Hope and healing at Lucy Byard recognition event
Silver Spring, Maryland, United States
December 10, 2021, was a momentous day as the life and legacy of Lucille “Lucy” Byard were both recognized and honored.
Lucy Byard was a black Seventh-day Adventist from New York who was turned away from getting treatment for liver cancer and cachexia by the Washington Adventist Sanitarium in 1943 because of the color of her skin. She was sent to Freeman’s Hospital in Washington DC, and later died there. Adventist HealthCare and the Seventh-day Adventist Church acknowledged the decades-old indignity and pledged to move toward healing and reconciliation by owning the wrong and taking committed action to ensure it never happens again.
Terry Forde, president and CEO of Adventist HealthCare (AHC), recounted the history surrounding Lucy Byard’s mistreatment at a Seventh-day Adventist institution, referencing historian Benjamin Baker.* Forde’s realization of what happened to Mrs. Byard paved the way on the path to acknowledgment and reconciliation.
Ted N. C. Wilson, president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, stated, “On behalf of the world church I want . . . to highlight an event that should never have taken place.” Interspersed with texts related to justice, mercy, humility, and reconciliation (Mic. 6:8; 2 Cor. 5:18, 19), Wilson honored “Lucy Byard, who loved people, who shared her faith, but was denied the very basics of care and dignity from her own church.”
G. Alexander Bryant, president of the North American Division of the General Conference, stated, “The Lucy Byard story and her experience have been a stain on us as a church. But the actions of today will go a long way in shaping and molding a better future that is indicative of the God we serve and the principles upon which we stand; that is, in Christ, there is no Jew or Gentile, no free nor bond, no male nor female, that we all stand equal at the foot of the cross.”
Pete Palmer, president of Allegheny East Conference, the territory that now includes Washington Adventist Hospital, said, “When you read the history of the Allegheny Conference, it is pointed out that the black lay membership did not initially embrace the formation of a regional conference. And that may be in part due to the fact that separate but equal was not the initial request of black leadership in the wake of Lucy Byard’s nontreatment.” But out of pain came progress, and out of grief came growth.
Simmie Knox, the first black artist commissioned to paint a portrait of a sitting US president, was chosen to paint Lucy Byard. Knox’s paintings of President William Jefferson Clinton and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton hang in the White House. Knox, now 86 years old, stated that he wanted to capture “the church lady,” her piety and her humanity. “I think it’s a moment of healing.”
Lisa Sweeney Walker, Lucy Byard’s great-great-grandniece, stated, “I just recently learned of Lucy’s story, and I transported myself back to that time, and I could not imagine the challenges that she faced and what she was going through. From the bottom of my heart and on behalf of my family, I thank all of you for putting this together.”
Dwayne Leslie, AHC vice president, stated that AHC pledged $500,000 in scholarship funds over five years, with the goal of establishing an ongoing endowment. All qualified students are welcome to apply, and priority will be given to people of color pursuing an undergraduate nursing education. In addition, an endowment will provide perpetual assistance for trainee nurses, with a pregraduation offer to work at an Adventist HealthCare institution.
Anthony Medley, the senior pastor of Emmanuel-Brinklow Seventh-day Adventist Church in Maryland stated, “For the black Adventist church, the mistreatment of Lucy Byard by her own Adventist health system was as relevant to us as the Rosa Parks arrest was to the Civil Rights Movement in 1955. Lucy was rejected based upon her race. And this was the last straw of denial of equality for black Adventists in the church. . . . Remembering history is the first step towards reconciliation. . . . Thank you, Adventist HealthCare . . . for embracing diversity and equality throughout your organization. . . . Thank you for committing resources and actions to ensure the history of Lucy Byard will not be forgotten and its dark past will never be repeated.” [Jeffrey Brown, Ministry; Corinne Kuypers-Denlinger, Adventist HealthCare]
* Benjamin Baker, Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists, s.v. “Byard, Lucille (1877–1943),” https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=9CEA.
