As a little girl, I remember growing up in a wonderful church, singing at the top of my lungs, loving God and loving each other. I couldn’t wait to go to church every week to hear the music and see everyone. I loved Sunday school and hearing the preacher tell us about God. I felt so safe and loved. It was a great place!
My sisters and brother sang in the youth choir and went on choir tours with Brother Jerry Swimmer, our minister of youth, who was a converted Jew. I was about 4 when he came to be our new minister. They were at the front of the church “accepting the call,” and the congregation went down after the service to welcome them. I walked down, put my hand out and said (what I had heard many times — and I meant it!) “Hello, my name is Ladye Love Long. If there is anything we can do for you, please don’t hesitate to call!” Brother Jerry said he looked at his wife and said, “Is that a little person?”
Through all of these wonderful experiences, I learned of God’s love for me and everyone. I loved the music, and the music drew me to the message. But I began to realize I not only loved the music, I wanted what they were singing about — I wanted Christ in my heart forever. I was saved in a revival at our church at age 7.
I was so excited about God’s love and wanted to tell everyone! A few years later, we were having another revival and “pack a pew” night. The visiting pastor told us to “bring everybody you know.” I was so excited. I went to school and told many kids — and I wouldn’t take no for an answer! I told them they’d love my church and have a great time. I was thinking how great it would be for them to experience this same love that I did, and I couldn’t wait for them to come. One particular friend of mine was LaShana; I knew she’d love it. So as everyone began to show up, I welcomed them and showed them where to sit. LaShana got there and I eagerly greeted her at the front door. As we walked down the aisle together, giggling and talking before the service, I began to feel something odd, like I’d never felt before — and it didn’t feel good. Nothing was spoken — just incredibly felt — and it shattered my world. Sadly, the place that I experienced the most amazing love of my life, I also experienced racism for the first time.
Later that night, I remember someone in my family politely trying to explain to me that some people there probably “were not comfortable” with me bringing LaShana. I was angry with them for giving me that explanation. I couldn’t believe my ears. I protested, “What? I thought we learned here that God loves us ALL and everyone the same ... that He gave His only begotten Son ... is this not true? Do we believe this or not?”
Suddenly, the little world I knew was gone. The way I looked at some people in the church changed. It really is a wonder that I didn’t walk away from church that day forever. Most people there would never realize that it even happened. I probably would not have — had I not walked down the aisle with LaShana.
That time growing up in church taught me something after a very painful time. That people are not God. That we all have human frailties. And that I cannot place all my trust in people — even in my church — only in God.
But I realized too that we are representatives of God. That sometimes we are the only Jesus someone may see.
I think we are to try to be more like Him and to put ourselves always in others’ shoes... How would it feel to be them? If that joke would hurt others, but not me, should I tell it? Would I tell it if someone of another race were there?
I don’t think we can just keep saying “I’m not prejudiced.” When we think through others’ eyes, we begin to know what to say and what not to say and there will be nothing to defend or define. People will see it. More importantly, they will see the love of Jesus.
By the way, 15 years later, LaShana was a bridesmaid at our wedding in that very same church!
(Pictured right: Ladye Love with friend and bridesmaid LaShana.)