Malik* arrived at Virginia Union with hope. He had a difficult life. His family fled violence in his home country, but not before he personally was marked by it. They were able to find asylum in the US, but Malik struggled finding a place in his adopted homeland. His experience, his values, his world was so different, but VUU was offering everything he was looking for. It promised community; a place where he could develop real friendships. It offered challenging academics; a place where he could grow his knowledge and ability. It offered purpose; a place where he could begin to bring change to a world that desperately needed it. Malik saw endless possibilities in his acceptance to one of the oldest HBCUs in the country.
Marcus Floyd, missionary associate with Chi Alpha Campus Ministry in Richmond, met Malik three years later. He was no longer brimming with hope, he no longer saw VUU as an answer to the challenges he faced. It was in fact another milestone in his life journey that was filled with disappointments. He struggled to find the promised friendships, finding either a highly competitive or apathetic environment instead. The promise of academics and purpose fell short too to the point where every semester he questioned why he remained enrolled. Marcus and Malik met through a mutual acquaintance. Jason*, a new member of Chi Alpha. He told him about the friendships he was finding in this campus ministry and Malik had to check it out. He visited once and was hooked.
Malik found, for the first time as a student at VUU a place of relationship. The people who were a part of Chi Alpha had genuine care and concern for him. Even though they didn’t share the same core beliefs, he was Muslim and this group was full of Christians, their love for him kept him coming back. He even signed up to join them on a retreat. That’s when it all came together. That’s when he realized the reason they were different. The reason why they loved and accepted him was the one thing that made it so unlikely to join them in the first place. It was Jesus. On Saturday night of that retreat weekend, Malik surrendered his life to Jesus.
Why is it vital to plant at HBCUs? We need to plant there because there are thousands of students just like Malik at every one of them. They’re looking for community, looking for purpose, looking for God. By planting loving, intentional communities on these campuses, these students can see the relevance of the gospel in powerful, life-changing ways. We owe it to students like Malik, and Jesus who loves and pursues them, to try.
*Names have been changed for privacy.
Recently, I have been reading a book called “Satan and His Kingdom” by Dennis McCallum. In one of the chapters, something hit me while I was reading. He talked about how Satan keeps us from taking territory for the Kingdom through distractions. He then gave an example about how Christians spent years--lots of money and energy--on prohibition (politicking to get alcohol considered illegal). This really did not do anything but produce anger toward Christians. “What does that have to do with diversity?” Well, I’m glad you asked.
For the past couple of months some NFL players have been protesting the American Flag because of police brutality toward African Americans. While there should be a Gospel centered response from the Church, the idol of patriotism has reared its ugly head once again. I truly believe the devil is using this to target God’s church in order to divide us and keep us from what matters most and what matters to Jesus: the souls of people. Is Jesus using this situation to show where our hearts are really at? Does Jesus care about our patriotism? Yes, I believe He does. If anything, I believe it shows where our heart truly lies: with Him and His Kingdom or with our country of origin and our nationality.
I know that this may sting, but let me challenge something. As a black man, I had to have a come to Jesus moment and choose which was more important, being black or being part of God’s kingdom. I had to “die to myself” and release my identity to join God’s kingdom and become His son. I’m not saying I had to give up my heritage or give up being proud of where I came from. What I mean is this: being black comes second to being part of His Kingdom. The same thing should go for pride in our nationality. The love of country and pride in our people should only come second to being part of the Family of God. Sure, we can be proud to be American, but being American should not supersede being a child of God and being part of His Kingdom. Our love of culture and country are offensive to Jesus if He does not come first. As God’s people, we need to reorient our lives around His purposes and His vision for His Kingdom. Here is how we can do this in light of social justice issues:
As God’s body, we should be “loving our neighbor as ourselves”, be “quick to listen and slow to speak”, and demonstrate fruits of the Spirit like love, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control. These things should rule our interactions with people, especially on hot topics like the NFL kneeling at the flag controversy. How can we claim to be fully part of God’s Kingdom if we do not allow his loving law to take priority control over our hearts, minds and actions?
Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. (Joshua 5:13-15)
Again and again, I find myself coming back to Joshua’s encounter with “the commander of the Lord’s army.” I feel it has something super important to say to the church today.
Joshua was Moses’ successor. Moses led Israel for forty years. He prepared the people to enter the Promised Land by teaching them God’s commandments, directing them in the construction of the tabernacle, and interceding for them through all their rebellions. He was the man for the preparation, but not for the advance. For entering the land, they needed a soldier. So it makes perfect sense for Joshua to lead the nation next. After all, the Promised Land would need to be fought for.
