Written by Ruby on the occasion of her election to serve as a Deacon beginning in August 2012
Like many of you, I was born a Baptist. For a while I didn’t know there was anything else. The only other church in my little town was a Methodist church. I thought there might possibly be Methodists in heaven, but just in case that wasn’t true, I was glad I was a Baptist.
Although I was taught that God is love, I also learned about and feared God’s punishment. I thought there actually was a Book of Life where everything I had ever done was recorded and would someday be made known. The thought of hellfire was also ever present. Not very comforting to a child!
Although I graduated from a Baptist college and seminary, married a Baptist preacher and served several years with the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board working in inner-city missions, I still had a lot to learn, not only about Baptists but also about God.
Gradually I discarded some of the things that I had been taught. But then I had the problem of knowing what to discard and what to keep. I am still not sure I have solved that problem. But I have come a long way.
In the late 70’s I began working with the Baptist World Alliance in Washington, DC. Some of you here have attended BWA meetings and are familiar with its work.
As I worked and traveled to many countries with the Baptist World Alliance, I learned about different kinds of Baptists, even a number of groups here in the United States. But more importantly I met Christians in other countries from different cultures, some with different theological viewpoints and different ways of interpreting scriptures, but all deeply committed to God. I learned that while God is the same everywhere, one’s theology is often shaped by the culture in which one lives. And I learned to be ok with that.
One of my first eye-opening experiences was at an evangelism conference in Kenya when I heard a man describing some of the problems in his church. It struck me that even though far from home, I was quite familiar with the sort of problems he was describing, having seen such situations many times. I’m not sure why that made such an impression but I think it was at that time that I truly realized that we are all one in Christ, regardless of what we look like, where we live, and how we interpret God. I also realized how far I had come from a little town on the Ohio River in Oldham County.
An experience that taught me more about the love of God was in a little church in Siberia. No one in the church spoke English and a translator was present during the service. But the people in the congregation were anxious to interact with us. I can still remember the smiles on their faces and the warm hugs with which we were embraced as we came out of the church into the cool, crisp night air. Yes, they lived under communist rule, but the love of Jesus ruled their hearts and they wanted to share that love with us.
But my life had begun to change even before I started working at the Baptist World Alliance. In the late 60’s, we left the Home Mission Board and my husband was called to be on the staff of Shiloh Baptist Church, one of the largest African American churches in Washington, DC. This was less than a year after Dr. King’s assassination and the riotswhich devastated a number of major cities, including Washington, DC. There I learned the meaning of love once more. We were the only white people in the congregation but we were warmly received and loved. My sons grew up in that church and were mentored by loving and caring Sunday school teachers, and other adults whom they still remember with fondness and appreciation.
It was hard for me to leave that church and my friends in Washington, DC when I retired and moved to Louisville. I still go back to visit as often as possible. But I thank God that I have found a church like Highland, a pastor like Joe, and our other ministers who take a stand on so many things that are very important to me.
Throughout high school and college, I always said that someday I would be a missionary. I’m not sure if I really believed that was God’s call or if it was a product of my being so thoroughly immersed in church. Except for the few years I worked in inner city missions that goal of being any a missionary was never realized.
But through the years I have learned that there are many other ways to serve God and I look forward to continuing on my faith journey as a deacon here at Highland.