Was Joy Possible for a Slave?

I want to revisit the Gullah storyteller I briefly introduced in my previous post. Her manner and dialect in painting the picture of slavery on the old plantation we visited was captivating. So continuing to process the little bit we heard has led me to this question:
How did slaves ever find rest and peace, even joy, in their conditions?


Originally on the Southern plantations the Gullah predominately practiced their native traditional West African religion.  But under their masters’ authority and effort to “eradicate heathen customs”, slaves were forced to attend church services.
As the Gullah people began to hear the Word about Christ many were converted and settled in to the denominations of their owners. In turning to the Lord as their Savior, the hope they found led to preaching and praying on the plantations. Then Spirituals and praise houses developed as worshipping the Lord through songs became a way to release the hardships and struggles and find joy in the midst of it.
This is quite ironic. On the one hand, you have the slaves who have now found new life in Jesus despite their suffering; while on the other hand, you have “Christian” slave owners and their families who did not see their sinful, prideful attitudes and behavior.
It seems their “faith” was more a social activity and not the means to a transformational relationship with the Father. I would gather because they did not see their need. After all, they lived on beautiful plantations with all the wealth and benefits that come with privilege. In their eyes, there really was no need to depend on anyone outside of themselves.
But not so for the slaves. They knew their daily need of the Father. A need for… Grace. Endurance. Help. Comfort. Rest. Peace. Deliverance.


Because of this great need, they bowed the knee. They cried out to the only One big enough to provide. And they found Him to be faithful even though their circumstances did not change. They found their life wrapped up in Him realizing their true, ultimate and ever-lasting home was not in slavery on the plantation. Their true home was in Him.
With this mindset of an ultimate hope in Jesus, they could be OK when others mistreated them. They could suffer at the hand of evil because what can man do to me when my “home” is not here. They knew He loved them, even if others did not. The slaves understood then how the gospel’s application filters in to all of life. Do we?
Can we be OK when we experience hard circumstances? Suffering? Mistreatment? Sickness? Unemployment? Gossip? Being left out? Not getting what we want?
Jesus says in Mark 8:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it…”

In giving up our own self-sufficiency and seeing our need, we too can rest and find joy because only in Christ is life, and death gain!


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