He said yes to an invitation.
On Sunday I attended Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church. Mt. Zion is just around the bend of the bayou and literally down the turn row from my house. In my 60 years I have driven by this iconic country church thousands of times. Often I have pulled on to the grounds and parked under its grand oak tree to eat lunch or simply take a quick break. In all of these years this Church has been a common sight in my daily life, yet I had never passed through its doors nor considered what was inside its walls. Until today.
Thursday I was talking to an old friend, Tyrone Survillion, who invited me to come to his church on Sunday. When I inquired which church, his grin burst out into laughter and he replied, the church just down from you! I said I would try to attend, and then Sunday morning Mrs. Saddler brought over my fresh laundry clearly dressed “for church.” When I asked which church she attended, she smiled and pointed around the bayou and said, “over there around from yo field.” At that moment it became clear that it was time. Time to go beyond the structure and discover Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church.
At 11:00 I changed from my dirty farm jeans into the khakis from the previous night out. The dusty turn row leading to the church billowed in a cloud of dust from the dry fields as I raced ahead. There were only a few cars out front, yet that did not diminish the anticipation of what might lie beyond my familiar, yet unfamiliar, destination.
The church’s last exterior renovation was beginning to peel, and the double front doors were stiff to open. For a moment I thought of this as a signal to retreat, but with a more forceful push the door opened into a small quaint sanctuary. There Sunday School was still in progress. A deacon met me with his study guide, the Pastor shared his Bible opened to the day’s lesson in Acts and the ten or so in the congregation gave welcome smiles of acknowledgment to my entrance.
There was no awkwardness nor discomfort of my presence. The lesson continued as if I had been there all morning. Nor was I exempt from the discussion itself, as the pastor repeatedly asked for my opinions as if I was a lifetime member of the near 100 year old church.
As others began to gather into the sanctuary there was a smooth transition into the morning worship service. Mrs. Saddler gathered with the choir behind the preacher’s pulpit as the keyboard began to play a strong earthly rhythm. We all rose to our feet and began to sing and sway to a naturally choreographed gospel medley.
Afterwords I was asked to introduce myself, which I did as the farmer whose machinery could be heard echoing across the bayou, picking the season’s cotton. Pastor Tony introduced himself and with a loud cry shared, “the man has planted his seeds carefully, cultivated his crop and is now reaping the fruits of his labor.” Whether impromptu or planned, that became the message of the day’s worship: “The careful sowing of our lives for the eternal harvest in God’s kingdom.”
For the next two and a half hours we sang, prayed, and our lives began to bond together in an organic fashion. We held hands in prayer for the morning’s offering to heal, inspire and fulfill the needs of God’s kingdom. Pastor Tony, in his perfectly tailored pinstriped suit, called on the church as he wiped his sweating brow to “be the hospital for those who need healing” and to “jump on the train while the train is still here.”
It was a blessed opportunity when I was called on to share, which I did so with great reception. “The challenge for us all,” I said, “was to get beyond our walls, our comfort zones and our preoccupation on what happened yesterday. God is not concerned about yesterday so why should we? He cares only about where we are today and what we are doing for his children.” “Amen,” “Can I have a Witness,” and “Tell Us Brother” were heard as a background to my voice.
Today I was blessed by the love of God’s people. People who for generations have been within the boundaries of my life, yet I continued to pass them by. Today I did not pass, but entered into a glimpse of God’s kingdom through the doors of Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in the small community of Belen in Quitman County, Mississippi.
There is a Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church near you, too. So why, do you pass it by?
Written October 20, 2015
Thank you, Jaby, for sharing this beautiful story with us. It is especially poignant given the challenges we face in America. May God bless you and may God bless America.
Lyrics to “Amazing Grace” written by John Newton (1725-1807)
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.