In late August 1619, a Dutch ship named the White Lion arrived at Jamestown carrying 20 Africans, whom they bartered for supplies from the settlers. To consider that consequential moment in time, eclipsed by the vast European slave trade already taking shape, helps us think about America and how we got to where we are today. Those 20 Africans were the first slaves to be sold in the land that would eventually become the United States of America.
April 9 marks the ending of the Civil War in America in 1865, but it also marks the beginning of the Azusa Street revival in 1906. An African American preacher named William Seymour led this powerful revival. Often when mentioning this historic revival, most people talk about the conspicuous gifts of the Spirit that were present, but William Seymour emphasized love and unity of the brethren.
Bound together by providence, two friends whose families are rooted in the days of slavery fight injustice.
During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, just as in the days of slavery in America, a remnant of whites and blacks labored together. Dr. Martin Luther King addressed this unity in his I Have a Dream speech: “I have a dream that one day...the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
In the days of slavery, former slave Richard Allen preached the gospel as a Methodist circuit-riding companion of former slave owner Freeborn Garrettson. Today, members of a new united remnant are realizing we are inextricably bound to each other in our desire for spiritual awakening and justice for all.
This month, designated Black History Month, moves my heart in a profound way because of a kettle passed down in my family, and a Virginia farmhouse that unites me with my friend in ministry Matt Lockett, a house that once stood between foes in a divided nation. Today, God is using our profound story and shared inheritance to unite the church for spiritual awakening and healing in America.
It takes a book (which Matt and I are working on) to convey all the providential history and layers of meaning in our story. What I am sharing here is just the tip of the iceberg.
Risking Their Lives to Pray
Our story begins with a 200-year-old black kettle, used by my Christian slave forebears in Lake Providence, Louisiana. Used for cooking and washing clothes during the day, this kettle was secretly used for prayer at night. Forbidden to pray by their slave master, my ancestors were beaten unmercifully if found doing so. However, in spite of their master’s cruelty, and because of their love for Jesus, they prayed anyway. Sneaking into a barn at night, they carried this cast-iron pot into their secret prayer meeting. As others looked out and kept watch, those inside prayed.
Turning the pot upside down on the barn floor, they propped it up with rocks–—suspending the pot a few inches above the ground. Then, while lying prostrate or kneeling on the ground, they prayed in a whisper underneath the kettle to muffle their voices. The story passed down with the kettle is that they risked their lives to pray for ensuing generations.
One day, freedom came. A teenage girl, whose name is lost to history, decided to keep this pot and pass it down along with the story of how others prayed for our freedom. She passed the story and kettle down to Harriet Lockett, who then passed it on to Nora Lockett, who then passed it on to William Ford Sr., then to William Ford Jr.—who then gave it to me, William Ford III.
Though my forefathers only used this kettle to keep their prayers from being heard, it became symbolically—probably without their knowing it—their bowl of intercession.
It is important to understand the dynamics of what happened in the spirit realm. Revelation 5:8b speaks of “bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” before the throne of God. Zechariah 14:20b (NASB) says, “And the pots in the house of the Lord shall be as the basins before the altar.” This kettle, or “prayer bowl,” caught muffled prayers on earth, just as bowls in heaven caught their prayers as incense.
And in Revelation 8 when these bowls are released, one of the manifestations upon the earth is voices. White Christian abolitionists/revivalists like Francis Asbury and Charles Finney became voices for the voiceless. Their sermons, spoken in public, became answers to prayers whispered in private. Along with black revivalists and abolitionists, like Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, the white Christian abolitionists awakened the conscience of America to the value of human life, equality and justice. Revelation 8 also says that at some future point, God will add His incense and fire to these prayers, which manifest His judgment or justice on earth. And that is just what He did.
