Pastoral Commentary: Rev. Sheryl White continues to share her faith journey

Sheryl White
Pratt Tribune
Rev. Sheryl White is an ordained pastor with the Church of Christ Anderson congregation.

Last week I introduced Laura Haviland, an unsung heroine of mine from the 19th Century Underground Railroad, Union Army staff member, and post, Civil-War nurse and. I met Mrs. Haviland from her picture when I moved to Haviland, KS. Her passion to give dignity to slaves and set them free, her drive to resolve inequities, and dedication to “clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and to give a cup of cold water in Jesus’s name resonated with my spirit. I could identify with her and can only hope and pray that my life will reflect a portion of her great work. I named my book Underground Angel, the life-story of Laura Haviland to share the treasure of her passion and work to present and  future generations. 

I believe that we can view our world from a perspective of Good Trouble.  I have identified seven steps to Good Trouble from my research of Mrs. Haviland’s work and through my study of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s.  Some may say that Good Trouble is political because it originated from the late Congressman John Lewis. This is his famous quote regarding Good Trouble.  “If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.” - John Lewis. This definition should not be a political one.  I believe that if we apply these seven steps anyone can specialize in Good Trouble and be an Underground Angel for the “least of these.”

Step 1: “Become a friend to someone totally different from yourself- in politics, race, creed, and/or class.” It seems this step has become increasingly difficult in our country of divided politics and opposing value systems. Laura cared deeply about the injustices of slavery.  But, what could she one woman do?  Laura was about to answer this question through her life work. Her journey begins here in her own words.

One blustery winter morning early in 1835, it happened. I was stoking the fire, scrambling the eggs and supervising the activities of my children. Anna was giving Joseph milk. Harvey and Daniel had just come in from their chores of gathering more wood and feeding the animals. Esther was stirring my pancake batter by the stove when we heard a wagon approach. I asked Harvey to go find his father, who had started out early that morning mending fence. Daniel, my next to the oldest, took his rightful place, standing by the door. I wasn’t terribly frightened, but thoughts of previous slave-hunting guests had crossed my mind. As Daniel looked out the window, he called out in the deepest seven-year-old voice he could muster, “Woe there! Who art thou looking for?”

A mild-spoken male voice, sounding more like that of a mouse than that of a man, responded by squeaking out, “Leprous.” This was the infamous password from the beginning of the Underground Railroad rhyme.

Daniel looked at me in shock. I stepped forward and called out the door, the word “Cross”

And the man correctly responded, “Over.”

“Hast thou been on the railroad?” I queried.

And he answered, “I have for a short distance.”

Next was the line: “Where did thee start?”

“The depot,” he said.

“Where did thee stop?”

“At a place called safety.”

I continued on. “Hast thou a brother there? I think I know him.”

“I know you know,” the man continued. “You traveled on the road.”

With that I flung open the door to face a scared, scantily clothed, black couple with a newborn baby shivering from the bare elements of winter cold. They openly allowed fear to show on their faces….. Pulling them inside and following introductions of the Hamiltons- Willis, Elsie, and baby Louisa- Elsie replied.

“Missus Haviland, thank you for bein’ so kin’. Ya’ just can’t know what this means for us. We were told where to find yo family, but this traveling on the run jest’ causes me a might amount o’ fear in my heart!”

“Here, here!. Just come into the kitchen, warm up and we’ll serve breakfast shortly. Thee will be safe here,” I replied calmly.

I love this story because the Hamiltons were the first family the Haviland’s connected with on their Underground Railroad network and the beauty of the relationship between these two families lasted through several generations.  

Providing a safe place is always a great way to make friends with someone new whether it was in 1835 or 2021.  I have had the privilege of making new friends through an “out of poverty” program called Core Community. In this space I met a friend we shall call Todd. Todd was sullen, sad, unkempt, and overall “down on life.”  He wore the same green patched jacket each week and just kept to himself.  He reminded me of an invisible man. I started a conversation with Todd, visiting with him about our assigned work- but Todd was not interested. Week after week, I just smiled and talked with him. Half of the time I wasn’t sure he was even listening. I finally got him to crack a smile and found out that he certainly did not want to be in our group but was forced to attend our classes by law enforcement. I said, “Wow! I’m sorry you don’t want to be here. But, I am really glad you are.” The next time we met for our group, he actually asked for my help and I found him to be funny and smart. Todd began to confide in me that he had some major health and addiction problems that landed him in jail and now in our group. Honestly, I wanted to understand him better. He opened my eyes to the merciless grip of addiction and the great abyss that it created in loss and despondency. Returning to that addiction was his strongest impulse, always on his mind. Yet, he knew one slip could send him to prison for many years and from what he had experienced in jail, he was certain that prison would mean an early death. I am grateful for all that Todd taught me about addiction and the power of friendship. After two years I had the joy of writing a letter of reference for Todd and received the wonderful news that he was no longer on probation but a free man.

Often, we find ourselves in roles at work or service where we can make a difference through the power of friendship. The challenge is will we do it?  Fear often takes over and such relationships are denied. But there are many ways we can befriend those different from ourselves in safe spaces, such as at work, in organized group settings from church, school, and recovery groups.  Jesus is our Friend and His Word reminds us that “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”  John 15:13-15. Jesus laid down His life for each of us! Are we willing to reach out in friendship to others just as He did for us and all in the world today?  When you are given the opportunity to befriend someone different from you, will you take it? If you have a similar story, please feel free to share it.  I would love to hear about it. Leave your comments  at my website, www.undergroundangel.net.  When you reach out in kindness to someone different from you, you are taking that first step of Good Trouble.