by Charlene Smalls, Ripple congregation (Allentown, PA)
I was raised by a long line of strong, God-fearing, caring black women who believed that there was power in knowing the name of Jesus. I sense there has always been a call on my life to serve God. As a young girl growing up in the Baptist church, I could strongly sense the presence of God, but had not grown in my understanding of the person of Jesus Christ yet. That understanding actually came with lots of life lessons and a long journey.
I had two grandmothers that I attended church with: one was Pentecostal, the other was Baptist. I believe I learned to sense the presence of God from my Pentecostal roots, but was drawn to Baptist theology because of its structure. The gift of God, given to me from both these women, helped me get through the loss of a sibling, living with a grieving mother, having a father who returned from the military with a drug addiction, and my own mistakes and failures. The one consistent thing in my life was the presence of God, to which I was always drawn, no matter what.
In 1989, after a failed marriage, I moved to Pennsylvania and joined the Union Baptist Church where my spiritual growth truly began. I was blessed to remarry, and I have been gracefully married for 30 years to my soulmate. After opening a nail salon that I called Intimate Expressions, my call and ministry unknowingly began. Sitting in that business day after day, as Jesus healed me, He used me to help bring healing to others.
Life is full of storms, and it was in the midst of a storm that I received my call. I can remember pacing and praying one evening. When God spoke it was not to answer my prayer, but to announce the call on my life. I was thinking, “You have to be kidding! I am broken. How can I minister to others?”
I have come to realize that I was called to care. I see my call as a sending, God telling me to “Go.” I knew God was sending me, and I knew that wherever He sent me, He would also be with me, as He always has been.
After being a licensed Baptist minister, receiving my degree in Arts and Religion at Liberty University, and serving as Director of Outreach at Union Baptist Church for 15 years, I now serve as Co-Pastor at Ripple Mennonite Church. This is where Jesus has sent me to care for others.
My experience with the Pentecostal faith taught me to sit in the presence of God and be open to the voice of the Holy Spirit. That same voice has now led me to this place and an understanding that Jesus is the center of my faith, community is truly the center of my life, and reconciliation is the purpose of those who are called to care.