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July 20, 2002
Column #1090

A Black Church Standing For Marriage

     For four stormy years Lacy Riddell lived with Regenia whom he had not married. "It was really turmoil," she recalls. "I'm a quiet person, but we were taking out our aggression with real fisticuffs. He was not working. He lived off me. He was not a very good role model for my girls. It was a bad relationship. I had to throw him out."

     Lacy came home to find his packed bags, outside in the rain. "I did not want to give up the free room and board and the sex. That was my security." he said of those days in 1983. 

     He called LeRoy Sullivan, a friend and Bible study leader, who drove Lacy to LeRoy's mother's house and put him in the basement. He asked Lacy, "Do you love Jesus? If you love Jesus, how could you do what you are doing to Regenia? If you love God, what you're going through is working for YOUR good. Scripture says that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him," (Romans 8:28). Being homeless and alone was for his good? 

     LeRoy told him that "Stalin equated American religion with opium. People get their high at church on Sunday but on Monday they are back in the same old lifestyle...God wants to form a relationship with you." Lacy said he walked with God every day. LeRoy responded, "He wants to walk inside you, and take away all the hurt and your anger." 

     That hit Lacy, because he knew that anger was his dominant emotion. His mother and stepmother had been unstable people. He had poor education, which made him angry. He directed his anger at Regenia, though he loved her. When LeRoy left him, at first he was tempted to kill himself. But he felt the Holy Spirit of God, Jesus, saying "No. You need love and joy and peace in your life, which you can find in me." 

     "I asked Christ to come in my heart, and felt a great weight lifted from me. I woke up a different man. I had such a peace, I went to tell my girl friend." Regenia thought he was just trying to win her back, but by June, 1984 she knew he had changed and said she wanted to marry him. Surprisingly, he said, "I can't marry you until you see that you need Jesus in YOUR life. You need to find the same peace. I can't do that for you." He prayed for her and she "got saved."

     They were married June 30, 1984 and have helped LeRoy build the Bread of Life Outreach Ministries in Christ Church in Kansas City, Kansas. At first, the church was predominantly women and children. Today it is 140 people who are overwhelmingly married couples with children. That is a rare inner city transformation.

     Why? First, LeRoy trained couples like Dr. Kevin and Sharon Rowan to be Mentor Couples to those considering marriage. Two years ago, they mentored Lacy and Regenia's daughter, Michelle and Mike O'Leary. Michelle was on welfare because she had a son from a previous relationship and was pregnant with Mike's child, "which did not help our decision to get married," she says. Further, "We could not talk without arguing."

     Kevin, who has an earned doctorate in pastoral theology, said Mike was from the South, "a male dominant culture. He felt things should be a certain way, his way, not hers. She was soft-spoken and did not know how to be assertive enough." Kevin told them how he was a person who avoided confrontation, and would walk away from a fight. His wife would "follow me from room to room until I got in my car and drove off. But I had to come home, and we learned to compromise. We may not agree, but we both had a right to express how we feel."

     Michelle and Mike took FOCCUS, a premarital inventory, and went through a series of communication exercises. "After we went through that process, we could talk and hear each other," she says. "We learned to listen to each other. It works great."

     Pastor Sullivan has also confronted six other couples who were cohabiting. In sermons he said, "God's plan is you should marry or separate." Four couples did marry. In two cases the man would not marry or move out. Rachel asked for help with Nelson who was also deep into pornography. One night LeRoy knocked at their door. Nelson said, "Hi pastor. What are you doing here?"

     LeRoy replied, "Rachel says you won't marry her and won't move out. That's not right. I am going to sit in that chair until you move out. Where is your remote? 

     "How long are you prepared to stay?"

     "Until midnight. Then Brother Lacy, the Holy Ghost's housedog, will be here." 

     He moved out.


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