By Rob Renfroe
In 1875 a remarkable woman was born. Her name was Mary McLeod Bethune. Both her parents had been slaves. At the age of five she began working in the fields. But as a young girl, she took an interest in her own education and found a way to attend a small, one-room, segregated school in South Carolina.
After graduating, she attended Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. She returned to the south and began to teach. But she didn’t stop there. She believed God was calling her to start a college for black students so they could receive a quality education – and so the world could see just how brilliant and beautiful young black men and women could be.
“If our people are to fight their way up out of bondage we must arm them with the sword and the shield and buckler of pride – belief in themselves and their possibilities, based upon a sure knowledge of the achievements of the past,” Bethune wrote in 1938.
She didn’t let the cost of starting a private school for African American students stop her. She didn’t let what others said stop her. She didn’t let the fact that she was young or black or a woman stop her. The spirit within her was not a spirit of timidity and fear. It was a spirit of strength and power. And in 1904 at the age of 29, Mary Bethune founded what would become Bethune-Cookman University.
In 1941, Dr. Bethune wrote an essay entitled “Faith That Moved A Dump Heap” to explain the origins and inspiration of her trailblazing school. The article’s title comes from the fact that the only land available was an undesirable plot that had become the town’s dump site called “Hell’s Hole.” She was able to raise the money to purchase the land through the sales of sweet potato pies and homemade ice cream to work crews.
Through her pioneering work and God-given vision, the first building on that land was called “Faith Hall.”
“We burned logs and used charred splinters as pencils, and mashed elderberries for ink. I begged strangers for a broom, a lamp, a bit of cretonne to put around the packing case which served as my desk,” she wrote in her essay. “I haunted the city dump and trash piles behind hotels, retrieving discarded linen and kitchenware, cracked dishes, broken chairs, pieces of old lumber. Everything was scoured and mended. This was part of the training – to salvage, to reconstruct, to make bricks without straw.”
For twenty years as a college president, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune made the most of her remarkable ability to inspire young people to dream their own dreams, overcome their own obstacles, and win their own battles. At the graduation exercises each year she would send her students into the world with these words: “Faith ought not be a puny thing. If you believe, have faith like a giant. And may God grant you not peace, but glory.”
It was Bethune’s way of telling her students that the battles that matter and the causes that are worthy of our lives are rarely accomplished without difficulty, courage, and sacrifice. You can live a comfortable life or you can live a great life. You can live an easy life or you can live a glorious life. Now, which do you think you were created for? Peace – or glory?
As Jesus saw the cross approaching, he told his disciples: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:23-24).
Jesus told the disciples he was about to be glorified and then began to talk about his death. Boys, if you want to see glory, keep your eyes open because it’s about to be on display. It will look like a man hanging on a cross. It will look like a back torn apart by thirty-nine lashes. It will look like blood flowing from a crown of thorns. It will look like a man who is exhausted and spent, struggling for breath. It will look like suffering and sacrifice, like giving your life to do the Father’s will and bring blessing to others.
We can live a life of peace and comfort. Or we can live a life that is great and glorious. But we cannot do both. We can live for self or we can live for others. We can protect ourselves from the pain of this world or we can step into that pain, knowing that it will cause us to suffer as we try to help others. We can endeavor to create for ourselves a paradise on earth or we can go to the hell holes of this world and do the difficult things that will bring hope and redemption to those who are lost. Now which do you think we were created for?
To those who are doing the difficult work of being a loved-one’s caretaker, setting aside your own needs and plans, and often unseen as you do it – that’s glory.
To those who are loving a child with special needs or being crushed by the weight of trying to help a teenager or a young adult overcome the power of an addiction – that’s glory.
To teachers, first-responders, and health-care providers who have been overwhelmed over the past two years and who have been tempted to quit, but you are still at your post because you know we need you – that’s glory.
To pastors who have and who continue to provide care for those who are struggling; to pastors who are tired and weary because of all the extra strain created by the pandemic; to pastors who have seen the attendance of their churches decline and who have watched members leave over the past two years but who work as hard as ever to prepare sermons that are encouraging and inspiring – that’s glory.
To churches that have expanded their ministries during the pandemic to those who are hungry, homeless, and struggling with mental illnesses; to churches that have overcome the natural tendency to turn inward during a time of stress and uncertainty and that have decided to be here for others – that’s glory.
To faithful pastors who find themselves demeaned and ostracized by their progressive peers and a liberal bishop, but who continue to stay strong, love all, and exemplify joy – that’s glory.
To those who overcome their fear and give generously, even sacrificially, to ministries that are bringing the Gospel to the lost, caring for the poor, and defending the faith, whether the amount is large or small – that’s glory.
We often think of greatness as being seen and celebrated. Doing big things and being recognized by others. But Jesus thought of glory as being a servant, remaining faithful, and sacrificing ourselves so some part of this world is made better, more the way the Father wants it to be.
So, I join Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune and our Lord Jesus, and I wish for you and for our church, not peace but glory.