Recently I was in a meeting where a professor was talking about major changes in his life. One such change happened when he began studying at a seminary and a professor told him that he had racist tendencies. Acknowledging that his seminary professor was correct, he asked him for advice. His professor suggested that he move to Atlanta, Georgia for a period of time and then re-evaluate his life.
I was thinking that somehow God has placed people alongside me in my journey so that my racial tendencies were pruned out as soon as they sprouted. This has been true since I arrived from Eastern Europe at the age of sixteen. In my high school in Detroit, the whites and black students were almost even. However, I knew of students who stayed in their own groups, both black and whites. The best environment was found in the Bible Study Group. Over 100 students attended the meetings. We were able to create friendships and deal with the issues that were problematic in the city of Detroit, race being one of them.
Conversely, I went to a college that had less that 5% non-white students. Among my friends at college was a student from Nigeria. We played soccer together and were in classes together. We prayed together, we ate hundred of meals together and we even went on double dates together.
After college, I went to work in a meat factory in Detroit. One day one elderly black gentleman came to me and said, “Have you ever considered the ministry?” I said to him, “Why are you asking this question?” He replied that he was a deacon in a church and God has placed it on his heart to encourage me to consider the ministry. Interestingly, I was already accepted in a seminary, but decided to take a year off after college.
My high school and college friends were mostly guys. In seminary, one of my best friends was a black young lady from the South. She had lots of class and it was fun to be with her. We had classes together, we did church work together, we had lots of things in common and we did lots of traveling together. This was in the mid-seventies when busing was a volatile issue in Boston. One day we stopped at a store for ice cream. On the way out I said to her, “Did you feel anything different in that ice cream store? She started to laugh and said, “You little white boy! What you felt inside that ice cream store was hate! They hated you because you were with me!” I must confess that I have never had that experience before. It was very frightening to be hated because one traveled with a person of a different race.
Since I graduated from seminary over 30 years ago, I am amazed at the number of blacks who God has placed besides me to teach me how to avoid racism as a sin. At the same time in my relationships and in my classroom, I state that intentionally I do not plan to hurt anyone by what I say. If I say anything that they consider hurtful, they should let me know so that I will not repeat my mistakes.
I thank God for all of the people who He has placed along the way to fulfill the verse found in Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”