Originally published Monday, 15 August 2016.
I was 17 years old, pregnant, and homeless. All of my dreams had been shattered. I had scholarships to go to colleges across the country. Yet, there I stood, alone and hopeless. The next several years presented unspeakable hardships. I barely had enough money to make ends meet. I was at the lowest of lows - no money, no friends, and no hope. I was drowning. I was crying out in agony, nightly, as it seemed my life couldn't get much worse. It was at this very low moment that I decided to give the local church a try again.
I had been raised in the church, and although I had not been in quite some time, I knew I needed to try to get back. I was desperate. Maybe there was hope there. Maybe a friend. Maybe some encouragement could be offered. It was at that very time when I had no one, nothing, that I decided to go back. The embarrassment of having two children outside of marriage was almost more than I could bear. But then, the question arose, what church would I attend? You see, my two children were biracial - half African-American, half Caucasian. There were no integrated churches in my area. Where would I fit in? How would my children be accepted? Where could we go?
Those may be odd questions for some of you. Perhaps you have never experienced such a thing in your world or have never considered how race even factors into your life. But prior to giving birth to my first child twenty years ago, I don't even remember having seen a biracial baby! And so, race was quite a big deal for me! The months and years that passed after his birth presented huge racial hurdles for me. It seemed that both the black and white communities had plenty to say in the way of unacceptance. Some were outright racial slurs cast upon myself and my children. Some even went so far as to ask us to leave restaurants and malls and tell my little boy that he wasn't welcome to play in certain areas. But other forms of racism presented itself in more unique ways. Perhaps I was at work, and a coworker talked about "them," or maybe I attended a church service and overheard whispers of "them," quickly realizing that my children and I were the "them" they spoke of. The "them" was the race not represented in the conversation.
For years I struggled with demons from a past I had created, and I yearned for genuine connection in my local church. And while I grew to love the congregants at the church where I attended, over that next several years, I knew that my black friends would probably not be welcomed warmly. I eventually relocated to another city and found, to my delight, that many churches worshipped freely with all races. In fact, I walked into a church my first Sunday in town, and there were hundreds of flags hanging from their ceiling, representing the people of all nations. Tears streamed down my face. Finally, oh, finally, I found a place where I could worship with brothers and sisters of all races, and my children would know they were just perfect the way God made them.
I am happy to report that on a recent visit back to my hometown, I found that many of the churches are now integrated. Sadly, some are still not. Honestly, this article sat locked away in my drawer for a long time, as racism in my world doesn't present itself very often, in such an outright manner. But I knew that today, in light of my Baton Rouge, Louisiana residency, and the tragedies that exist here, as well as the racial tension that has followed, I must share my experience with you. Perhaps it is to shed light on the topic. Maybe it is to challenge you to search your own heart. Maybe this article was written just for you, or maybe it was written just for me.
I realize that some of you live in communities that are dominant in one race; therefore, your congregation is not as diverse. This article really isn't about how diverse your congregation is. This article is more about the heart of your church, your congregants, and you. A few questions to ponder:
- Are all races welcomed warmly in your congregation?
- Are a variety of races invited to speak at your church?
- Do you reach out in all communities, not just to serve them a meal, but to embrace their attendance in your services?
- Do you find yourself saying things like, "Oh, I have plenty of friends from various races. I'm okay as long as my daughter doesn't want to marry outside her race?"
- Does everyone in my life look like me? Do I fellowship, mingle, and vacation with friends from other races or ethnicities?
We are one church, serving one God, and Heaven will look like that church I attended oh so long ago with the flags hanging from the ceiling and the various races represented, so why can't we make it look more like that in today's churches? What can you do to play a part?
20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 1 John 4:20-21
Jennifer Maggio is an award-winning author and speaker, whose personal journey through homelessness, abuse, and multiple teen pregnancies is leaving audiences around the globe riveted. At 19, Maggio was pregnant for the fourth time, living in government housing on food stamps and welfare. She shares with great openness, her pain, mistakes, and journey to find hope in Christ. She ultimately became an 11-time Circle of Excellence winner in Corporate America. While a vocal advocate for abstinence, and sustaining today’s marriages, Maggio recognizes that single parenthood exists and is passionate about seeing these parents thrive. She left her corporate successes behind to launch a global initiative to see single moms living a life of total freedom from financial failures, parenting woes, and emotional issues. Her passion is contagious, and her story has been used to inspire thousands around the globe. Today, Jennifer works to ensure that no single mom walks alone as the founder of the national profit, The Life of a Single Mom. For more information and resources, visit the website HERE.