I was a sophomore in college traveling home from the Easter Spring break when I lost the last vestige of my inherent racism. Traveling with my wife and friends, it was late at night when we happened upon a single car accident on a desolate country road in East Texas. A demolished new Thunderbird was visible through the fog as we scrambled down a steep, dew covered, grassy embankment. I was not prepared for the shock of discovering an unconscious and bleeding young black man in the remains of the car.
I pulled a pillowcase adorned with little sheep from my wife’s pillow and I used this to try and stop his bleeding. Hours passed before help arrived as I held his head, soothingly talked to him, and prayed. Meanwhile, a few curious onlookers stopped to gawk. My cathartic moment came when some old man, leering over my shoulder drawled, “What is it, a nigger or a white man?” Then he cursed as he walked away and said, “He’s dead.”
I looked at the blood of 23 year old Edward on my hands and pillowcase. I saw the blood of a fellow human, who was roughly my age, dying without dignity on the side of the road. I saw past the veneer of his skin color and saw his essence was the same color as mine and all of humanity. I sensed he heard the scornful words as his dreams for the future were ebbing away. My heart ached as I began to realize the futility of my efforts to save him.
It seemed as though the old man was channeling the voice of every slave owner or Klansman from the past. I was enraged by his indifference and his mocking question as I saw Edward’s blood on my hands and on the Lamb. I saw my own shameful sin and I saw the Redeemer. I wept for Edward as he lay dying and I wept for his soon to be grieving family and friends. I wept for the old man who was the embodiment of generations of ignorance and bigotry. I wept as I felt myself being delivered from the last bitter dregs of my own latent prejudice.
My understanding of God’s love for all humanity, regardless of race or other distinctions, was emblazoned there upon my broken heart. I was emotionally wrecked by this experience and I never went back to school…not even to withdraw. My pursuit of a college education died there, just before dawn, on a lonesome country road, with Edward. However, my education in life continues. I am still learning, still growing and still hoping for God’s love to transform us all.
Gary Vance is an evangelical pastor of a rural church in Tennessee. He has been involved in various ministries in the course of his career, including jail and homeless ministry. His vision is to expand the concept of “loving our neighbor” to include all seven billion inhabitants of Earth. He preaches, writes songs and writes articles in advocacy of justice and equality for all.