by Lindy Backues, Philadelphia Praise Center
My spiritual story begins just outside of St. Louis, Missouri, on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River.
I grew up in a predominantly white, midwestern town of 40,000, where most everyone looked like me. I did not grow up in a Christian home. My parents espoused what was, at that time, “typical” midwestern values, however, so they were not completely antagonistic to religion. We simply were not religious.
As a teenager, I applied to the YMCA as a bus counselor in a neighboring city, East St. Louis, Illinois. This was a historically black, urban area, deeply scarred by decades of systemic and cultural racism. My experiences there drastically altered my perspective on life. I later served as a swim instructor. I worked almost exclusively with African American kids. By and large, these young children, who wanted little more than to play and to learn to swim, were delightful in their glee as they participated in these programs. I became quite attached to them and also got to know their families.
The undeniable racism they experienced became obvious to me. Most young white boys in my area would not have been aware such racism even existed. My still deeply rooted sense of justice first took shape at that YMCA in East St. Louis.
A side-effect of this was that I developed disdain for local churches in my area, since the racism there was palpable. As a teenager, I was becoming increasingly convinced (primarily by way of my father) that religion was unnecessary and something smart people discarded. I went through my high school years and onto college with these attitudes.
In 1982, toward the end of my time at the University of Missouri, I experienced an unexpected spiritual conversion. I attended a church service with my mother (who had recently rediscovered religion and I went along to appease her). In a miraculous encounter, I became aware that the God of justice – the God of the biblical story – also did not like racism (nor did God like sexism, nor depletion of earth’s resources). I did not plan for this to happen; it simply did. At the tender age of 22, I found myself ushered into a version of the gospel I still find appealing.
Being given such a radical but limited epiphany of God’s kingdom, I headed off to seminary to deepen my theological understanding. In 1988, I graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary, receiving a Master of Divinity degree, with a focus on biblical studies and anthropology.
After seminary (and getting married in 1985), my wife and I moved to Indonesia. We lived there for the next 18 years (our daughter and son were born there). We became deeply involved in economic and community development in a predominantly Muslim area, located in the province of West Java. Along the way, I added a Master’s degree in Economic Development and a PhD in Theology and Development Studies.
In 2008 we relocated to South Philadelphia and I began teaching at Eastern University. We joined Philadelphia Praise Center (PPC) at that time. A few years later, I felt myself nudged by God to receive official licensure as Outreach Minister for Philadelphia Praise Center, something that has brought my official credentials into line with this long march God had led me on.