In our last installment, we talked about the importance of people of color (any people, really) knowing our history and the things that God has done for us to help us overcome. We shared some reasons why that is important and the challenges that occur when people do not know their history.
It is my belief that when people do not know their story, their story is still told; it is just told by other people, from the perspective of those people. For example, there are anti-Semitics who take the position that the Jewish Holocaust did not really happen. Rather than confront the horrible fact that there were those whose hatred of Jews drove them to seek the extermination of an entire race of people, there are those who simply denied that it happened at all.
The same thing occurred in the United States a few years ago when it was revealed that small children were being separated from their parents at the United States-Mexican border. Rather than the Administration, who was then in power, owning the fact that they had an immigration policy that separated families who were detainees, there were those who said that the pictures that were taken showin the inhumanity of that policy were not pictures of actual detainees-but pictures of actors.
For years, far too much of the history of African-Americans was unknown. The things that were done to us-like the Tulsa Massacre-and the things that were done by us-like the things invented by black inventors (things like the traffic light, the home security system, automatic elevator doors and-alas for those of us who love them but whose health issues mean we should probably stay away from them
-the potato chip!) are largely unknown. And-when it comes to our history-what we don’t know, hurts us-especially when it comes to the history of and the continuing need for, Regional Conferences.
For example, many people do not know that Regional Conferences came into being by a vote of the General Conference in April of 1944. Regional Conferences did not come as the result of Black people breaking away and doing their own thing. The General Conference-whose leadership at that time was virtually all white-voted to authorize Regional Conferences.
There were other options available to them. The General Conference could have said we shall have fully integrated conferences, with black people recognized as fully equal with their white counterparts-even in the South.
But they chose Regional Conferences. And whether one agrees as to whether that was the right choice, the Lord has blessed that choice. Regional Conferences have grown four times faster than the rest of the church in North America even though their per capita tithe is nearly half that of State Conferences. In some ways, Regional Conferences have done more ministry with less money.
Operating conferences covering a region-i.e., 4-6 states, is less expensive than operating several states covering the same territory. The 9 Regional Conferences cover the same geographical territory as do 30 State Conferences. Which do you suppose cost less to operate: The 9 Regional Conferences or the 30 State Conferences, operating in the same geographical territory?
Regional Conferences have provided the Seventh-day Adventist Church with some of its most iconic leaders; Elder Charles Bradford, Elder C.D. Brooks, Elder C.E. Dudley, Elder E.E. Cleveland, etc.
But many people-including many Black people-are unaware of these historical facts. And when one doesn’t know the history of Regional Conferences, it becomes easier to question the need for Regional Conferences.
And it is the lack of knowledge of our past that is the biggest threat to our future. So-what can be done?
Well–we have to tell our story. We have to tell it to those who are with us (that is, our contemporaries) and we have to especially tell our story to those who are behind us. We have to tell people how we got here, why we are still here, and why we need to stay here.
We have to share with the younger generations the legacy that was passed on to us and make them aware that we are counting on them–and the Lord is counting on them–to keep that legacy alive until Jesus comes–because keeping Regional Conferences alive is still the best way to reach people of color with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
So–how do we tell our story?
1. There is, in The Charles E. Dudley, Sr., Center for Regional Conference Ministries (the complex which houses the Regional Conferences headquarters) located on the campus of Oakwood University, an Adventist African-American History Museum. It is only 1 of 2 museums of its kind in the country.
When you visit Oakwood–or, if you live in Huntsville, please visit it and learn about us.
2. I hope the day comes when there is an Adventist African-American History curriculum in our schools–from K-16, and part of our Pathfinder curriculum. I suspect, for example, most Seventh-day Adventists do not know the story of Lucy Byard.
I graduated from Oakwood and while I spent a fair amount of time visiting Peterson Hall during my days as a student (the young ladies lived there in those days😀), I did not know who Elder F.L. Peterson was. It wasn’t until I accepted this responsibility that I learned that Elder Peterson was the first Black person to hold an administrative position in the General Conference-even though his daughter, Katherine, was my beloved first grade teacher at Ramah Jr. Academy, in Cleveland, Ohio.
I suspect most of my Oakwood classmates didn’t know Dr. Eva B. Dykes’ story–even though, every day, we went to the library that was named after her and could still see her walking around campus.
I badly wish now that I had asked her to tell me her story then–while she was still alive. I missed that opportunity during her time on this earth–but there is still the opportunity to tell at least a portion of her story, for her, to those who are here now.
3. In the next few months, we shall finally complete a long-deferred goal of this office: The making of a video telling the story of Regional Conferences.
Black Seventh-day Adventist have a wonderful testimony-a beautiful story to tell of how God has led and how God has blessed. May God help us to tell it–to each other, to our children, to their children, and to the world.