As we honor Ash Wednesday, I wanted to share my personal journey with the Christian faith. Growing up and late into my 20’s, I had always believed in God and I had a typical understanding of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. However, I had concerns about organized religion and did not believe it was relevant for my life whatsoever. For me, the priority was earning enough money to distance myself from the poverty I experienced growing up in Harlem, NY and the trailer park in southwest Oklahoma. Education and hard work were my ticket to financial security and everything else was secondary. I was the first in my family to earn a college degree and later earned two advanced degrees in pursuit of the American Dream.
Invitation to Church
A year after my honorable discharge from the U.S. Army, I secured a job in Dallas, TX. A family friend heard that I had recently relocated to the city and invited me to church service. I attended out of courtesy with no intentions of returning. However, the Pastor of the church, Tony Evans, didn’t “preach,” he taught the meaning of the scriptures in a way that I had never heard or understood previously. As a result, I submitted my life to Jesus Christ a year later and made a commitment to live a life of service to faith, family and community.
Family tragedy reveals the love of Christians beyond Race
A few years later, I received a promotion that resulted in a relocation to San Antonio, TX. Sheila and I were keen on finding a good bible teaching church for our family. However, we could not find one in the Black community close to our home. A friend recommended Oak Hills Church as an option where Max Lucado was the Pastor. Although the church was not an African American church, we visited a few times and became members a few months later. Soon after, our entire family (we had a 2 ½ year old and six-month old at the time) was in a severe car accident that required all four of us to be medevaced to three different hospitals.
Our 2 ½-year old daughter, Ashley, was in a coma for three days and during that time, members of the church signed up to take shifts 24/7 to be at her bedside. They stayed to pray for her, read stories and hold her hand until she came out of the coma. After a couple of weeks, I was ready to be discharged from the hospital which was nearly 50 miles south of San Antonio. My father (originally from South Carolina during the Jim Crow era) was surprised to see, in his words, “an old white man” sitting next to my hospital bed. My father asked, who he was and why he was in his son’s hospital room. The man replied, that “my daughter attends the same church as your son, and she asked that I stay with him for a few days until his family arrives.”
My father was completely stunned by what he witnessed. His paradigm of racial belief was completely shattered. Although he worked alongside people from different races his entire Army career, for him, soldiers and their families were different because in the Army, everyone is the same color, “Army Green.” Civilians were a different breed. How the people from our church treated his injured family brought him to a relationship with God that I had never seen my entire life.
Our lives have seen a series of ups and downs since that accident and we have always relied on our faith as a compass in the good times and in the bad times to guide us through it all. We had two more children after that accident three years later and adopted a child five years after that – Live life boldly!
Kendall Qualls is the President of TakeCharge, Minnesota which is an organization committed to supporting the notion that the promise of America works for everyone regardless of race or station in life. Mr. Qualls was a Republican candidate for Governor of Minnesota. Prior to his candidacy, he was a health care executive and served in the U.S. Army as an Artillery officer. Mr. Qualls has been married for 36 years and has five children.