Today is the last day to download Manuela Blayne for free. It is a shocking little book about race relations.
Bruce Siegmund is the realtor who helped me sell my house in Ruston, LA, so I could move to Shreveport and marry my new love, John Cooke. Bruce published the following on his Facebook page. With his blessing I'm sharing it with you.
The national racial discussions are unsettling to me. I don't hear anyone talking about what I've experienced. I've been thinking a lot lately about what God has done in my life over the years. I originally posted this 2 years ago, but God continues to show just how much more He can do. I am the offspring of His goodness.
I was born a white baby in the heart of Mississippi. God must have a sense of humor. When I was in the 6th grade they integrated the schools where I was living in Lafayette, La. I clearly remember my classmates, including Clara Green Gibbs. The kids from my part of town and the black kids that were brought in on buses didn't mix very well at first. We had very different backgrounds. That year I got in a fight with a black girl name Eunice. I had caught her with my stolen notebook and confronted her. She responded by chasing me down and taking a few swings at me even though I had run from her into the boys bathroom! I know, I was quite a wimp, but I was raised NOT to fight, especially girls. Why would someone hit me after they stole me notebook? I still don't understand.
There is one thing that I remember from that whole episode. I distinctly remember feeling sorry for black men. I reasoned that because they would have to marry black women. Look at my limited experience at the time. Nobody I knew was marrying outside of their race in the 1960's. It's funny the small things we remember.
Fast forward to 1980. I'm a student at La Tech and am leasing a large 7 bedroom, 3 bath house in downtown Ruston that summer. I plan on renting rooms to friends to make money while I live there. The landlord tells me that I can't rent to Blacks. I don't think much about it because we didn't mix that much anyway. Not too long after that, without thinking, I invite my friend Robert Egbi, a student from Nigeria to live with me. Oops, I did the right thing without thinking about it. The landlord later said it was ok, since he was African. Not too much later I met another student, Larry Langlois, who happened to be black and was from New Orleans. He was active in the La Tech Chi Alpha Campus Ministry with me. He moved in as well. Oops again. I forgot what my landlord told me to do.
Larry was a Med Tech major and he invited one of his classmates to come to one of our Chi Alpha ministry meetings. Her name was Bren Jelks. She was also Black (There weren't any African-Americans at that time as they are now referred to). Bren didn't really want to come, but Larry was persistent and I guess God had plans. Reluctantly she came and God miraculously met her that day. She became a lover of Jesus.
I was a young campus ministry leader of that Chi Alpha group and I had a self imposed "no date" policy with the young women in the group. I just didn't think it was right for a guy to date someone he was trying to lead. I kept my distance, especially if she was cute! I sure enjoyed hanging out though with the new girl Bren. I wasn't worried about dating her since she was black. Nobody was doing that in the early 1980's in Ruston, especially if they were a Christian! We did however do a lot of group activities together which made for a great time for us to get to know each other.
Something happened though along the way. She became a best friend and then I kissed her! I fell in love with her and I really didn't know what to do. I was in the ministry, I shouldn't be doing that! We broke up and got back together 2 or 3 times in one week as we were both trying to be realistic. We really couldn't be separated though, we really loved each other. The leadership though of the campus ministry and the local Pastor had other ideas. They felt like it would harm the ministry of Jesus. Look people, we are still making dumb decisions today that we justify. We peacefully disagreed and parted ways, even though it hurt, I knew I had made the better choice. My identity was challenged, my dreams were shattered, but I had the one I loved and I had the support of friends and family. Many of you are reading this now. Thank you!
Fast forward to 1986 and I'm marrying Bren in Ruston at the same church that the pastor had opposed our relationship. A new Pastor had come and had embraced us and welcomed us. God loves reconciliation! Fast forward to the present and I now sit on the advisory board for La Tech's Chi Alpha Campus Ministry. Wow! God is NOT a God of judgment but of reconciliation. Mercy triumphs over judgement!
I could tell story after story of my marriage to Bren. Many of you already know the stories and have your own. Although I was worried about having kids with her at first, because of how hard "mixed kids" would have it in the world. Unless you were an adult in the 80's or before in the South, you don't know what I'm talking about. We decided to trust God anyway. Ooops! Six kids later in 10 years, God had blessed us abundantly. Bren even had a child while battling cancer. People thought we were crazy, but we had Hannah, our sixth child during that time.