In 1857, many felt a U.S. Supreme Court decision sealed the fate of enslaved African Americans. In Dred Scott v. Sandford, the Supreme Court justices ruled by a 7-2 decision that slaves were the property of their masters—with no human rights or representation in court. But because of prayer and acts of obedience, hearts were changed, and eventually this demonic decree over America was broken. Revival was released, and justice came, setting slaves free. And prayer and action comforted God’s heart.
Today, our generation is also being called to prayer and action, to be voices for the voiceless, releasing revival and justice. Dr. King said in his “I Have a Dream” speech: “for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.” Just as God raised up a unified remnant of black and white during slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, today, He is connecting the past with the future in more ways than one.
Discovering a Divine Connection
As God would have it, as my Lockett forefathers in Lake Providence prayed for years for slavery to end, the last major battle of the Civil War happened at a property called Lockett’s Farmhouse in Farmville, Virginia. I didn’t know about this until about four years ago, when one of my best friends, Matt Lockett, director of Bound4LIFE and JHOP DC, discovered he is a direct descendant of this Lockett family. In other words, since he is a direct descendant, it could be said that over 150 years ago, the Civil War ended in his family’s front yard. History records that Lockett’s Farmhouse was the site of the last battle before Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered three days later—April 9, 1865—at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia.
As friends, we were amazed by our uncanny “Lockett” coincidence. But as more was revealed in the months to come, we discovered we are connected to the same Lockett family.
You read that correctly. We’ve learned that several ancestors in Matt’s family owned many, many slaves. After a year and a half of research, empirical evidence reveals that Matt’s family of Locketts in Virginia owned my family of Locketts in Louisiana, who, according to U.S. Census records, originated in Virginia. As this profound history unfolded, we wept together. This revelation blew our minds! Our connection is more than a coincidence, and the prayers of my slave forefathers were literally answered in the front yard of the same Lockett family who owned them—the same Lockett family of one of my friends, Matt Lockett. Though we’ve served in a national ministry together—I was one of the first Bound4LIFE board members 13 years ago—none of this was revealed to us until Matt’s discovery of Lockett’s Farm four years ago. I’ve always known I was a son of former slaves, but it wasn’t until 2013 that Matt learned he was a son of former slave owners.
About a year after this initial discovery, we learned that God was also answering prayers for freedom and the ending of slavery on Matt’s side of the Lockett family as well. Matt found out that another Lockett in his family line was one of Francis Asbury’s circuit-riding preachers—a revivalist and abolitionist who stood against slavery. In light of Matt’s ministry and impact today, it is no coincidence this Methodist revivalist is part of Matt’s family heritage. Nor do I think it is a coincidence that for 13 years, I’ve been friends with a descendant of those same Locketts—contending together for revival as a new breed of abolitionist.
What’s even more astounding is that we first met on Jan. 17, 2005, Martin Luther King Day, at a prayer meeting at the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. King said, “I have a dream … that one day the sons of former slaves, and the sons of former slave owners, will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” We have wondered if Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech wasn’t merely poetic, but rather prophetic. Perhaps God had my family kettle come from a town called Lake Providence to show that all of our destinies are more tied together than we realize, and the lake of His providence is way deeper and wider than we know.
When God gets this detailed in revealing history, you can’t help but notice His signs and begin to wonder—and ponder. One question we’ve been pondering is: Why was this hidden from us until now? Perhaps it is because God knew racial tension and unrest would be rife now in our nation. Ferguson, Missouri; Charlottesville, Virginia; and other hotspots are only manifestations of the wounds God wants to heal—and will heal—through a unified godly remnant.
Another key question is, “What is God saying to us all in this?” I don’t have all the answers, but I believe He is saying He is serious about us connecting with the past to empower an awakening that will shape our nation’s future. He also is revealing that life is precious, nothing “just happens” and no one is a mistake. Just as God addressed innocent bloodshed during slavery, He also wants us to deal with the issue today, which is the injustice that connected Matt and I years ago. On MLK Celebration Day in 2005, Matt heard me speak for the first time about a new revival and justice movement, which included the unborn, and ever since, we’ve been praying for a revival that will end abortion, before we even knew our shared family history.
