My grandfather was an immigrant. He came to the United States from Denmark by way of Ellis Island, and settled in Oxford, Mississippi. There, he met my grandmother.
Many things happened to my grandfather in those early days in Mississippi that forever shaped his life. First, he witnessed the horrors of racism and the blind eye of the church. My grandfather was so appalled by the lack of love and action toward those who were being treated unjustly that he walked away from the church forever. He couldn’t understand how anyone could preach about a loving God yet show such hatred. He wanted nothing to do with Christians.
Second, my grandfather saw hypocrisy in the government. To him, democracy was a sham. It claimed to be “for the people,” yet he saw that the black community had absolutely no rights. My grandfather joined the Communist party, believing the socialist government would help all people.
My grandfather’s alliance with the Communist party and his taking up the cause of the black community in the early 1960s made my father’s young life very difficult. He was viciously persecuted by the white community, as evidenced by a prominent scar that stretched from the top of his forehead to the tip of his chin, where a man had sliced him with a knife.
My father became overwhelmed by the constant turmoil, and his life began to spiral downward. For years, he battled alcoholism and a gambling addiction. During this time, however, he met my mom, a young Methodist girl. She began to pray for him. Several years later, my father came to faith in Jesus Christ. I was in my mother’s womb at the time.
Excited and burdened for the soul of his father, my dad returned home to share the good news of his salvation—but my grandfather was anything but pleased. He laughed at my father, told him he was crazy, and refused to speak to him for two years. Not a word. My dad, committed to his faith, pursued his education, attended seminary, and became a Baptist preacher who sought to love all people to Jesus Christ.
It was in this context that I was raised. I watched as my father’s passion for people to know Jesus grew to enormous proportions. I also saw the deep burden he had for my grandfather, who was not a believer. Jesus had restored my father’s life and delivered him from alcoholism, a gambling addiction, and the pain of being rejected by the church and people in the community. He wanted all people—white and black—to experience the same freedom. The Gospel of Jesus Christ was for everyone.
My father’s passion amazes me. Here was a man who was bullied because of his family’s alliance with the black community. How easy it would have been for him to become bitter and angry and a persecutor himself. How easy it would have been for him to hate the church and walk away from it. But he didn’t. Instead his love grew, and he became more determined to lead the church in the way of Jesus. He opened his church to everyone, regardless of skin color.
It was a stand many folks weren’t ready for in 1974. I remember one frightening encounter with the Ku Klux Klan. My father was pastoring a church in South Arkansas, when a group of his deacons and members of the KKK visited my home late one evening. They told my father that if he continued to allow people of color to come to his church, something would happen to one of his kids. Meaning me.
I’ll never forget the courage of my father as he stood against pure evil. Looking those men in the eyes, he said, “If you ever step one foot in this yard, I will take you out.” As you can imagine, he was fired from the church.
You know, my father might have lost his church that day, but he won the heart of his son forever. He showed me what it means to be a man of integrity. I was just a teen at the time, but his convictions, faith, and love for people became the foundation on which I now live my life. Like my father, I have a driving passion—or you could say a sense of obligation—to be a debtor of all men for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And like my father, this passion led me to become a pastor.
I’ve never made it an overt mission to diversify First Baptist Orlando. I simply made it a mission to love all people. As a result, I am now privileged to pastor one of the top five most diverse churches in the country. On any given weekend, our services can be translated for our church family in four languages.
What an honor it is to shepherd God’s people from various races and nationalities. I have a front row seat where I get to witness the love of God unifying hearts, transforming minds, and restoring lives. I wouldn’t miss it for the world!
Written by David Uth
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