Our next post in the Summit reflection series is from Donearl Johnson, who hails from Pontiac, Mich., and is the co-pastor of Reverse. Donearl is an emerging leader in his community who was able to attend The Summit partially due to the nomination and sponsorship from one of our beloved Change Maker donors. This generosity allowed both Donearl and Sojourners a valuable opportunity to partner and learn from each other.
I think we’ve all been there: physically tired, emotionally battered, and spiritual frustrated. This combination of conditions often lead to the thought of wondering if anybody cares — not just for you, but for the things that you are passionate about. You may feel like the last person standing, the only one who has a sincere zeal for what you’ve been called to address.
This is what Elijah was experiencing in 1 Kings, chapters 18 and 19, and I’ll confess that prior to coming to the Sojourners Summit, I too suffered from a mild case of the “Elijah Syndrome”. I was feeling the weight and burden of co-leading an inner-city multicultural ministry (Reverse), as well as leading a social enterprise (My Color is Love) committed to making uncommon love common and pursuing racial reconciliation in a climate that is often passive and/or antithetical.
As in Elijah’s story, God responded to him in 1 Kings 18-19, informing him that there were many individuals who had not caved in; many who were still standing for righteousness, still pursuing justice, and still fighting the good fight of faith; and that the work was too great for him to quit. Having the opportunity to attend the Summit was God’s response to me and a cure from my ill. The Summit provided an opportunity to witness and experience an army of individuals who were sincerely fervent, eagerly pursuing peace, and committed to justice for all. I must admit that I had never been to a conference where the attendees were as passionate, diverse, and yet connected.
The Summit provided a unique setting that brought together leaders from the business and urban communities, others from the front lines of inner city racial inequality protests, and rural communities of both national and international descent.
There were times when we heard from the heart of those who took the stage, and then more intimate times when we discussed and wrestled with hard topics with those sitting right next to us at the table. I was fortunate enough to sit at the table with Amal, who traveled from Bethlehem, Palestine to attend the conference. She represented her organization, whose mission is “people building bridges”. The organization’s resolve to non-violence is inscribed on a stone in their garden with the words, “We refuse to be enemies.”
This conference brought together some amazing people that I may not have ever had the opportunity to meet.
One of most impactful highlights of the conference was toward the end of day two. Just before ending the main session, an opportunity was extended to receive prayer from the Elders. The Elders stood in the front of the room, and slowly but steadily people began to line up to receive prayer over them and for the work that they are committed to.
TJ — a co-laborer who by “classification” is Caucasian — and I — an African American — stood patiently as we watched others receive prayer. We stood in the line of C.T. Vivian, the minister, author, and civil rights veteran; one who is known for his work with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and a recipient of the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
When we finally approached this strong but humbled pioneer, we bowed our heads for prayer and opened our ears to hear wisdom. He laid his hands on our shoulders, paused, and then slowly stated, “This is what Dr. King and I fought for.”
Those words provided confirmation and encouragement for the work of modeling a congregation that is actively and intentionally pursuing racial reconciliation and modeling what the church should be. The feeling was indescribable.
I couldn’t help but believe that our presence before him in that brief moment also served as confirmation to him that his many years of prayer, tears, and service had not been in vain.
I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to attend my first Sojourners Summit, sponsored by Tom and Mary Beth. They are a couple in our ministry who are very familiar with the work of Sojourners and understood the work that the lead pastor DJ and I had been engaged in. They not only recommended us, but also sponsored our registration, trusting that the Summit would provide an invaluable experience. And that it did indeed! A special and sincere thanks to all who made this conference possible.