Jeffrey O. Brown, PhD, is the associate editor of Ministry and an associate ministerial secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States

The whole program is negative. Always. Yet, I watch it. Every feature is pessimistic. Almost. Yet, I listen to it. What is this program? It’s called the nightly news.

I use the term almost because the National Broadcasting Company ends each episode with a story called Inspiring America. Some terrible events are covered during each nearly half-hour episode—but it always ends with joy.

One evening, it featured the story of a group of black Chicago high schoolers led by Arshay Cooper. In the midst of crime, poverty, drug use, and discrimination, they formed a rowing team. It was revolutionary. But they did more.

In an environment where, as one teammate said, “I felt that God existed everywhere but here,” they invited members of rival gangs to sit together in the same boat. They became America’s first all-black high school rowing team. This was unprecedented. But they went further.

At their 20-year reunion, they invited white Chicago police officers to train with them. The police gladly accepted. Picture these black men from the hood (inner city) sitting side by side with white police, teaching them how to row. They made a documentary about it—A Most Beautiful Thing.1 This was joy.

World of joy

“Joy to the World”—a hymn penned by pastor and writer Isaac Watts—was inspired by Psalm 98. Verse 9 reads, “He will judge the world with justice, and the nations with fairness” (NLT). Best-selling author Pete Scazzero states, “This commitment to racial reconciliation and justice is a way of life, not a short-term project. So do the ministry in such a way that you will remain faithful over the next thirty or forty years.”2

The joy of the racial reconciliation in Chicago stemmed from the actions of high schoolers who remained faithful for twenty years. Perhaps that’s why Jesus said, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, unless you repent [that is, change your inner self—your old way of thinking, live changed lives] and become like children [trusting, humble, and forgiving], you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3, AMP).

Thank God for children. Pattiejean and I are blessed to have our two-year-old granddaughter, Charlotte Anne, living with us. We understand why Walter Wangerin Jr. said, “Let the children laugh and be glad. O my dear, they haven’t long before the world assaults them. . . . So give your children (your grandchildren, your nieces and nephews, the dear ones, children of your neighbors and your community)—give them golden days. . . . Give them laughter.”3

Tears of joy

These high schoolers knew all too well what being assaulted meant. But one of Arshay’s teammates commented, “Once they [the police] came out of their uniforms, they were just regular human beings.” One of the police officers stated, “The world would be a lot better place if there were more Arshays in the world.”

Film director and former US Olympic rower Mary Mazzio said, “I nearly cried behind the camera at the extraordinary kindness that Arshay and the guys showed these officers, patiently teaching them how to row, hands on hands, working together shoulder to shoulder. . . . It was as if time and space stood still for two hours.”4

I understand one day time will stand still in heaven, “about the space of half an hour” (Rev. 8:1, KJV). I think I know what I’ll be doing. Watching and listening to the news. This time it will all be good news. Until then—as we near the end of earth’s tragic news cycle—let’s row side by side. Let’s replicate A Most Beautiful Thing. Because the song says, “Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.”

  1. Dave Caldwell, “America’s First All-Black Rowing Team Find Their Message Is More Relevant Than Ever,” Guardian, August 26, 2020, https://www. theguardian.com/sport/2020/aug/26/a-most-beautiful-thing-rowing-film-chicago.
  2. Pete Scazzero, “Race, Justice, and Emotionally Healthy Discipleship,” Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, June 5, 2020, http:// emotionallyhealthy.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Race-Justice-and-Emotionally-Healthy-Discipleship-FINAL.pdf.
  3. Walter Wangerin Jr., Little Lamb, Who Made Thee? A Book About Children and Parents (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 12.
  4. Caldwell, “All-Black Rowing Team.”

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