Passing the Torch

“No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous”  Joshua 1:5-6a NRSV

 

As the Spirit of God continues to move in this season, we have recently witnessed him calling home many, but in this writing, I will refer to three giants in their fields, whose imprint will long endure in our society. Their legacies speak to us today and remind us that their work is not complete. Yet, the Spirit of this Age is offering a hope that must be embraced. I am referring to Congressman John Lewis, the Rev. C.T. Vivian, and Gospel Radio Host Patrick Ellis. Their lives each speak to the ages.

Rev. C.T. Vivian was a scholar and a determined leader in the Civil Rights Movement. He was a major part of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s inner-circle. He was an organizer who did not need fame. He is among the more accomplished of the movement, and yet, among the least known. He was fearless and possessed the kind of courage that was necessary to lead non-violent resistance to change. It was Vivian who helped organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He had come to understand that the political pressure that was being placed on the National Baptist Convention was so great that they needed a connectional organization outside of the church to lead a movement.

 

Patrick Ellis, Gospel Radio Host,  was a humble servant of God who inspired millions with his traditional gospel music format. The focus was never on him. He did not have fancy entertainment gimmicks. It was not about “brand” recognition. It was about enabling people to use this cultural medium to strengthen or develop a relationship with God. The focus was always about God and his people. His show was not filled with his ego, but rather a commitment to unite the people and their love of the music of hope and encouragement into a faithful community of love.

 

Congressman Lewis was iconic. He was a hero who never sought to be a hero. He never forgot a friend. We asked him once to speak at a M.L. King Jr. breakfast. When we told him where we were from, In an instant he called out the name of Wiley Blanton, one of the great leaders of my organization who was a Civil Rights Lawyer and a friend of the movement. Lewis’ speech was the greatest I have ever heard. A room of 800 people went silent as he recounted the story of the March on Selma. I witnessed the silent tears of hundreds as he told of his humble beginnings and how M.L. King Jr. answered the letter of a sharecropper’s son, came to visit him, and inspired what became his life’s work—peace, liberty, and justice. Small in stature, he was a giant among humans.

 

What did these men have in common? Faith in God and a hope in the future. That is their endearing legacy. They worked in the public domain, not for self, but for others. They sacrificed for others. I still remember the Great Patrick Ellis coming to the Calvert County Fairgrounds to MC a Gospel Program. Like Vivian and Lewis, he was humble and kind. They were Joshua(s); men who carried on the mission of God and never swayed.

 

They leave us with a charge to keep. To inspire hope in the future, continued faith in God, and to always place God’s will for peace, justice, and love above and before ourselves. Accept the torch and run!

 

Pastor Dana M. Jones