The first great battle, if it can be called that, was Jericho. God directed Joshua and Israel there. They had spied it out. They had prepared themselves. They eagerly anticipated and expected their first victory. This is where it began. They were there at God’s command and on his business, and yet…
And yet, when Joshua came near Jericho he saw a man in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. He asks a logical question, “Are you for us or our enemies?” This figure must have been somewhat frightening. I would guess he would be the type of man Joshua would want fighting for him, not against him. So I think his question to be both logical and prudent. It’s the answer that I think speaks to us still. “Neither.”
Even though Joshua was about to enter a battle that God himself had sent him to fight, the “commander of the army of the Lord” does not say, “I am here to fight with you. I am on your side.” No, he says, “neither”. The commander of the Lord’s army was not there to assure Joshua God was on his side, instead he was there to make sure Joshua and Israel were on God’s side. It is so easy for us to co-opt God’s endorsement for our side, our views, and our agenda. In just how many wars have opposing sides both claimed God was fighting for them? Are we not guilty of this still today?
Does this mean God does not have an opinion on the battles of our day? I am pretty sure God has an opinion on pretty much everything. The question is, are we seeking it out? Are we humbly bowing down like Joshua did and asking, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” Are we getting on his side and working from there? Are we entering the holy place, seeking his face, and with trembling hearts and minds saying, “Father, show me your ways that I may walk in them?” Or, are we instead, giving into the spirit of the age and justifying our venting under the banner, “I have a right to my own opinion and can say whatever I want.”
There are lots of battles taking place in our nation today. The lines are drawn and people tend to pick one extreme side or another. Should those who claim to be Christ’s ambassadors enter the fray, shouting as loudly and meanly as everyone else? Should we not instead, stand out from the crowd? Jesus’ apostles included a tax collector and a zealot, representative from two extremely opposing sides of the issues of that day. They found unity, not on the issues, but by laying down their lives, picking up their own crosses, and following him. There cannot be unity in the church today, unless today’s disciples are willing to do the same. This is the starting place. Like Joshua there will be battles we will need to fight, but like him, first make sure we bow down, humble ourselves, and get on God’s side.
You have probably heard about the protests and the ongoing unrest that has erupted yet again in St. Louis. If you have not, then it is likely because you have, like many, grown so frustrated with racial issues in the U.S. that you have decided to drown it out or ignore it. Living here in St. Louis makes it hard to ignore, and more importantly, ignoring it is actually the problem.
When I moved to St. Louis from Cincinnati, Ohio I heard that there was a significant racial divide here based on statics and the racial demographics of the city. There is a street called Delmar that almost divides the city in half, North and South. This street has acted as a proverbial railroad track for the city, as 95% of the African American population of the city lives north of these “railroad tracks”. I know, it almost seems impossible, but once you live here you not only come to recognize it as being true, you can also visually see the historic effect of this “railroad track” divide.
South of Delmar, the city has continued to develop with businesses and new construction happening. You see early 20th century million dollar brick homes surrounding the historic Forest Park along with the History Museum, Science Center, Washington University and St. Louis Zoo. It is the place to live and be when you want to engage with what's new and great about the city. However, literally two city blocks north of this icon of wealth is the polar opposite. There is vacant lot after vacant lot and burnt out and abandoned homes. You can see the same large 20th century brick homes that decorate the neighborhood south of Delmar, only these homes are boarded up, abandoned and in disrepair. It is almost as though 75 years ago someone drew a line down Delmar Blvd and said all development money will go south of this line and nothing will happen north. The wealth, which at the time was 100% connected to race, will move south and leave the poor, which all but a few African Americans were at the time, will stay to the north. And so it has been done!
When I arrived, I found it hard to believe that no one, Black or White was talking about this blatant racial disparity. Is it as though the battle was fought, and people had decided it was better to ignore rather than deal with this issue. Which brings us to the protests that continue to happen in St. Louis today.
The shooting of Mike Brown and the acquittal of Jason Shockley has forced Black people in St. Louis out of silence. The unspoken agreement that was held before these events has been broken and now the protests are the icebreaker to the conversation that has to happen. And the protests and civil disruption will continue to happen until the conversations begin.
I think St. Louis is a microcosm of America. In almost every city there is a Delmar divide that has been created by historical inequality. And for a while everyone agreed to not talk about it because some progress had been made. But with the 2016 election of Donald Trump and his openly racist remarks and immoral behavior, the unspoken agreement has been broken and now the protests are breaking the ice for the upcoming conversations that need to happen. Just as NFL players protest during the national anthem or university students refuse to have people speak at their graduation, the protests will continue until the conversations begin. So let’s talk!