One of the main takeaways from last summer’s prayer gathering at North Central University following George Floyd’s death and the subsequent unrest was the call to lament. Bishop Walter Harvey, the President of the National Black Fellowship of the Assemblies of God, prayed, “We grieve, Lord, with a grief that’s manifested with tears, with tough conversations and courageous actions.”
Living in the epicenter of a national conversation on race, it was a moment of prayerful introspection for all of us in the Minnesota District. We have continued to seek God and ask for wisdom on how to process and address what has happened in our own backyard. It has resonated not only in the metro area, but also in communities outside the Twin Cities like Red Wing, MN.
Pastor Tom and Malissa Johnson lead New River AG in Red Wing, a city of 16,000+ people, where they have been since 1996. Like many cities in Greater Minnesota, the population is slowly becoming more diverse. People representing different nationalities like Togo, Cameroon, Uganda, and Turkey, as well as a number of Native Americans, regularly attend. Tom candidly admits that the diversity of his church is more by accident than design, but at the same time he has created an environment where everyone feels welcome. As he puts it, “You preach the Word. You love people and see what happens. People come in, sense Jesus, and want to stay.”
As events unfolded last year, Tom wanted to communicate a biblical approach to the topic of race in his community. He reached out to Pastor Darrell Geddes of Christ Church International (CCI) and through the course of their conversation realized at the heart of it, most people were “disconnected and unaware.” Tom says, “If you do not get people from other cultures sitting at your table having a meal with you, you really don’t know what’s going on in the world. We are simply unaware of what other people live through. Understand their story. [Because] isolation destroys us.”
Tom and Darrell swapped pulpits this past fall. Darrell’s son-in-law, Stephen Crawford, taught a workshop at New River AG, and a team from the church did some work at CCI. They hope to continue to foster the congregational relationship with more connection points in the near future. Tom also recently had Pastor Maynard LaVallie (pictured above on electric guitar) preach at New River AG in April to connect with the Native Americans in his church.
This empathetic approach to connect people of different backgrounds on a personal level has resonated with people and is breaking stereotypes in the church and community. Tom says, “If you just read your Bible, do what it says, and say, ‘Holy Spirit, transform me.’ You can’t hate people.” It’s a simple truth for a complex world — the love of Christ is what brings us all together.