By BISHOP THOMAS JENKINS
Oftentimes our past experiences affect how we handle relationships. If we have had great relationships, there is really no problem or hesitancy in developing new ones.
I grew up during the civil rights era. It was a time when there was major unfairness and persecution of African Americans. During this time, I had family members who were murdered and abused. For example, my grandfather was shot down in cold blood by a sheriff simply because he could not answer a question. My uncle was gunned down on a train when he did not respond when called the n-word.
The persecution continued after my parents were grown and married and my brothers and sisters were born.
One example of persecution was one evening when my family was sitting at the table having dinner. The sheriff knocked on the door and took my older brother to the jail. Someone had lied and said he’d said something ugly to a white girl. There was no proof, and he was released after the family that my sister worked for went to the jail and got the sheriff to let him go. This situation traumatized me because the jail where my brother was being held was known for beating black people badly.
My family experienced more trouble when the white school in the community was integrated. It was a very difficult time. We were severely mistreated by the white students, and those in the school who should have protected me did nothing. In addition to this, my brother’s house was bombed and shot into. Thankfully, no one was hurt. In spite of this, we stayed in school and graduated.
Needless to say, all this caused me to have unforgiveness in my heart and no trust in whites. After graduating from high school, these experiences led me to attend an all-black college. After earning my college degree, I went to work for a black-owned company. I was regional director and very successful.
I had no desire to have meaningful relationships with people who did not look like me. What I did not realize was that I had hurt in my heart.
What changed me
When I heard about Mission Mississippi, I said to myself that it was a waste of time and money. I was unfortunately speaking from a place of hurt.
One day I attended a prayer meeting hosted by Mission Mississippi. At that meeting, I met a person whom I consider to be one of my best friends today. The gentlemen’s name was Lee Paris.
Lee was a genuine Christian who loved the Lord, his family and mankind. I realized all of these things about him based on me observing him. We established a strong bond through praying and fellowshipping together on a regular basis.
There were days that I found challenging and called Lee, and he and I would pray together about the particular challenge. He would always be there when I needed an ear. The same is true for me. There were days he would call me about sensitive issues that we would pray about together.
One of the things that blessed me the most about Lee is that he drove from Oxford in a storm to visit me in the hospital in Jackson. That is what a true friend does. One of the most memorable times was when Lee and I were recognized during halftime at an Ole Miss football game. I will never forget that night when the fans honored us.
My relationship with God and Lee has helped me to heal many of my past hurts and disappointments that were caused by racism. I thank God for using Mission Mississippi to bring us together.
Bishop Thomas Jenkins is a child of the King, pastor of New Dimensions Ministries, a current board member of Mission Mississippi, and chaplain for the Jackson Police Department. He and his wife have been married for 45 years and have four children and four grandchildren.