In 2006 the Lord called me to return to Mississippi and move to Jackson—my mission field, my Jerusalem— after graduating from Duke Divinity School. This word came to me at the end of a silent retreat I was required to attend. For nearly 19 hours I prayed, walked, and read Scripture and spiritual books without saying a word out loud, wondering when or how God would speak to me. In that twentieth hour God gloriously spoke to my Spirit, flooding me with illumination into how He had ordered my life up until that very hour.
It was humbling. And it was the confirmation I needed because I never wanted to move back to Mississippi. Growing up here I had dreams of making a life in New England. And during my first few months in Durham, NC, I fell in love with the area, thinking Raleigh or Charlotte would be great places to call home. But with each passing year in divinity school God made it clear that all roads were leading me back to the Magnolia State. I reluctantly obeyed.
It has been six years since I returned home in 2009. God has blessed me to be a blessing in myriad ways. I am filled with gratitude for the great things He has done and continues to do. It has not been easy; I’ve experienced disappointments and setbacks while here. But who doesn’t? Indeed Jackson is my Jerusalem. Through it all I trust that God is still up to something. I feel it in my bones.
One thing that burdens me is that, by God’s grace, Jackson will be an epicenter of statewide and national revival, as it once was more than a century ago. Since coming back I’ve heard mayors and everyday people talk about Jackson’s potential: what we are and can be. We’ve been called a City with Soul, the Best of the New South, a Destination City, One City with One Aim and Destiny, the Bold New City. City with Soul stays with me even though there have been two mayors since him. City with Soul was what we were being called when I moved here in ’09 and I believe it speaks to the “big idea” of what we are and we can become. Becoming a bold, new, destination city has a lot to do with the Soul that pulsates in our capital city.
What stands out to me more than anything else is the way the black church in Jackson has particularly contributed so richly to religion around the world. I have the honor of pastoring Mt Helm Baptist Church. As Jackson’s oldest historically African American congregation, we are celebrating 180 years this year. During a recent lecture at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History Calvin White Jr., assistant professor of history at the University of Arkansas and author of The Rise of Respectability: Race, Religion, and the Church of God in Christ, autographed his book for me with a note that contended I “now hold one of the most historic pulpits in the history of African American religion.” Wow!
About 120 years ago Charles Price Jones, Mt Helm’s fifth pastor, partnered with Charles Harrison Mason and other Baptist ministers to host a Holiness Convention at our historic church. Many were delivered, healed, and sanctified at Mt Helm over the course of many days. A Spirit-filled revival broke out there. The Lord was glorified. After some turbulent tensions, first between Mt Helm and Jones and later between Jones and Mason, the Church of God in Christ and the Church of Christ (Holiness) USA (headquartered in Jackson) were born. Jones, known as the father of black Holiness, was an accomplished hymnist and many of his songs are sung in black and white churches across denominations (including the National Baptist Convention USA, from which he was expelled for his “strange” doctrine). Of course, the Church of God in Christ is one of America’s largest denominations and has churches around the world. All of this began in Jackson, MS.
Dr. Jerry Young, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church (Watkins Drive), is now the 18th President of the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. He is the first native Mississippian still residing in Mississippi to lead America’s largest black Christian denomination. By God’s grace, he will prove to be one of NBCUSA’s greatest reformers. He, his family, and the church he loves are all here in Jackson.
The Mississippi Mass Choir, whose soulful Gospel music has blessed saints around the nation and the world, is headquartered in Jackson. They are a Mississippi and national treasure.
Regional headquarters for the Seventh Day Adventist Church, African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Christian Methodist Church are here in Jackson.
The state headquarters for the Mississippi Southern Baptist Convention, the Episcopal Church of Mississippi, the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church, and the Mississippi Church of God are here too. And we have a Catholic diocese and a state jurisdiction of the Church of God in Christ.
Educationally, there are two accredited seminaries in Jackson: Reformed Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical Seminary. The Mississippi Baptist Seminary and Bible College has long served underprivileged black clergy and lay leaders and continues to offer biblical and theological education for churches through our state. Jackson State University, once housed at Mt Helm Baptist Church and College Hill Missionary Baptist Church, respectively, has roots in the Baptist church. Tougaloo College, Millsaps College, Belhaven University, and the Mississippi College School of Law, all housed in Jackson, are religiously rooted institutions of higher learning expanding minds and serving local and global communities.
Mission Mississippi and the John M. Perkins Center are here. Perkins, now in his 80s, is the well beloved grandfather of Christian community development and has led white and black believers from around the world to justice and reconciliation ministry right from his Jackson living room.
The local Trinity Broadcasting Network airs from Jackson. Our churches, hotels, Convention Complex, and Coliseum host regional, national, and global Gospel artists and religious conferences, conventions, convocations, and strategy meetings.
I’m sure there is more to be said. The half has not been told. I’m looking forward to seeing how this City with Soul will be the kind of spiritual epicenter where everyone wants to come and no one wants to leave. By being the best of who we are called to be spiritually, we will indeed be the best of the New South.
It can be done because Jackson is our Jerusalem. Lord, revive us again!