Former rebels baptized in the Philippines
Mindoro, The Philippines
Philippine authorities sought for years to strike a peace deal with rebels to end a half-century conflict that has killed thousands of people on Mindoro Island. Then the rebels, holed up in the lush green mountains of Mindoro, began listening to Adventist World Radio (AWR).
A bloodstained chapter of Philippine history that has lasted a half century and claimed 40,000 lives drew to a close on November 13, 2021, when Ted N. C. Wilson, president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and his wife, Nancy, participated in the baptism of 500 former rebels and their leader on Mindoro Island. In all, more than 2,000 people were baptized at the conclusion of island-wide evangelistic meetings.
“This is the amazing work of the Holy Spirit through Adventist World Radio,” Wilson said. “All of us were rebels at one time, not embracing God as closely as we should,” he said. Wilson then directly addressed hundreds of former rebels and their families, listening attentively in special areas marked with signs reading “FRs,” or former rebels.
“Today, by God’s grace, you are no longer former rebels,” he said. “You are now new creatures in Jesus Christ. You are part of God’s great family that is looking forward to Jesus’ soon coming!”
A warm welcome
AWR president Duane McKey described the day as historic, and he warmly welcomed the former rebels into the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
“Your shirts say, ‘I will go!’ ” McKey said. “So that is the commission you are accepting from Jesus. ‘I will go!’ Today, leaving the past behind, we accept that commission, that charge, of Jesus to go to your friends and neighbors and tell them about Jesus, that He is coming soon.”
“Thank you to the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” said General Jose Augusto Villareal, commander of the 203rd Infantry Brigade, which has operational jurisdiction over Mindoro Island, from the stage in the muddy field.
Wilson led an Adventist delegation to Malacañan Palace in Manila, residence of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte.
Wilson expressed appreciation to Duterte for supporting religious liberty, promoting healthy lifestyle choices, and demonstrating the reconciling ministry of Jesus in granting an amnesty to former rebels who have laid down their arms after hearing the gospel through Adventist World Radio.
“I want to thank you for providing amnesty to the former rebels, who now have had their hearts changed by the powerful broadcasts of Adventist World Radio,” Wilson said at the meeting on the evening of November 10. The radio broadcasts “are touching their hearts and helping them to truly become productive citizens of the great country of the Philippines.”
With Duterte’s consent, Wilson opened a small black Bible and gave a Bible study on Micah 6:8, which says, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (NKJV).
“This is the formula, your excellency, for those who want to help people, to lead,” he said.
Duterte, who initially spoke about his desire to defend children and the impoverished, appeared to grow reflective about spiritual matters after the Bible study, and he described his faith and prayer life.
“I am not into religious rituals. . . . I do not believe in them,” he said. “But I have a deep, abiding faith.”
At Wilson’s suggestion, Duterte readily stood for a prayer that closed the meeting. The Philippine health minister and a government senator, who also were in attendance, stood as well. Afterward, Wilson presented Duterte with a Bible, Ellen White’s books The Great Controversy and Steps to Christ, and a pen engraved with the Adventist Church logo, which he told the president could be used to underline verses in the Bible. During the meeting, Wilson told Duterte that his desire, and the desire of every Christian, is simply to share Jesus’ love.
Samuel Saw, president of the Adventist Church’s Southern Asia-Pacific Division, whose territory includes the Philippines, emphasized that the visit with Duterte was not a “usual courtesy call.”
“It was a visit with a purpose, a visit with a mission,” he said.
AWR is working with the Philippine government and a nongovernmental organization, Adventist Laymen’s Services and Industries (ASI) member Farm Stew, to help the former rebels earn a livelihood through farming. The government has given plots of farmland to the former rebels, and Farm Stew will help teach them how to cultivate it and live healthily.
[Andrew McChesney, Adventist Mission and Adventist Review]