Originally published by PublishAmerica, © Lorie Ham 2003
Deadly Discrimination: Chapter 28, Final Chapter
by Lorie Lewis Ham
Lorie has been singing gospel music and writing since childhood. Her first song and poem were published when she was 13 and she has gone on to publish many articles, short stories and poems throughout the years as well as write for a local newspaper. Lorie continues to sing and her mystery novels are set here in the San Joaquin Valley, with five of the six featuring gospel singer Alexandra Walters.
Before going to bed, I spent a long time in prayer, knowing I’d need all the strength and wisdom I could get for the next day.
After a restless night, I awoke Sunday morning feeling like I had a plane full of luggage under my eyes. I showered and got dressed for church, then peddled on over.
I muddled through the young adult Sunday School class I taught every week, hoping I made sense, and relying heavily on the lesson guide. Then I headed for the sanctuary with a degree of trepidation, waiting until the last minute so I could avoid speaking to anyone in the church. I slipped into the front pew and faced forward.
Henry went on stage and led the church in a handful of hymns and choruses he had picked out after calling me last night to ask my sermon topic. When I told him I was continuing my series on discrimination, he didn’t say a word.
We went through the motions of being a church, and my heart broke as I wondered how many here were only going through the motions. Then it was my turn. I took a deep breath, whispered a prayer for strength, and proceeded to the pulpit. I put my notes down, then looked up and nearly gasped. The church was packed. Every member was there, but also many more. The Martinez family including Eddie, Kevin from the station, Chief Harmon, Alex Stanford and his family, Lizzie Toews, and many more faces of many races whom I didn’t recognize. And standing in the back of the church was our new janitor, if I still had any say in it, Chuck Smith.
But what was even more shocking was the tall, blond Heathen Boy leaning against the doorframe in the back.
Taking a deep breath and whispering another silent prayer, I began the sermon, focusing on any face except those of the disapproving board.
When I was through, a feeling of relief washed over me and I offered a prayer of thanks. If this was my last Sunday, at least it was a grand one.
After closing prayer, Scott Matthews came striding down the aisle and almost shoved me aside, taking my place at the pulpit. Josh just looked at me and grinned, like this was the best show in town. He was being rather bold for someone the police were looking for.
“Church members need to stay for a few minutes for a vote, but the rest of you can leave.”
No one moved and I held back a smile. I knew this annoyed Matthews. He stood silently for a few minutes, but when no one left, he cleared his throat rather loudly. So far, he hadn’t come through with his threat about revealing my past, but if I were allowed to stay, I planned on sharing it myself. It was past—a past God had forgiven me for.
“We of the board feel that Pastor Raffles does not hold to the same beliefs that we do as a church and should move on to a place where he can feel more at home.” There was an edge to his voice, and a haughty pride in the way he stood. He was confident he had won.
“Would all of those who vote that he should move on please say ‘Yes.’”
I held my breath as the silence filled the room. Matthews scanned the room with a scowl and nearly whispered, “All those who wish him to stay, please stand.”
It was like the wave at a ball game as people began to stand. Even board members who had seemed to agree with Matthews now joined the crowd rising to their feet. Soon everyone in the room was standing, member or not.
He turned on me with that same hatred in his eyes, as if I had made this happen. I found myself wondering what a man like this was doing in a position of power within a church. The love of God was not to be found in him. “Looks like you win this time, Preacher. But you don’t belong here and one of these days you’ll realize that.”
“I’d like to think that your kind and your son’s kind don’t belong here anymore.”
Matthews stormed offstage, down the aisle, and out the door. Josh followed him. I hoped they would never darken that door again unless they were ready to change. Hopefully, the other board members were ready to change.
A cheer shook the room as soon as they were gone, and people came forward to shake my hand. I was overwhelmed. After several minutes, most of the crowd was gone. I sat down on the front pew still feeling overwhelmed and praising God in my heart.
Miguel and his family came forward, and he reached out a hand. “Pastor Mike, when I heard what they were trying to do to you I had to be here. You have done so much for us.”
I gladly accepted his handshake. “I hope you come back.”
He laughed for the first time in days. I hoped soon the Happy Mouth would again be filled with his hearty laughter. “We might.”
Eddie also shook my hand. “I know you’ve hired Chuck to be the new janitor, but I was wondering if you could still use someone to take care of the gardening. I’m pretty handy with sharp tools.” He grinned and we all laughed.
“I think we can find a place for you. Won’t pay much though.”
“Hey, it’s gotta be better than what I get from Pop.” He looked down at the ground, as if suddenly embarrassed. “I hear you have a pretty cool youth and college group. Do you think it would be okay if I came sometime?”
My heart leapt. “I think it would be okay.”
Eddie looked up, and the grin had returned. “Thanks, Preacher. And could you pray for Glenda?”
The pain that suddenly filled his eyes gripped my heart. That same pain was mirrored in the next to take my hand, Chief Harmon.
“How are you managing?” I asked.
He forced a feeble smile. “It’s going to be hard, but I now have someone on my side to help us through. And I’m bound to share Him with my Glenda, too.”
I clasped his hand in both of mine. “I’m glad. He’s a pretty awesome someone.”
“And I don’t think you’ll have to worry about Scott Matthews anymore. This morning one of Josh’s friends came in and admitted that Josh’s father had put them up to the whole thing. My men were waiting outside the church doors to take them in.”
A flood of relief rushed over me. God had once again come through. What an awesome God.
“Son, you did a good thing,” said Lizzie Toews, as she walked up to me. I had been most shocked to see her there. Apparently, there were still things in this town that could shock me. “‘Bout time those old fools had someone to set them straight.”
She strode out before I could say anything more than thanks. Stephen came up next with a huge grin on his face.
“Okay, you did this all, didn’t you?”
“No, Preacher Boy, they all did it.”
He just kept grinning like a Cheshire cat. “You can have your radio program back.”
Now I was confused. “How?”
“Because you are looking at the new owner of KKNG.”
I was glad I was still sitting. “How did you get Cecil to sell?”
“Made him an offer he couldn’t refuse,” he answered in his best Marlon Brando impersonation.
I burst out laughing, not just at his joke, but at the thought of Heathen Boy owning a Christian radio station. What next? I was about to find out, as Alec Stanford was the last to walk by.
“I don’t know how you managed it, but thank you,” he said, as he offered a hand.
“Managed what?” I asked, confused again.
“To get Lizzie Toews to sell all of the downtown businesses their shops, with payments lower than the rent we were paying.”
Yes, I could definitely still be shocked. What an awesome, awesome God!
Lola came up and pulled me from the pew. “I think it’s time for some lunch, Preacher Boy,” said Lola, with a huge grin. I may just have to marry that girl.
We walked out arm in arm with Stephen following. For the first time in days, I had a real appetite, and I knew I’d be floating around for weeks after this Sunday.
Just days ago the small town of Kingsbury had surprised me with its corruption and discrimination, but today it had managed to surprise me even more with its generosity. There even seemed to be hope for an old Heathen Boy like Stephen.