It was the summer of 1982 and I had just completed my senior year of high school. I was packed up and headed to New Orleans for the summer. Carver Baptist Mission Center in New Orleans recruited recent high school graduates and college students to serve in their summer programs with children and students. The recruiting letter explained that we would be serving in an African American neighborhood. I was one of a team of 28 eager to serve who came to Carver that summer. I left, armed with a brand new NIV Bible, a heart to serve and an eagerness often apparent in people headed for the mission field with a target and a goal.
My parents and my grandmother took me to Carver on the appointed day. We were met by Bro. Herbert Martin at the door. He was tall with an old fashioned flat top hair cut, filled with a contagious enthusiasm for mission work and...black. We stood there in shock while Bro. Martin explained the program to my parents-what was expected, where we would stay, etc.
Soon the other summer missionaries arrived and my parents and grandmother started the trip back home. I don't think any of them were settled about leaving me and I sure was not settled about staying. Although the presence of the other summer missionaries helped, I could not see beyond basic skin color. My lofty ideas were being challenged. They needed to be.
The summer was filled with heart change-both from the kids we served and in my heart. Although there are a tremendous amount of memories from that summer, one memory stands out the strongest. One of the tasks of the summer missionaries was to take turns riding the van for pick up. I don't remember if I volunteered or was assigned but the first day of picking up the kids for the summer program, it fell to me and my summer missions partner to help. As soon as the van left the mission center, Bro. Martin opened up a large box of ginger snaps (he ate these by the boatload), turned to me and asked, "So, Beth, tell me about your time alone with God today and what He said to you."
Now I am in shock that he talks about the Lord, well, like...he knows Him. Like, really knows the Lord. I have no idea what I said, or if I said anything at all. I do remember that Bro. Martin proceeded to ask the other summer missionaries about their time with the Lord and then, he shared about what God was showing him in the Bible and how those verses impacted him. As he shared, my heart was challenged. Here was someone whose faith permeated conversations and whose love for God was evident in His actions. Here was a black man whose faith was so vital and so alive that he couldn't stand it until he shared it with someone. I was used to having these conversations only in Sunday School and well, in a group of all whites. Not like, well, on a bus full of inner city kids, cookies flying around and in the noise and traffic of a metropolitan city.
Bro. Martin died this year...a fact that makes me very sad. It doesn't upset me because he is gone-his body is healed and he is with the Lord. But it makes me sad in that I never told him what he meant to me. Or how this girl experienced a deeper understanding of what it means to be a Christian-without bias or prejudice or preconceived notions.
Bro. Martin, thank you for investing in this eagertoserve but notwelltraveled girl and hundreds of college students just like me over the course of your ministry. Thank you for seeing, not what I was but what I could be as I grew into being a more mature Christian. Thank you for seeing past my faults and challenging me to become all I could be in Christ.
I hope that you know that the person I am today (and hope to grow to tomorrow) is because of your investment. I wanted you to know that my love for people of all colors and cultures started when I walked into Carver and met you.
I can't wait to see you again....I'll bring the ginger snaps.