Written by: Dr. CJ Rhodes
My first job after graduating from divinity school was with Mission Mississippi. I came to the ministry in 2009, which was a season of transition in this country and for the organization. Frankly, what was happening in national politics pulled back the veneer of racial tensions that still permeated the state then. People who worshipped, worked, and even played together were balkanized in ways that disclosed how much more work needed to be done to reconcile people who claimed to be reconciled to God.
Fourteen years later, I serve as the chair of the board of directors. I can say that as much as things have changed for the better since 2009, there are ways in which racial tensions in this state are actually worse now in metropolitan Jackson and in enclaves throughout Mississippi.
Thirty years ago, this ministry began to meet a need: racism and de facto racial segregation were and still are impediments to evangelism. How can a divided church witness to Christ’s love for lost people if the found folks cannot get along? That was the question then, and it remains a relevant one in 2023. Thirty years later, Mission Mississippi continues to see the need for this reconciling work because increasing numbers of people doubt that the gospel has any power to change lives and the enduring issues that plague our communities. I like to say that Mission Mississippi must serve as an embassy of the kingdom of God. “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20 NIV) We must see our ministry much like a diplomatic mission. We must commend the gospel in hostile territory where the conflict is hot.
Younger generations are crying out for this. Millennials (like me) and Gen Zers believe that the gospel speaks holistically to the human condition; it is good news in the midst of bad news and even falsehoods. But our divisions blur this reality for many Mississippians who know how complicit the church has been in what ails us. Diplomats help conflicting parties see better.
A few years ago, I decided it was time to get glasses. I’m nearsighted, which means objects further away are blurry to me. With my glasses, though, I can see clearer and make out important details on the horizon. At its best, Mission Mississippi is like a pair of corrective lenses. The gospel’s themes of love, mercy, justice, and salvation are blurry objects in the distance for people closer to hate, malice, injustice, and hopelessness. Our ministry can help them see clearer and further, so that “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith,” we can have a better vision of Mississippi where Christians live out the grace of the gospel unhindered by racism, racial strife, racial prejudice, racial hatred, and racial division throughout Mississippi and the world.
Dr. CJ Rhodes, serves as the chairman of the Mission Mississippi Board of Directors, is pastor of Mt. Helm Baptist Church in Jackson, MS, and director of the Hiram Rhodes Revels Institute for Ethical Leadership at Alcorn State University.