“Pastah J” Delivers Hopeful Message to Fellow Exiles
MURFREESBORO, NC – This year’s Chowan University Religious Heritage Lecturer came all the way from West Englewood on the south side of Chicago, IL. Reverend Jonathan E. L. Brooks, affectionately known as Pastah J, serves as Senior pastor at Canaan Community Church. To most, this may not be an ideal place to live, yet Brooks’ lectures delivered a compelling and convincing message about how important it is for Christians to be not just who God has called them to be but also where God has called them to be. According to Pastah J, to live like Jesus requires Christians to “move into the neighborhood.”
An endowed lecture series, the Heritage Lectures were established in 1994 by Dr. and Mrs. Hargus Taylor and Chowan University. The series began on Monday, September 26 and ended Wednesday, September 28. In that time Brooks delivered two campus-wide lectures in Turner auditorium, served as guest speaker at both the Ministerial Board meeting and the Chowan Christian Service Association meeting, and engaged with students by teaching classes and meeting with several athletic teams and student organizations.
Brooks engaged his audience with original rap songs and sincere stories. At Monday’s Heritage Lecture his song was a spin-off from the popular “If You’re Happy and You Know It”. He remixed it to challenge his audience singing, “If you love God and you know it then your life will truly show it.” The creative approach helped the audience remember the core of his message: “If you say that you love God then live like Christ.” He also challenged his audience to understand that when God calls someone to serve, they may be sent outside of their comfort zone. “Wherever God has called you to go,” says Brooks, “If you love God then mimic Jesus, move into the neighborhood, and spread love there.”
Students responded enthusiastically. “His unique style really caught my attention and made his message that much better,” said Chowan student Chris Sassone who was in attendance at Monday’s lecture.
Brooks was candid about original intention to move away from his hometown of West Englewood. He studied architecture at Tuskegee University, far away from home, and planned to never look back. After college, however, he became convinced that God had other plans for him. He chose obedience and moved his wife and two children back into the neighborhood. “God has called us to every single corner of the world, even the places where we don’t want to go,” said Brooks on Tuesday, September 27 at the fall meeting of the Chowan Christian Service Association (CCSA). He ended with words to donors saying, “When you give to invest in these students, you aren’t just giving money. Every time you write a check you are giving opportunities for life transformations.” He then challenged CCSA scholars and everyone in attendance to continue to see with kingdom eyes.
“Beautiful Lord you’re so beautiful Lord,” was the call and response refrain from another Pastah J original song that filled Chowan University’s Turner Auditorium during the final Heritage Lecture on Wednesday, September 28. Brooks took students on a walk through his life of exile with storytelling. Anchored on the bible text of Jeremiah 29:4-6, Brooks defined exile as “the last place on earth you want to be” and gave examples of how God’s plan became manifest in his journey. He shared how investing and engaging in his place of exile, Englewood, brought him more security, peace, and welfare. “When the neighborhood does better, you do better,” he elaborated. “In other words, when Murfreesboro does better, you do better.”
“I loved Pastah J’s message! It made me look at life from a different perspective,” responded Hannah Henderson, a CCSA scholar who was in attendance both Tuesday and Wednesday.
In his final charge to Chowan University Brooks declared, “Every person and every place displays both the glory of God and the brokenness of humanity.” He challenged students to “Put on your bifocals to see both, because you will see what you are looking for.”
“God's time is perfect,” says Mari Wiles, Minister to the University. “Rev. Jonathan Brooks, brought the powerful word of truth during hard times in our nation. He reminded us of God's plan for us to ‘move in to the neighborhood' (referring to John 1) and invest in the cries of the people. His enthusiasm and passion were contagious and we are better from him being with us. We look forward to welcoming him back on campus in February when he returns with the Voices tour.”