I have never met my biological father. Growing up, however, I didn’t think that was strange. None of the neighborhood kids had their fathers active in their lives, and only one of the grandchildren on my mother’s side had an active father present. I had been to a wedding, but I had no personal point of reference for what marriage was.
The presence of alcohol was common. My first introduction to alcohol was not a result of yielding to peer pressure in the back of the schoolyard. It was given to me by my uncles and older cousins as sort of a rite of passage. My ability to manage the beer was the metric of manhood.
My mom, along with her sisters, would go out on the weekends, and as a result I would spend a lot of time with my grandmother. One weekend while out at the club, Mom met my stepdad, Larry. We don’t use the word, “step,” because in truth, he is my dad because he raised me. And although they met in a nightclub, the pairing was arranged in heaven. Once the relationship matured, they eventually found a place together and we began our journey as a family, though they were not married.
While we lived in North Florida, Tallahassee to be exact, Larry’s mother resided in Fort Pierce, the southern part of the state. Though a devout Baptist, the mother of six had begun studying the Bible with a woman named Helen, a Seventh-day Adventist. The truth of God‘s word detonated in her soul like a grenade.
The African-American community needs the gospel of Jesus Christ.
After she was baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist church by Pastor Trevor Frazier, Larry’s mother decided to move closer to us. She found that the world’s allure had already begun to wane for my parents.
My dad often tells the story of how one night when he came in from drinking and was tempted to wake me and my little brother up, he was deterred by my mother. He then just watched us sleep. Sensing a void, a lack, and an emptiness—with no apparent cause—drove him to seek counsel from his mother who recently began attending church in Tallahassee.
I can recall the Saturday morning when my parents told me to get dressed because we were going to church. I remember thinking they had made a mistake because church was supposed to be on Sundays, and the best cartoons came on Saturday morning. I remember attending church for the first time. There’s so much about church that is strange when you are a kid. You don’t understand why people are so excited, and you can’t quite digest what fuels people to spend two or three hours in celebration of a God that you cannot see.
What I thought was going to be a singular trip to church grew into a sporadic pattern. Sometimes we would go once a month, sometimes we went twice a month; but eventually we got into a rhythm of going each week. I remember the elders coming by to study the Bible with my parents and then being very patient as I asked childlike questions about the Bible.
The most impressive part of the journey is that I was able to witness, firsthand, Bible conversion in my parents. For me there’s nothing phony about religion. Everything that was preached was authenticated in my home. Mom and Dad got married. Their young and somewhat volatile relationship began to settle. The alcohol in the home began to slowly disappear. The cigarette and reefer packs went away, as well. The language in the house radically shifted. Dad confronted my uncles about the drugs and pornographic materials that they would leave in his truck, and he placed a firm barrier around our home.
The shift that I am describing in a few sentences actually transpired over several years of God’s sanctifying power at work. What I would have described as a change of behavior was actually a change of thinking, the result of a renewed mind. I found the transformation irresistible, necessary, and I wanted in.
Eventually, my mom, dad, uncle, one of my first cousins, and I were all baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist church. Over time we would settle firmly into the church.
What I want every person who reads this to understand is that the preaching of the gospel has consequences. The only agency that can transform thinking and reconstruct the heart is the converting, vivifying and illuminating power of the Holy Spirit. Education can’t do it, social programming falls short, and though necessary, even therapy still has limitations.
The gospel in the context of the Seventh-day Adventist church changed my life in a generational way. I saw what God did in my parents’ marriage. It was far from perfect but they dedicated themselves to God and to one another. This caused me to aspire to marriage and to set aside the idea that it was OK to just have a live-in girlfriend, or multiple children with different women.
Because of the emphasis on health, we were delivered from the cycles of addiction that plagued the family. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity will not ravage our next generation in the same way. Understanding the truth about The Great Controversy, death, and the assurance of the Second Coming of Jesus, has given us a theology on hardship. It helps us to reconcile our pain in a way that causes us to apply our hearts to hope.
The African-American community needs the gospel of Jesus Christ. I know that there are throngs of young boys and young girls who are being primed for the same destructive cycles that were about to engulf me.
They need to know that there is a Jesus who cares. We have to preach to them that there is a more excellent way. We’ve got to preach that they were born with a purpose. We’ve got to share with our young boys and girls the value of their bodies. We’ve got to make known to them the value of education. It matters to know that you are unconditionally loved by God. The preaching of the gospel is consequential. And our indifference to sharing the gospel has consequences, as well. Our indifference allows Satan to increase his stronghold on our sons, daughters, and communities.
I’ve seen in an up close and personal way what life outside of Christ and the Christian community looks like. I’m not going back. I will preach with a righteous rage, as much as I can and as often as I can, so that others will come to know and love the Savior in the way that I have. I am why the gospel matters.
DeblEaIre Snell is the Speaker/Director of Breath of Life, and the senior pastor of the Oakwood University Seventh-day Adventist Church in Huntsville, Alabama.
All scriptural texts are taken from the King James Version unless otherwise indicated.
This article is part of our 2022 January/February Issue