A story shared by
Lead Pastor, Rob McDowell
As followers of Jesus, Black History Month is a chance to celebrate the creative brilliance of the God who “made from one man every nation of mankind” (Acts 17:26), and the redemptive beauty of his Son who, with his own blood, “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
Over the past several years, the Lord, in His kindness, has continued to diversify our church family. And with it, a growing awareness of our role in the need for transparent conversations that lead to healing.
This year, as we commemorate this much-needed season in which we remember, honor and understand more fully, there are numerous African American saints upon which we could focus but I feel compelled to shine the light on one such hero of the faith who changed my life. Soon after I became a follower of Jesus, some friends from our church invited me to go to a men’s conference called Promise Keepers. Three hundred men jumped on charter buses and drove from Montgomery, Alabama to Indianapolis, Indiana. This conference was life-changing for me. Part of the vision behind the conference was to tear down the invisible and visible walls that had separated brothers of Christ from fellowshipping with one another for far too many years. It was a stadium full of every skin tone God created. Sixty-two thousand men with arms around one another singing praise to God. I am at a loss for words to fully describe my experience that weekend. I wept several times. When I got home I told my wife that I really think I got a glimpse of what eternity with Jesus will sound like. Sixty-two thousand men singing at the top of our lungs…in unity…in love…in partnership in the Gospel.The RCA Dome (formerly the Hoosier Dome) has an open roof. News reports that weekend told of people all over the city of Indianapolis walking out of their homes wondering where the beautiful music was coming from. It still remains one of the top five worship experiences of my life.
The conference was filled with famous speakers I had never heard of at that point in my journey with Jesus. One of those great men was the late Reverend Dr. E.V. Hill. I had never heard preaching like that before. I had never seen a passion for the Gospel like that before. My hunger and thirst for the word of God became insatiable that weekend. Dr. Hill taught in a passage in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus was tempted by Satan. And I can remember his voice and his words like it was yesterday…”Jesus said…Devil…IT… IS… WRITTEN! Every time the devil opened his mouth…Jesus hit him over and over and over with the scripture! And guess what happened? THE DEVIL RAN!!!!!! You don’t have to take the devil’s mess! HIT HIM WITH THE SCRIPTURE!” (If you want to watch that sermon clip, here ya go). Dr. Hill was senior pastor at the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, California from 1961 until his death in 2003. Under his leadership, Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church became one of the largest African-American congregations in the US. He was a force of Jesus to be reckoned with. His humility both impressed and inspired me. In one of his books, A Savior Worth Having, he talked about being one of five children raised by a single mother during the Great Depression in rural Texas. A woman he called “Momma,” who was of no relation to him, announced to her church when he was in the ninth grade, “My boy is gonna finish high school.” Most young black men in rural Texas dropped out of school in the 10th grade and started working for $2 a day. But Rev. Hill finished high school just as “Momma” said he would. Then she said he would go to college. So she bought him a bus ticket, a suit, a couple of pairs of blue jeans and some shirts, took him to the bus station, gave him $5, and said, “I’ll be praying for you.” Hill said he had $1.83 left when he pulled into Prairie View, Texas, and he spent 25 cents of that to catch a city bus to the Prairie View A&M campus. As he stood in line at the registrar’s office, he noticed a sign that read, “$83-cash, cashier’s check or money order.” Hill didn’t have $83 and didn’t know what to do. As Satan whispered into his ear that he had no business being there, he remembered “Momma’s” promise, “I’ll be praying for you.” So he stayed in line. As he was just about to step up to the counter, someone put a hand on his shoulder and asked, “Are you Ed Hill?” The man then told him to get out of line, and as they walked off to the side, the man said, “Son, didn’t you get our letter? We’ve been trying to contact you. We are giving you a four-year scholarship. It will pay your tuition, room, and board and give you $35 a month for spending money.” E.V. said he heard “Momma” saying, “I’ll be praying for you.”
Dr. Hill discipled thousands of people during his years as a pastor. His legacy within the African American community is legendary…but his influence and impact reached far beyond the walls of the church he was called to lead. I never had the chance to meet him in person. I wish I had. It would have been my honor. I will forever be grateful for his influence on my life. But I do consider myself to be one of his students. You would be right in saying that his passion for the word of God and the ministry of Jesus rubbed off on me during those days in Indiana and the years following. And I believe the Lord used the late Reverend Dr. E.V. Hill to be an instrument in His call on my life to be a pastor. I will forever be grateful, not only for Dr. Hill but for the countless African American brothers and sisters (like his “Momma”) throughout our country’s history who have carried the light of Jesus so brightly. The church of Jesus Christ would not be what it is today without them. Praise be to God.