Uniting as One Voice
The God who wept over Walter Scott and Philando Castile is the same God who shed tears over five police officers killed in Dallas, Heather Heyer killed in Charlottesville and more than 60 million babies aborted in America. Will ending abortion fix all of our social ills? No, but can we truly solve any problem in our communities while abortion still exists? When we devalue people we cannot see and make them optional, inevitably, it is easier to devalue some of the people we can see until they become marginal.
The answers, of course, lie in the church. The church was also the answer during slavery and the civil rights movement. A new remnant of Christians of all races working together on abortion and other issues, such as systemic poverty, education and mass incarceration, must pray for spiritual awakening. We must be voices for the voiceless in our day.
In God’s irony, Lockett’s farmhouse, the same house that unites Matt and me, is the same house that stood between a divided nation. History records that the Confederate Army was in the front of Lockett’s farmhouse, and the Union Army was in the back. The house was between these armies, and though it was riddled with bullets, it is still standing today. Historians say that after the Southern army surrendered, the Lockett house was set up the next day as a hospital for both Confederate and Union soldiers. Floorboards in the house were stained with the mingled blood of both sides, as former black slaves worked with white nurses to heal the wounds of brothers who had been fighting against each other.
It is a picture of intercession, a house of prayer, standing in the gap for the nation in the middle of the conflicts where brothers are still divided along class, ideological, political and racial lines. Once again, God is raising up a house that stands between the living and the dead, to use our intercession to stop the plagues of culture (see Num. 16:46-48).
Matt and I don’t believe it’s a mistake that we met first in a prayer meeting on MLK Celebration Day at the Lincoln Memorial and have been sitting at the table of brotherhood ever since. Today, he and I endeavor to stand united in the house of prayer, to heal a divided nation once again. Now God is using us to call believers of all races to unite in prayer and intercession, because only a united church can heal a divided nation.
In Dec. 2017, the clergy in Charlottesville asked us to participate in a prayer meeting for healing the community. Not far from there stands Lockett’s Farmhouse, which has a memorial stone in the front yard that reads: “April 6th, 1865, Here Lee Fought His Last Battle.” Our families’ 200-year-old kettle pot in hand, we went back to the spot where the prayers underneath the kettle were answered. We built an altar there and prayed. Though we prayed tears of joy in thankfulness, we also prayed for another laying down of arms. Our earnest prayer is that America would unconditionally surrender to the God of providence.
This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of Charisma Magazine as the cover story commemorating Black History Month.
On August 12, 2017, Charlottesville, VA became the unlikely epitome of racially motivated violence in America. A statue of Robert E. Lee served as the backdrop for the dramatic scene that engulfed the campus of the University of Virginia and the downtown Main Street area, where Heather Heyer was struck by a car driven by hate and killed. The nation was re-introduced to a small group of Americans willing to brandish burning torches in the Virginia night, unmistakably harkening back to a time of hooded mobs terrorizing black and minority residents.
Sadly, most Americans are content to idly accept less overt displays of racism in the systems of society. August 12th, however, was impossible to ignore.
What continues to be made abundantly clear is that Charlottesville is not an anomaly in the nation. It’s merely the most recent crack in the dam of pent up hostility. A few years ago, I felt the Lord had spoken to me that the enemy had planted landmines of racial strife all across the country, and they were just waiting to be set off. To be clear, that “enemy,” of course, is not any human being. It is a spiritual enemy and demonic through and through. It finds a body in our unjust systems, attitudes, and apathy, and it rages against the image of God in others who look a little different than ourselves.
Will Ford and I had the privilege of being asked to participate in a Charlottesville event on December 2, organized in response to the violence and tragedy. We joined with Christian city leaders and national leaders to address the issue with prayer and action. It was an honor to link arms with women and men unwilling to let hate have the last word in these matters. At a press conference in front of the Lee statue, which is now covered with a black tarp, Will and I were introduced as “very interesting gentlemen” and “who represent the heart of the gathering.” Our contribution was to tell our incredible story of Providence and to help lead prayer that would mark hearts and motivate action. What was particularly rewarding for us was the fact that Virginia serves as the centerpiece of our story.
