Growing Up in Church Pt. 1

None of us are alone. We come into this world as part of a family, attached to a woman and a man. There are people who surround us in love, in interest, even for the purpose of delivering us from the comfort and safety of the womb to an uncomfortable, new world.  Midwives, grandmothers, neighbors, uncles, church sisters, aunties and brothers.

Though the new world may be shaky and cold, though it may be unfamiliar, new people come to teach us, to provide for us, to challenge us and to prepare us for the next world. Pastors, teachers, partners, mentors, mothers, fathers, friends, leaders, advocates.

Love of Christ was the church my parents pastored and it was the anchor of our lives. We traveled an hour back and forth to Washington, D.C. three times a week—sometimes four—for rehearsals, Bible studies, family nights, and of course Sunday services. There was Children’s Church on Sundays, where we did crafts and learned Bible stories. But when we were in the main sanctuary – wow! Did we have a time! We would dance and sing and shout!

We understood little about the spiritual warfare and powerful outpouring of the anointing around us. As school-age children, we were simply being swept away with the excitement of the room. Yet, we didn’t understand that spiritual chains of addiction, fear, abuse and disease were being broken before our eyes. It was a Spiritual Awakening wrapped into the Afrocentric cultural experience of drums, an organ, guitar, congos, maracas, cabasas, tambourines, hand-clapping, shouting and stomping.

As the Senior Pastor, Daddy would spend hours around our dining room table with that thick, worn Bible of his, studying and praying for the right words that would touch people’s hearts and change their lives. On Sunday mornings, the Word became alive. It was as though the words lifted up from the pages of his notes and entered into the hearts of each individual man or woman in their own unique way.

The rhythm of the service was perfect and was noted in each program, “subject to change by the order of the Holy Ghost”. The spiritual revival that happened in the individual spread from “heart to heart” and “breast to breast.” It was what we called a “Pentecostal” experience. It was the experience that the Bible spoke of, after Jesus was resurrected, when the disciples waited in the upper room, for the Holy Spirit to come. And it came “as a mighty rushing wind” and filled their hearts, and they all spoke in tongues as the spirit of God gave utterance.

Many times, we live according to the five senses. But Momma taught us, we are spiritual beings, created in the image of God. And so, we must learn to live in the Spirit. This is the priceless inheritance I received at Momma’s house: one of spirituality and empowerment. Some came to church addicted to drugs, some were facing brokenness in their homes. Yet a body of believers could come together and call on the name of Jesus, and we would see healings from disease, deliverance from addiction and broken hearts mended. There was a response to the cry of the soul in the four walls of the church.

The words were like poetry to me. The music and the emotion of it all. The church provided a structure for us to learn and grow spiritually. To sit and reflect, to determine who to become and why. People came when they were hurting, when they were tired, when they were sick. They came to regain balance, to hear perspective from God’s Word. Families who spent the entire week, grinding, working hard, trying to push their lives forward. People came to be rejuvenated, to give back, to share in our pains and in our joy. People came to belong at a soul level. And as our parents gave, as they ministered to others and helped fathers and husbands overcome their own spiritual warfare, they came home to fight their own spiritual battles.

The church experience was amazing. It was uplifting and jubilant. But the real ministry happened from day to day. After everyone went home and back to their lives, my mother and father kept going. The church was their burden to bear. They were called by God to lead His people, so the work never stopped.

Pastoring did not make them exempt from humanity, from weaknesses. It did not disqualify our family from fighting battles every day. My adoptive and spiritual parents fought to manage the church congregation, to keep the morale up within the congregation, to manage different personality types and manage their own budget along with the church budget. It was just like running a business, except their staff was completely made up of volunteers.

Momma visited inmates who wanted change at Lorton prison. We spent many afternoons talking to prisoners on the phone we hadn’t even met.  She even adopted one prisoner she’d grown close to, named Joseph. She gave him our last name – Poindexter. The Poindexters’ lives demonstrated the power of God, manifested in the hearts, minds and souls of believers. It was showing people how to live from day to day, above their pain, above their struggles.

While Daddy preached to a congregation of a hundred, Momma was more of a one-on-one preacher. With all of her strength and power, there was always a patience, a gentleness and a wisdom about her. Momma drove us around nice neighborhoods to show us all the possibilities of what we could have. She would show us mansions sitting up on hills with maids’ quarters in the back. She wanted us to expand our imaginations. She wanted us to understand and grasp the beauty in the world beyond what we saw every day. She paid close attention to our gifts and made sure that we grew and developed in our talents. I had a love for books, so Momma taught me to read by the time I was three years old. While I loved reading and writing, Oreale was a singer. She had a beautiful angelic voice with soul beyond her years. I remember sitting in the bathtub, rehearsing a song for the choir with our older sister, Robin: “The Shepherd Song.”

I remember riding home from church one day, in Daddy’s dark-green Grand Marquis Daddy drove. As we waited at the red light on Benning Road, a shirtless man ran toward the car head-on and punched the front windshield of Daddy’s brand-new car, cracking the windshield all the way down the middle. He fell off the side of the car, got up, and started chasing the car again! Daddy said he was on PCP. It wouldn’t be until years later that I would understand the grips of this man’s addiction.

Another time, Momma was trying to help a woman who was homeless, her dreams lost in the hard lifestyle of prostitution. The young lady came to the church, reeking of the streets, reeking of dirt, sweat, and urine. Momma brought her home, cleaned her up, even gave her the brand-new shoes that Daddy bought for her. Momma took her shopping, got her hair done, and told her all about the love of Jesus and how God had a plan for her life. But for this girl, life mentally cornered her into her place years ago, when she had been abused, raped and coerced into prostitution. Her environment, the schools she attended, and the adults that raised her, trained her to know her place. The next day, the young lady was nowhere to be found. I was too young to realize how much this woman and I had in common at the time. My entire childhood had been sheltered from the dangers, the heartbreak, the ugliness, and pain of the real world. The Poindexter’s had prayed a hedge of protection around our home and our lives. This prayer was rooted in the Christian belief that God’s angels protect the children of God, keeping them from hurt, harm and danger.

In my youthful naïveté, I didn’t consider that I could be touched with this infirmity. I didn’t consider that I was just as weak, frail, and human as this broken woman whose ailment sent her running back to the streets for more. I had much to learn.

This is an excerpt from my first book, Soul Cry.