In the novel I just finished, “Someone They Can Trust”, black people and white people go to church together, pray together and study the Bible together. This should not be a big deal, given that the Bible presents a vision of God’s kingdom welcoming every single people group, but the U.S.A. has an abysmal record regarding racial equity, and our churches are mostly segregated.
The black church has been a place of refuge and safety for generations of African Americans, so it’s understandable if they want their churches to stay segregated. There are many reasons why white churches are segregated – they may reflect the reality of all-white surroundings, they may not know how to go about being welcoming to people of color even if they want to, or they may contain outright racists. Or all of the above.
Despite these wrenching realities, the bigger reality is that God’s Spirit of love is always working to break down barriers of race, class, age, belief and education. This novel shows a church allowing that to happen. We need to be able to replicate churches that are safe for people of color, which are also attended by white people. That’s why I wrote this book.
Joe Brooks inspires me because he reminds me of Jesus. Not just because he has a beard. Not even because he was always the guy leading the resistant donkey down the ceter aisle of church on Palm Sunday.
Joe reminds me of Jesus because he has been following Jesus for a long time, and we begin to resemble those we love and imitate.
One of the main reasons Joe started coming to our church, College Hill Presbyterian, was that he and his wife Helen had a sense of call to racial reconciliation. When they first came, our church was almost entirely white.
Soon after Joe began attending many years ago, he had some tough experiences – like the time he put his hand out to the greeter at the door, and the guy would not shake hands with him. He turned away. That would have been the end of it for me, but Joe stayed because he knew God wanted him to stay. That’s another thing that makes Joe like Jesus; he forgives people when they’re mean and racist.
He has given so much to our church community – teaching, tutoring, leading men’s groups, helping with kids’ worship dance, serving twice as a deacon and as an elder, not to mention unofficial security guard whenever the situation calls for it! I’m so grateful for all he has been for us, and all he has done for us.
The family and friends of Joe and Helen Brooks have added considerably to the size of our church. I cannot imagine the place without them. They have eighteen grandchildren!
The other reason Joe reminds me of Jesus is how much he loves God. The love and truth of God is on his mind and on his heart, and he always eager to talk about God in a way that makes sense to his listener. If you ever get a chance to talk with him (when he doesn’t have a group of kids flocking around him) ask him what God is doing in his life, then get ready to hear something good!