Friday, April 11, 2008

Dinner with the Contact Church's Supporters

"All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do" (Galatians 2:10, NIV).

The Contact Church of Christ started as an urban ministry. Before we were a church, we were a network of volunteers from area Churches of Christ who were working together to help the urban poor of Tulsa come to know Jesus Christ.

A little over 6 years ago, the church building at 49th and Tacoma in west Tulsa became available. At that point, the Tulsa Urban Ministry planted its first church, the Contact Church. We are a congregation specifically established to reach the urban poor with the good news of Christ.

Last night, we had a dinner to show appreciation to our supporters and volunteers from other churches. Janet, Christopher, and I sat at the table with Bob, Sarah, and Miriam Logsdon. Another man who looked somewhat familiar sat with us. He turned out to be the guest speaker for the evening, Anthony Wood. Anthony works with River City Ministries and the River City Church in Little Rock. Until a few years ago, he led Memphis Urban Ministry. He also happens to be a co-author of one of my favorite books: Up Close and Personal: Embracing the Poor. So it was nice to be able to get to know Anthony a little better and to hear him speak about becoming everything God wants us to be.

In closing this post, I would like to share this excerpt from his book:

"I (Anthony) grew up in a racist culture. My grandpa served as Deputy Sheriff of Boliver County, Mississippi, and later as Patrolman for the Clarksdale, Mississippi, Police Department during the fifties and sixties. He died when I was two years old. My basic memory of Grandpa centers on a dresser drawer full of guns, knives, billy clubs, and other weapons taken from criminals. After his death, Grandma would fascinate me by allowing me a peek into that drawer. Once I found an oddly shaped bullet. Grandma explained, 'Oh, that's the bullet from the only man your Grandpa ever shot.' Noticing the look of surprise on my face, she hurriedly added, 'But he shot him in the leg.' Struggling to satisfy a young boy's puzzlement, Grandma said, 'Oh, don't worry, he was only a n----r.'...

"I sat behind Cindy Minor in eleventh grade English. I kept our conversations to a minimum, unless no one else was in the room. As we talked before class one day, she offered me half her Snickers bar. As I silently reached out to break off a piece, someone walked into the room and groaned, 'Ugh.' You're gonna take that from her?'

"With my hands suspended in midair, I weighed Gene's comment. Should I eat a piece of candy touched by a black person or offend Cindy? My fingers never touched the chocolate. Cindy mumbled something like, 'I see.' Those two words were the last we ever exchanged...

"While in Alaska I met my wife, Candi. After our marriage, Candi got her first dose of bigotry in a most unexpected place one Wednesday night. Arriving late for Bible class one cool March evening (in Mississippi), we hurried into the worship service at a local church. We were greeted warmly by a brother at the door.

"A few moments later, a black couple arrived. We overheard them apologize for arriving late, but express their joy at finding a church. The same brother smiled and said, 'There's a church across town where you would feel more comfortable.' Their faces fell. They weren't welcome.

"That night, the Bible class studied the Great Commission. When the teacher, the same brother, got to the part about preaching the gospel to 'every creature,' he affirmed that we shouldn't be selective about the people we share the gospel with. The teacher smiled, looked directly at me and my wife, and explained, 'And blacks are creatures, too.' Their inconsistency between theology and practice reminded me of my own racist past and hardened my own commitment to see that multicolored Jesus.

"As I've come to understand the cross, I've become more aware of my own guilt with regard to racism and my own need to reconcile. The cross has freed me from my past. I no longer choose friends or work based on race. With Paul I say, 'We look at people no longer from a worldly point of view' (2 Cor 5:16)" (Up Close and Personal, pp. 68-70).

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