Two pastors, bringing a message of healing and reconciliation, shared the stage in Monday’s special Martin Luther King Jr. Day chapel at John Brown University.
Derrick Rollerson and Mark Soderquist, both pastors at Westlawn Gospel Chapel in Chicago, shared with students about the brokenness which they had learned to recognize in themselves. Although they discussed the need for redemption in racial relationships, they also emphasized that their message, at its root, addressed the core truths of the gospel.
Rollerson talked about the anger and bitterness he had towards white people as he grew up hearing stories of the hardship his parents dealt with in the 1930s and ‘40s.
“I didn’t like talking about race,” Rollerson said. “It has been a journey of healing for me. I had to learn to forgive and to move forward in relationships.”
Soderquist said he grew up in the ignorance shared by many white people who have a skewed, one-sided view of society. He reminded students that the history of slavery and other wrongs such as the Trail of Tears are part of recent heritage.
“We need to learn to practice redemptive listening and truth telling,” Soderquist said. “We are all broken people connected by a broken story.”
Soderquist said he learned a lot when he and his family moved to Chicago to begin working with urban ministry in 1991.
“I realized I had been ignorant that being white meant something,” Soderquist said. “We don’t usually think about that because it’s the norm to us.”
While talking to pastors of ethnic churches in Chicago, Soderquist heard them say they did not need another white ministry coming in to take over their work. So instead, Soderquist sought to partner with a ministry which was already in place.
Five years before, Rollerson had started Westlawn Youth Network, a ministry focused on reaching the youth in the neighborhood. The organization is built around developing five areas of the participants: mental, physical, social, spiritual and cultural.
When Soderquist came, Rollerson’s dad expressed skepticism about whether the partnership would be successful because of failures he witnessed in the past. But for Soderquist and Rollerson, their experience eventually led to them speaking to other groups about racial reconciliation.
“This is the gospel,” Soderquist said. “Our love for one another is evidence of our love for God. And part of that is healing the broken horizontal relationships.”
Rollerson explained the impact of their joint ministry with an example. One day a group of youth watched a video series about racial discrimination. One of the young men exclaimed that he hated white people. When Rollerson asked him if he hated Mark, he responded, “Is he white?”
“The discussion ends up transcending race,” Rollerson said. “Everyone becomes family.”
Senior Johanness Finnson said the chapel reminded him of the fallenness of human nature.
“We’re fine and do very little, if anything, to reach out to or understand the background of ‘that other side of town’ or ‘those weird neighbors,’” Finnsson said. “We make an observation, draw some premature conclusion and don’t really give more thought to it.”
Junior Broderick Wilson described Rollerson and Soderquist as “truly a blessing” to the campus.
“Worship at chapel was very exciting and respectful as far as acknowledging a different style,” he said. “The service was very powerful, talking about racial reconciliation and the importance of having a strong community that embraces all ethnic groups and displaying the love of God to each other. I had the honor of having lunch with the two speakers, and it was very uplifting and encouraging.”
Rollerson reminded students of God asking Cain, “Where is your brother?”
“Our story and our words are powerful witnesses,” Rollerson said. “They can be redemptive or they can push others away.”