reputation. I wanted to go set up a children’s church so the neighborhood wasn’t about to slow me down.
“By the way,” he added, almost casually, “You will be the first white man to ever teach or even attend our church.”
So I understood clearly that my mission was going to be... interesting.
I arrived in Detroit three days before we were to have our first children’s church service. The pastor’s family welcomed me with a hospitality I had never experienced before. Several congregation members came over to greet me and size me up as I met and interacted with their children. I knew this was going to be a wonderful time... almost too easy. The kids seemed to love me from the very start.
The first Sunday morning we had more children come to church than what our small room would hold. Obviously, kids had been spreading the word to their friends about this strange man that was going to be in their church. We hurriedly prepared a larger room with enough chairs to get by for that day and we all transferred into that room for our first service. I sat the children down and introduced myself. I told them I was from Oklahoma and they thought that was funny for some reason. They wanted to know if I was a cowboy or an Indian. I assured them that I was neither one. Then I told them a little bit about my life. I accepted Jesus when I was a child about their own age. My teen years were wild, my adult years were boring and my life now was completely changing. After a few minutes of letting them get accustomed to me, I asked if they had any questions they would like to ask.
One child toward the back of the room stood to his feet. All the children looked as though they knew this was going to be a confrontation. The child scratched his head and looked me straight in the eyes. He shuffled his feet briefly as he gathered his words, or, more likely, his nerve... I wasn’t sure which.
Then he said “My name’s Pete and my Daddy says Jesus is black. What do you say?”
I was floored by the question. It was certain that this question came from the parents, not this child. I was being tested. No matter how I answered that question I was likely to be reprimanded by parents who felt I was unqualified to give an answer on that topic.
“Pete,” I said, “that is an excellent question and deserves an answer. But can I ask you a question first?”
“You’re the teacher. Do what you want.”
“Pete, your Daddy told you Jesus is black. If He IS black, would He still love me?” I touched my skin for emphasis. “I’m very white.”
“Of course He would love you. He’s Jesus.”
“What if He was white? Would He still love you?”
“He’s Jesus,” Pete said strongly. “Jesus loves everybody.”
I smiled kindly. “You are absolutely right, Pete! Jesus loves us all.”
“You ain’t gonna answer the question, are you? My Daddy don’t lie. Do you think he lied about Jesus being black?”
“No.” I said. “But let me show you something that is far more important than what color Jesus’ skin might have been.”
I turned to a cork board on the wall behind me and removed a push pin. I held my hand up and dramatically poked my finger with the pin... just enough to get a drop of blood to show.
“What color is my blood?”
The kids looked bewildered but one of them finally got it out that my blood was red. I held the push pin high so the kids could see.
“Who will volunteer to find out what color YOUR blood is?”
“IT’S RED!!!!” The entire class responded immediately and in unison.
“And do you know something? The blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ was just as red as yours or mine. THAT is what is important because it was His red blood that was shed for our sins. It was His red blood that paid for our way into heaven. It was His red blood that makes us all members of one big family... the family of Christians.”
Pete had sat back down so I went over and put my hand on his shoulder.
“I really look forward to meeting your daddy.” I said. “Now, what do you say we have church?” He smiled at me.
Many years after that experience I still think about the truth I learned that day. I was raised in times of racial strife but it wasn’t until that day in a Detroit children’s church that I realized who my Savior really was. WOULD I have followed Him if He was not exactly what I expected Him to be? He is the Son of God. I would serve Him even if he was green with orange polka dots. It doesn’t matter because He is my all in all. I will follow HIS leading in my life.
And do you know where He has led us? Into ALL the world... red and yellow, black and white. We’re ALL precious in His sight.
That leaves NO room for prejudice.
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