John Ed Mathison headshot

Last week, I wrote about how I have been listening. My next step is to learn.

Authentic listening creates a platform for learning. I’ve learned so much about what many of my friends have been exposed to in this community – some really tough things. The best way to learn about people of another race is to sit down and listen to their stories.

Learning brings change. I believe that God can change anybody, anytime, anywhere! I believe it is essential to allow God to change our hearts before our attitudes and actions will change. Changed hearts and minds will change relationships!

Governor George C. Wallace was the icon of segregation when he stood in the schoolhouse door in Tuscaloosa and said, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.” As he grew older, Gov. Wallace began to listen to God and listen to people. He learned that he was wrong about racial relationships. God changed his heart!

Wallace watched our Frazer worship services on television because, following the attempted assassination on his life, his hearing had become severely impaired. He invited me many times to visit him. He wanted to know if God would forgive him and if black people would forgive him. Wallace even showed me a letter from the Pope and a letter from Billy Graham telling him that God would forgive him, but he still wasn’t completely convinced.

When visiting with him, he would use a blackboard and chalk to write. Some of the best words I’ve ever seen written were those the Governor wrote a few months before he died, “I know that God has forgiven me, and I know that the black people I harmed have forgiven me. I really know it!!!”

Last week, I was in a meeting with a wonderful black minister who told of going to visit George Wallace. He was very skeptical about this dramatic change, but he heard Wallace’s witness and was totally convinced that he was sincere. The pastor started crying. He realized what God had done in Wallace’s life – and what he now had to do.

The past few years, I’ve spoken at racial reconciliation rallies in the Mississippi Delta, Selma, and Lowndesboro. To each of these, I carried Tommy Waites, a big black man who served time in prison and hated whites – especially policemen – and Wes Strane, a big white former policeman who openly confessed that he hated blacks – especially convicts.

These two men – a black prisoner who hated white policemen and a white policeman who hated black prisoners – testified how God turned them from hatred to love. They would look at each other and say, “I love you, brother,” and then bear hug! Only God could make that happen!!

I’m learning that if God can change me, George Wallace, Tommy Waites, and Wes Strane – he can change anybody, anytime, anywhere! And I am going into the future based on that assurance!

What can I do? – listen and continue learning what God can do!!