An African-American family, the Walls, served the Gordon family, who were white, in rural Mississippi. They worked in the field from sun-up to sundown. They milked the cows and cleaned the Gordons' house. No money ever changed hands. The Walls ate whatever they could catch from the creek or kill in the woods, plus scraps from the Gordons' table. Forbidden to see a newspaper or to learn how to read and write, the Walls family had no idea what was going on in the outside world.
Though the Gordon family went to church, they failed to live by some of Jesus' most basic teachings: "Love one another as I have loved you." One day, Lela Walls, the mother, and her daughter, Mae, age five, were called up to the Gordon house to clean it. There two men raped them, though the woman of the house protested. Lela was told if she spoke of it to her husband, he would be killed.
Lela had already witnessed brutal beatings of her husband, beatings her children saw as well. They had seen the whip wrap around their father's body; they had seen the blood flow. Once, the beating had been so savage, they threw themselves on their father's body to take the blows themselves.
Maybe you are shaking your head, thinking, "This is an awful tale of the South from before the Civil War." This story, however, is from rural Mississippi, from about 1945 to 1962 (see People, March 26, 2007). The Wall family did not know they were free people. They were still living the lives of slaves.
God never intended people to be slaves. When he created us, he placed us in a garden where we could do life with him, meeting him in the cool of day. We destroyed God's intentions when we said "Yes" to the tempter, who dared us to believe that God was not loving but unfair and selfish. So our enslavement to sin began.
Enslavement to sin is concealed in a multitude of disguises. We can be enslaved by addictions, held by the power of alcohol, porn, drugs, food, anger and more. We can be enslaved by entanglement in a relationship, dependent on another person for our identity, losing our knowledge of ourselves. We can be enslaved by our culture, which puts upon us stereotypes because of our race, our education and our politics. We can be enslaved by expectations to achieve and perform that push us to be unbalanced in our lives, neglecting family for work, neglecting health for money, neglecting friendships for status. Ever since the Garden of Eden, we are prone to slavery as a shadow is prone to light.
Out of his great mercy, God saw we sold ourselves to slavery. So, he sent Jesus, his one and only son, to set us free. When Jesus died on the cross, he paid sin's price. When Jesus rose from the dead on Easter, he broke sin's power. This is why Jesus said, "If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed (John 8:36)!"
This is the sad part: Jesus has come to set you free, but you must choose to be free. I see people who claim to be Jesus followers who still live as slaves. Sadly, some of these folks seem to have no desire to be well. Maybe they've lost the hunger to be free.
Mae Wall, the five-year-old girl, did not lose her hunger to be free. The Walls and the Gordons parted ways, and the Walls ended up in Kensington, Louisiana, serving another white family. Mae was 18. She was called to the white family's house and told to clean it. Something in her soul told her she was no longer a slave. She refused. The family threatened to kill her. She ran away, ran away from slavery to freedom. In time, she found out all white people were not mean. She learned to read and write, married, bought a house and adopted four children. Mae found God made her to be a soul, not a slave.
God made you to be a soul, not a slave. He made you to have relationships, freely chosen. He gave you a body to inhabit and oversee. He put in you a mind, with the ability to think and feel. And he put in you a heart, a will, so you could decide how to live your life.
The most important thing you can decide? Will you be a slave or a soul?
Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
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