Joe faced one of the greatest challenges in his ministry at a church in the Mississippi Delta. During the height of the civil rights movement, he preached God’s love for all races. He was unaware of his congregation’s struggle with his bold declaration until the chairman of the deacons approached him. “What you are preaching is correct,” said the chairman, “but I want to remind you that the pastor who preceded you taught these people that segregation was God’s way. You can change them, but you need to be patient.”
Joe placed an advertisement in the local paper announcing “Visitors Sunday.” His congregation was preparing packets to give visitors when they learned an integrated civil rights group planned to attend the church. Joe knew some church members would go ballistic if the group came to his church. The rumor mill went into overdrive, and he cried to the Lord for help.
God spared Joe the task of pacifying angry church members when the integrated group failed to appear, but the Lord honored his patience and prayers. A detective on the local police force shared Joe’s burden for reaching young people with the gospel. They organized a Delta-wide crusade. Sixty churches participated in the December 1969 crusade held at a local high school. During the week, 3,500 young people filled the stadium with 5,000 in attendance on Sunday. The evangelist who spoke said it was the most integrated meeting he had ever attended.
The people at Joe’s next pastorate were more progressive than his last congregation. Several black students from Mississippi State University attended but had never joined the church. Even though the civil rights movement had calmed by the mid-70s, churches were still splitting over integration.
During a deacon’s meeting, one deacon asked the chairman, “What are we going to do if one if the blacks want to join the church?”
The wise chairman said, “Don’t worry about it; Pastor has a plan.”
His plan was to receive them, but he knew that’s not what they had in mind.
The following year, Kezia approached Joe. “I believe the Lord would have me join the church.” Joe knew accepting Kezia as a member could tear his church apart, so he stalled for time. He assured Kezia it would be wonderful to have her as a member. He gave her a book on Baptist beliefs and instructed her to mark anything she had a question about. She already knew what Baptist believed, but he needed time to enlist people to pray.
When Kezia finished reading the book, Joe told her some members might object and say rude things when he presents her for membership, but he had a plan. Baptist missionaries had led Kezia to the Lord. He was confident his missionary minded church members would not reject the fruit of their labor. Kezia understood her pastor’s predicament and agreed to give her testimony when he presented her for membership.
The rest of the week, Joe fasted, read his Bible, and prayed for God’s intervention. One afternoon he read in Psalms, “They who fear the Lord will rejoice when they see you because you waited on the Lord.” Joe paused and asked God what the verse meant. As he meditated, the meaning unfolded.
“They who fear the Lord” are God’s faithful people in the church. “Will rejoice when they see you” meant the people would rejoice when he stood before them to recommend Kezia for membership. He knew this would happen because he waited on the Lord. The peace of God washed over him. He knew his prayers were answered.
The following Sunday, Joe called Kezia to the front of the church and gave her the microphone. Kezia gave her testimony. Four people voted against Kezia’s membership. The rest of the church lined the walls to welcome Kezia as a member.
After the service, the congregation gathered around Joe and thanked him for removing the albatross of racism from around their necks. One man who voted against her said, “I wasn’t against that girl, but I just felt like my old pappy wanted me to vote against her.” The following semester, the man paid Kezia’s college tuition.