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What will our story . . . your story be?

People naturally find comfort in seeking to be around those that reflect their version of normal, or those with whom they have a lot in common. Every person whatever the race, ethnicity, generation, gender, or socioeconomic status has a tendency to drift this way. It takes intentionality to step away from the norm and climb the mountain less traveled. 

Two women were asked to lead together as a part of the women’s ministry of a church. One black and one white. Their color differences were obvious and yes, everyone sees color. Isn’t that a beautiful gift?

They found the human struggle goes so much deeper than ethnicity and racial differences, and the histories and stories those entail. It’s whether hearts are rooted in love or fear. Individually and together they chose community over competition, and unity over division. This is the hard work of being human. 

I know this to be true because I am this white woman, and my dear friend that I continue to serve in community and ministry with is Rosiland Jones.

December 2020 vacation fun with my friend, Ros Jones.

People’s stories draw us into another world as we lean in and listen well. We are created for the language of story as humanity is drawn to it. We love to hear stories, and we get to decide the role we will play in our own stories. 

In February Mississippi Public Broadcasting, where I currently work, aired a two-part documentary on The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song. During this time a co-worker asked me to collaborate with her in writing about racial reconciliation and the church. At first the subject felt too vast, and with the current climate of our world – who needs to hear just another opinion? And yet, I could not escape an inner whisper in my soul saying, “Share the story you know.”

Here is that story: At the doors of the church greeters are intentionally black, white, brown, male and female, multigenerational, and of different socioeconomic status. The diversity doesn’t stop there, nor is it random. It continues on the platform with the musicians, the worship team and the pastoral team and throughout the audience row after row. You see it as the ushers help people find seats on Sunday mornings and feel it as you walk through the doors.  

The diversity is found from leaders and attenders of small groups, to men’s and women’s classes, to the security crew who turn off the lights and lock the doors. You see it behind closed doors where leaders discuss cultural protections, and learn better how to understand each other, solve problems, and work together. 

ChristLife Women at the Propel Conference December 1, 2018.
ChristLife women (love this crew) mixed in with other women attending the Propel Conference, taking a photo with Christine Cain on December 1, 2018. Of course, all you see is my hair with Christine’s arm around me on the right. Fun memories.

This is the story of a racially diverse church. This is the story my family and I became a part of over eight years ago when we moved to Mississippi. 

“So, why should a church go out of its way to welcome people of all colors and treat them as equals? “I believe it’s at the heart of God,” he says (Pastor David Hale).” – Katy Eubanks, Mississippi Christian Living Magazine, This is a Church Who Looks Like ‘the Heart of God

Pastors David and Nita Hale came to the Jackson, Mississippi area to plant a church with the vision of freedom and diversity of all kinds.

“I think we got here because we had a God-given vision to see people set free — from a lot of things, but (racial tension) is one of them,” he says.” – Katy Eubanks, MS Christian Living Magazine, This is a Church Who Looks Like ‘the Heart of God’ 

This may not be a familiar story. It’s definitely not an easy story. Walking out freedom from anything, including racial tensions that keep us bound, comes with a price tag for all involved. There are hard conversations, misunderstandings and uncomfortable situations to work through. This comes with the territory of stretching and growing together, while going against the grain of what we often see in society. 

I saw this up close and personal as I worked in the church office as an administrative assistant for Pastor David and Nita for seven years. Rain or shine, I heard these words almost daily as Pastor David walked in the door, “This is the day which the Lord hath made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.” – Psalm 118:24 What we say every day matters. It changes what we believe about what we see. This may be why Pastor David could hold such a powerful vision of freedom for his congregation, because he believed God’s words over His own. He chose his story. You and I can do the same.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday.” 

The pain of change comes with a price, and so does the pain of staying the same. One takes hard work, and a resolve to push through to a new, hopeful destiny. The other sets the stage for bitterness, hatred and division to grow deeper roots, which only causes more pain and devastation. 

It seems it is central to the Christian Church to live out their story by practicing the freedom upon which their faith is founded. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). 

This comes by humbling oneself, turning from wicked ways (2 Chronicles 7:14), seeking God, asking for forgiveness, forgiving others, and walking in God’s grace that He paid the ultimate price for people to have.

“Reconciliation in the Greek is katallassò and means a “radical exchange.” Nothing is more radical than exchanging historic division and hostility for friendship and partnership for the sake of Christ.” – Barabara Williams-Skinner, The Black Church and The Promise of Racial Reconciliation, The Seattle Pacific University Magazine. 

Stories educate us, open our minds to a new point of view, and help us have empathy. Stories can break down walls, evoke emotion and the realization that we all have a part to play in our present and our future. Stories give us models to follow, and to avoid, and to extract the best parts from, in hopes that we can create new pathways moving forward. We can all make a difference by engaging and being a part of the change we want to see in our world.

“Small disciplines repeated with consistency every day lead to great achievements gained slowly over time.” – John C. Maxwell

We can say radical change starts with the church, and I believe it does. It may be more accurate to say, it starts with me, and it starts with you. People make up churches and communities. We all have a role to play. 

What will our story be? What will your story be?

Cheering you on friend, in all God is stretching and growing you towards.

Joelle Povolni

Note: If you have enjoyed this piece, you will want to check out: You Have A Choice.

Update: I worked at ChristLife Church from January 2013 until February 2020. ChristLife Church, under the leadership of Pastor David and Nita Hale, merged with and became a campus of Word of Life Church in March of 2020. Word of Life Church, under the leadership of Pastor Joel Sims, continues to exemplify the principles that Pastors’ David and Nita Hale originally founded ChristLife Church upon. You can find more about Rosiland Jones and her husband, Coach Art Jones, in this article.

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