Virginia is the birthplace of America. It is rich with history and overflowing with stories. Today’s culture, however, is wrestling with how to tell those stories. Some feel threatened by revisionist history, while others see an intentional perpetuation of the mindsets of a bygone era—namely that of slavery. As Will and I have prayed over these matters, an important aspect has emerged that we would like to address. It deals with the statues and memorials that are dominating discussions in cities all across America.
Memorials serve one grand purpose: to remind us of people and events in the past that helped get us to where we are now. In their ideal expression, we learn from those pivotal moments how to help improve the future by not repeating the mistakes of the past. In their less-than-ideal form, they can elevate ideas that quietly suggest, "Let’s get back to the way things were.” It’s in those moments when minority communities, in particular, are thinking, “No thanks.”
Take the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville as an example. The city remains torn over whether or not to remove it. While participating in the gathering there, I asked several leaders what they thought about it. To my surprise, they were equally divided on the topic. “Oh, it definitely needs to stay. Lee was an important figure in Virginia history,” one pastor responded. “That statue is a constant reminder of slavery and racism,” another clergyman declared. Is there a right or wrong answer to this dilemma? It’s important to know some forgotten history to understand the backdrop of this controversy in America right now.
The first film to ever premiere in the United States White House was called Birth of a Nation. In 1915, Democratic President Woodrow Wilson allowed the screening of the movie as a favor to his friend, the author of the book on which the film was based. That book was titled The Clansman. The film, which was revolutionary for its time and a commercial success, dramatized the founding of the Ku Klux Klan, depicting them as heroic figures set against uncivilized and sexually aggressive black men in the South.
Although the KKK had been dismantled during the later years of reconstruction after the Civil War, the film effectively galvanized a resurgence of the Klan and was used as a recruitment tool. That year the KKK was reborn on top of Stone Mountain connected to the film’s release in Atlanta. It is not a mere coincidence then that many statues memorializing Confederate leaders began to emerge throughout the south. The Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville was commissioned shortly afterward in 1917.
It could be said that the racist film Birth of a Nation helped fuel the spirit of the age. What must be acknowledged is that many of the statues and memorials that emerged at that time were the product of a racist agenda. Mind you, this was all happening during the Jim Crow era, when racial segregation ruled the South. The United Daughters of the Confederacy, who helped organize the unveiling of the statue, released a statement in the wake of August 12th saying their organization, “totally denounces any individual or group that promotes racial divisiveness or white supremacy.” Then, a few days after Will and I helped lead prayer in Charlottesville, an Imperial Wizard with the KKK admitted in a CNN interview that many white supremacists had come on August 12th to incite a race war.
So what can be said? After a closer look at the commission of the Charlottesville Lee statue, did it have a racist origin or not? The reality is whether or not the statue stays or goes, people on either side will have hearts that need healing, which is why we must continue to cover this matter in prayer.
Will Ford and I met January 17, 2005, which was Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration day. On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. King gave his famous I Have a Dream speech, I joined with others from around the country for a prayer meeting. Little did I know, but Will had also been led to attend that same prayer meeting. What has been significant to both of us through the years is that we met in a prayer meeting, and I think that fact speaks of what God wants to do in America right now.
I genuinely believe we are going to find each other in the prayer meetings. If we will lay down our agendas and seek each other out to advance God’s kingdom, there is no limit to what God can accomplish in us and through us. It’s a wise statement, “You can do more than pray, but you can’t do anything until you have prayed.” It’s in these kinds of prayer meetings that God-ideas and action come together with brothers and sisters moving in unity. God promises to pour out the anointing oil in those settings, so I believe the prayer meeting is the great incubator for godly activism and societal change.
Only a united church can heal a divided nation.