Ferguson, MO has seen racial conflict and rioting in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown.  A recent chilling report has an anonymous cop warning citizens of Ferguson to buy a gun, “get more than one” to protect their families.  See here.

Or, rather, for a true story of hope and redemption, read this instead.  About a month ago, the St. Louis Post Dispatch ran an article about one of the first black citizens to move into Ferguson, Larman Williams.  Mr. Williams’ story features his white Lutheran pastor, Rev. Richard Sering, who personally helped Williams move into the area.

Williams needed help because in the 60s, Ferguson was primarily a white community and real estate agents would not return the calls of a black man, even one as well respected as Larman Williams.   But Williams’ pastor, Rev. Sering, lived in the neighborhood and Williams sought his help.  Sering called a neighborhood meeting to speak directly to the homeowners.  After the meeting, the seller not only agreed to sell to Williams, but even pay some of the mortgage points so he could afford the cost.

The Post Dispatch story goes on to tell of another tale from after the Williams family moved in.  A family that had initially shunned them, later repented and confessed to Williams how wrong they had been.  The opportunity to be neighbors allowed them to see each other as fellow human beings, all made in the image of God.  Williams said, wisely, “Fear can cause you to act and react in a way that does not necessarily demonstrate the true person you are.  Once you overcome your fear you can do things that are spiritually sound.”

What is spiritually sound?  The Bible encourages us to see all human beings as made in the image of God and therefore deserving of respect and love.  This is a teaching found throughout both Testaments.  The book of Jonah, for example, ends with God reproving his prophet for not rejoicing in the repentance of Nineveh.  The book of Revelation, for another example, describes the family of God as “from every nation, from all tribes and languages” (Revelation 7:9).

Larman Williams is right that fear is what gets in the way of us from treating one another with love and respect.  His own story shows how spending time with people that appear different from you can dispel that fear and make a place for harmony.

That’s why we should be concerned about the ways we segregate still today.  A month ago, a Pew Research study investigated ways we segregate along political lines.  For example, on Facebook, political conservatives are more likely to hear only political opinions that harmonize with their own. On the other hand, also on Facebook, political liberals are likely to defriend people who disagree with their politics.

This is one of the ways the church can be “salt” as Jesus described in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:13).  When our fellowship reaches across political or racial divides, we not only show the breadth of Jesus’ kingdom, we show how His peace “that surpasses understanding” can bring healing in places where the world remains frustratingly divided.

Jonah was told to go to Nineveh.  He fled the opposite way.  God picked his prophet up in a fish, return to sender.  Once in Nineveh, the prophet found redemption could come even to people he feared.  Like Larman Williams, you, too, may be sent among people you initially fear.  But seek to see them with spiritual wisdom and redemption may come in the unlikeliest of places.