“That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” 2 Corinthians 5:19 (NRSV)
As a newly arrived international student from Nigeria, I found myself in Southwestern Oklahoma in the mid-70’s, about to experience an act of bigotry against me unbeknownst to me at the time. On my first Sunday in this country, I went to a fundamentalist Baptist church near the university where I was a student in Chickasha. The pastor asked me to leave, but I didn’t understand why. Shaped by the strong Nigerian value of treating the stranger in your midst with great kindness, I returned the following Sunday. This time, when I sat down, everyone moved away from me. When I returned the third Sunday, the pastor showed me his gun. I didn’t go back anymore.
When I was told, “my kind was not welcomed,” I didn’t understand what was going on. Mistreating people based on the color of their skin was against the values that were so much a part of me. I was confused. In my naiveté, I shared my experience with students in the campus ministry group which I attended, and they were furious and wanted to seek legal action against the church. I told them that no legal action would be taken—at least partly because I didn’t even know what that meant. I told them that I was once forgiven by someone whose husband died in the hands of my army company during the civil war in my home country of Nigeria. I also shared with them how I experienced God’s forgiveness through scriptures when I was first introduced to it by a missionary, hence my conversion to Christianity. I was received and welcomed by the campus ministry group who introduced me to the folks at the First Baptist church in Chickasha. This church later became my family here in the United States.
I had the opportunity a few years ago to officiate the funeral of one the saints from the First Baptist church who became my host family during my time as a student there. She instructed her family to honor my family by asking my family to sit with her family during her funeral service. So the words of the Apostle Paul in Second Corinthians come alive for me in a very personal way.
Paul is letting you and me know that in Christ we are now reconciled with God and that God does not hold our trespasses against us regardless of what it is – even bigotry, war crime etc. It means that in Christ our relationship with God was restored. As we become aware of our restoration to God on a personal level, we become aware that we are also entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation.
In fact Paul is inviting us to look on one another with the eyes of Christ, with His hope and love. As we are reconciled with God, we are called to encourage one another to remain in the relationship that Christ has restored for us. Let us take the time to encourage and to pray for someone. Christ is always with us for He promised that He will never leave us nor forsake us.
Today, I call Chickasha, Oklahoma my home away from home here in the United States. Out of the sin of bigotry a life time relationship was nurtured, restored and sustained, and this relationship has spanned over thirty years. Only God’s reconciliation power could achieve this.
Grace and Peace to you as you read.