This story was inspired by an actual real life encounter I had in a park one day many years ago when I told a little boy at an outreach event “Jesus loves you”. He looked down at the ground and said, “The kids at school call me brown boy.” We talked about the love Jesus has for all people. I will never forget that conversation.
Billy’s Study Group Discusses Discrimination with a Man Named Cornelius.
Billy had a spring his step as he walked to the door of The Harbor. The reason? It was Tuesday afternoon which meant it was time for his GED study group. What began as study time with Jessica had grown to a diverse study group of four students. Jose was an 18 year old Hispanic who loved music and could play several instruments his favorite being guitar. Justine was a 22 year old woman from Congo who was too old for high school but needed a high school diploma so she could go to Nursing School. Pah was a 21 year old refugee from Burma whose English was quite good but he did not have the opportunity for high school in the refugee camp. Of course, Jessica was there ready and eager to learn. They were all waiting for Billy as he walked in and even had his cup of coffee ready from him.
“Well good afternoon kiddos,” Billy greeted them.
Jessica, Jose, Justine and Pah all greeted Billy with bright smiles. He was more than a teacher for them. He was also a mentor for them as they were trying to build their lives. The connection Billy had with them was obvious from the smiles around the table and also in the questions they would ask during conversation time. The questions would range from help with important papers, advice on dating, and questions about life in general.
That day the conversation turned to why each of them had not graduated high school yet. Pah shared that there was no high school in his refugee camp. Justine confided that the high school was too far away for her to walk to in Congo. Jessica shared about how her family life made it impossible for her to finish school. Then it was Jose’s turn. Jose was still young enough to go to high school, but he in no way wanted to go. He simply shared, “I never want to go back there.”
Jessica did not want to let it go at that, so she pursued it further, “Why don’t you want to go back?”
Jose took a deep breath and out it came. He spilled it all. “I was bullied in high school. The kids called me brown boy because I was the only hispanic in school. I never want to go back to that place.”
Billy quickly jumped in, “Listen to me kiddo, you are a good young man. You are God’s creation. Don’t pay attention to what bullies were saying.”
Jose looked down, “I am not sure about this God’s creation stuff with the way I have been treated.”
A man was sitting next to them and had been listening to their conversation. He looked at them and politely interrupted the conversation, “I know for a fact that God loves diverse people and cultures. God loves everyone in the world.”
Jessica and Billy smiled at each other with that knowing look people give each other who share a secret. They both knew another encounter was in process.
Jose shrugged his shoulders and said to the man, “How would you know.” It was more of a statement than a question.
“Well, I know from first hand experience. You see, I was the first Gentile Peter visited when the church was first starting. My name is Cornelius. You don’t need to introduce yourselves. I already know your names, Jose, Justine, Jessica and Pah and of course your teacher Billy.”
Justine was surprised, “How do you know our names?”
“God has told me many things about the five of you and he has sent me here to share with you about how much he loves people from all cultures,” Cornelius explained.
Pah was curious, “Even refugees?”
“Especially refugees and anyone who has suffered” Cornelius reassured him.
“If he loves us so much, why do we have different skin colors that make others treat us badly?” Jose challenged.
“God loves variety. Just look at how many different flowers there are. They don’t look the same but they all add beauty to our world. God is an artist and he paints with diverse colors. But let’s get to the real issue. The issue of discrimination.” Cornelius responded.
Jose jumped on that, “Yes, why is there discrimination if God created us all?”
Cornelius saw the moment was right and leaned forward, “Excellent question my friend. It is because of sin in the hearts of people. Think about it. God created the diversity when he scattered human beings at the Tower of Babel. He wanted us to go out to all the world so he confused the languages to make people go to all of the world. So if diversity is from God, then discrimination cannot be from God because after all, Jesus himself said that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son. So discrimination cannot be from God. It comes from the sinful hearts of people.”
Jose’s curiosity was peaked, “So you said you are a Gentile. What is that all about?”
Cornelius thanked Jose for the question, “Basically when the church first started, it started in Jerusalem and throughout Israel among the Jews. The Jews called anyone who was not Jewish a Gentile.”
“So why was that a thing back then?” Justine was into it now too.
“Jews viewed anyone who wasn’t Jewish as being unclean spiritually so they did not want to enter our homes or associate with us very much.” Cornelius explained.
Pah had to know, “So how did you hear about Jesus and how did the church grow throughout the world?”
Cornelius smiled knowing the time was now for his message, “I wanted to know about Jesus and know more about the faith. I prayed and asked God to send me someone. God wanted Peter to come to my house, but Peter hesitated because I was a Gentile and Peter did not want to be unclean spiritually so God spoke to him in a vision three times to not call unclean what God calls clean. Peter came to my house and explained about Jesus for me and my household. I faced discrimination in those days. Some Jews would even talk to me because I was a Gentile. Most of the time I would not be welcomed into their homes and they certainly did not want to come to my home. It was pervasive everyday everywhere I went. Because Jesus told Peter to come to my house, it broke the ice so to say and the church began to break out of the barriers.”
Cornelius paused to drink some of his cappuccino and let his words soak in a little and then continued as the study group was glued to his words, “Paul wrote in his letters that there is no Jew or Greek, meaning Gentile, no male or female, no master or slave, no rich or poor in the church. The only identity is Christian brothers and sisters. If someone professes to be a Christian then prejudice has no place in their hearts. That was a revolutionary concept back in those days. Think about this, about 2000 years before the Civil Rights Act in America, Paul wrote that in Jesus there is no dividing line”
Jessica had one final question for Cornelius, “So what did Jesus look like? Most pictures I see have him as white.”
Cornelius thoughtfully replied, “He looked like most men did that were from that part of the world. Don’t let artwork affect you.”
Jose had a pressing question, “So if I visit a church, it shouldn’t matter that I have brown skin? Kids at school called me brown boy.”
Billy asserted himself, “Let me jump in here. Jose you can come with me and we will sit together. I will be proud to have you sit with me. Everything Cornelius has said is true. There is no place for discrimination. If you come with me, you will see that the people will love having you there. As far as the kids at school, I am sorry that happened to you. They have a problem not you. But Jesus taught we should pray for those who harm us. We can start praying for God to change their hearts.”
Cornelius left with one last thought, “Before I leave, let me just encourage you that at the end when all of humanity is before Jesus, the bible says people from every tongue, every tribe will be there. Jesus wants people from every culture, language, race and ethnic group to be in his family. Back to your studies now.”
With that Cornelius was gone and Billy took it from there, “This has been a great conversation and in fact it leads to the social studies segment for this week. Let’s read about the Equal Rights or Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.”
If you see a name highlighted in blue it indicates the character was in a previous story. You can click on the name to see the previous story that introduced the character.
Next week all stories will deal with the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Jesus as we experience Good Friday and Easter week.
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