By Mark Etchell
Last Saturday, July 9, 2016, the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists invited all interested members and friends to come, wearing red shirts, to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. for the event #WeWillStandFirmUnited.
More than 1,000 showed up to pray, encourage, and come together in a positive way to show that within the church there is greater understanding than without. That’s great for those in the D.C. area, but what about those of us who would like to come together who couldn’t make it to the NAD event?
Our pastoral team in Augusta, Georgia, decided to spend time during worship affirming the need for the blacks in our congregation to be listened to about their experience of being black. I read the letter NAD President, Dan Jackson, and Executive Secretary, G. Alexander Bryant, sent out to our membership in the NAD and affirmed their leadership.
In our congregation, which is about half black, half white-other, two young adults came up with an idea. Amma Sarfo, who is black of Ghanian parents, and Elisabeth Etchell, who is white, desired to be part of the D.C. event, but knew it was too far to travel. These two have known one another for only about a year, but have become best friends. Why not give the blacks and whites in the Augusta First church family a chance to understand one another better. They stood up in front of the congregation and shared their desire that we have a satellite meeting, in red, at 6:30pm around our campus flagpole. This would match the time the believers in D.C. were coming together and would give us a chance to listen to and learn from one another.
At 6:30, we met around the flagpole and began to sing, share, listen, and affirm one another—though, as the discussion progressed, the whites realized how little we really know about the issues faced by blacks. Amma shared that when her brother heads out of the house and has on a hoodie, she may let him know he shouldn’t be wearing it where he’s headed, just in case someone doesn’t like the way he looks or the color of his clothes.
Another man, Robert Thompson, a former Adventist Pastor, shared that some years ago he and his wife were riding in the back of a car driven by a white Adventist pastor with another white Adventist pastor in the front passenger seat. A police car began following them and, after about 10 miles, pulled them over. When the white Adventist pastor got out of the car, the policeman was taken back. He had expected to see a black man driving the car as he observed two “afro-covered” heads in the back seat while following them. What Elder Thompson shared, however caught me by surprise. He remembered the Adventist pastor arguing with the policeman that he had done nothing wrong, that he shouldn’t have been stopped. As the discussion continued for a little while, Robert was thinking, “If I talked to an officer like my white brother, I’d be in handcuffs and on my way to jail.”
While Robert shared this, I was thinking of the many times I was pulled over when young and I knew the worst I’d come away with was a ticket.
For over 2 hours we dialogued, sang, shared Bible verses, and came together in a magical way. A number of blacks in attendance shared they never thought they would see a day with this degree of openness. A rather humorous exchange took place when Kojo Sarfo animatedly exclaimed, “Now, take Pastor Mark and me! We’re both black men…!” Kojo was drowned out by a roar of laughter so he rephrased his thought, “Now take Pastor Mark and me, I may be black and he’s white, but we’re brothers!”
We ended with prayer around the flagpole singing Side By Side We Stand and holding hands in a circle, alternating black and white. It was a moving experience and one which is just the beginning of even more understanding. We will be working toward more “getting real” events to understand one another better as we go out, united, to be and to “make disciples.”