In 1990 I was hired to teach Marketing at Grambling State University. I end up spending 19 years teaching and helping students there. I felt uniquely prepared by God to be there during that season of life. I could tell many stories. Many of you reading this met me during that time.
Bren's battle with cancer ended in March of 1999. The kids were ages 1 to 11 and were being home schooled at the time. So here I am, a white guy in Ruston, now a single parent with six mixed race kids. The ladies in Ruston never spoiled a man and his kids as much as they did me in 1999. They cooked for us, cleaned our house, kept the kids, loved on them, etc. I had to stop it before I got too fat and used to it!
Later that summer I traveled with Mark Boersma and a group from what was then known as Christ Community Church to Malawi, Africa with my oldest two daughters. Bren had insisted we go even if she died. During the two week mission trip, I did something that I didn't believe in, I fell in love with a young lady named Pamela that I was assigned to work with in the clinic that we were opening. I kept it to myself, but wrote her a letter upon leaving, letting her know that I would like to get to know her. Ooops! Seems like every time I did the right thing accidentally it brought about a great result!
The following summer I'm traveling to Malawi for a different kind of mission trip. I'm going to visit her and meet her family all over the country. That trip I end up getting engaged. So in the summer of 2000, Pamela and I get married in Ruston, La. So now I have an African (now African American) wife. Pamela is 22 years old at the time and I am, well, a few years older.
We've made 16 years of marriage now. We've added 2 more children through extraordinary circumstances. I've been elected to the Ruston City Council by the good people of Ruston, La. I've seen many of my kids leave home for college and graduate. Two of them have married and another is engaged and they are blazing their own trails for God. I've seen them travel the world themselves and struggle to make the right choices in a world that is often time backwards and upside down in its thinking. We have all struggled! I am more in love with my wife than ever before and I am so proud of my children and the choices they have made to become the young women and men that they are today. All along though I have found the best way to understand a situation and learn about someone is to LISTEN. Give them a chance and give them space. Love them as they are and listen. After you listen to them, listen to God.
What does the future hold? I don't know. I really never expected to be where I am now. I do know that when I choose to follow however God leads, no matter how strange it feels, or how uncomfortable it is, He is always faithful. You may call me crazy but I see God revealing Himself to people these days. I see our community and cities turning things around and falling in love with the God that loves them! I've seen God do more miracles in my circle of friends in this last year than I had seen my entire life. If you are looking for a better way, He is the way.
Back to the race stuff. Have I earned the right to speak and give my opinion? First of all, I don't have all the answers and I don't feel like an expert, but I know a little bit. I used to ask my students at Grambling, "If a race war broke out, which side would you be on?" They usually got confused by the question, and maybe you are too. Everyone wants to defend their "family". But what if you're wrong? In the end, I am not participating or taking sides in this division. There are forces at work right now that want you to join "their" side. If you choose a side, you are wrong. We cannot fight a race war and be right. Right now there is too much hate being spewed out on both sides. It needs to stop, but it won't stop unless you stop it in your heart and in your mind. If you have hate in your heart, you are not going to receive what I am saying. We ALL have experienced bad stuff in our life where people have wronged us. I have experienced that too, but we have to forgive or we become captives to our own hatred!
Here is where I am going to upset many of you. It doesn't matter who is elected President, they are not going to solve our real problems. Our real problems are heart problems that cannot be solved by a political system or a religious system. Both those systems will try and promise solutions that they will use to try and control your actions. God wants your heart and He has a different kingdom that is greater than those other systems. I'm not telling you to not vote, but I want to remind you that there is One who is greater than the President. He wants to rule your heart so you can fulfill the destiny he created you for.
Do yourself a favor today, and the world a favor too. Go out of your way to show an act of love to someone of another race, political party or whatever difference there is, just because it's the right thing to do. In fact, I believe God is putting someone different in your mind right now that He wants you to reach out to. Stamp out some of the division that creeps into ALL of our hearts by loving someone different intentionally! If you can't do it or you don't feel like it, ask God to help you. It isn't always easy! But just maybe you will discover something that God does within you that changes your heart a little at a time. You just might like the change. We could all use a change.
Feel free to share my story, it's God's story. God bless you all!