Finding Home in a Divided Land

“I use the things I’m learning at Eternity every day, and I’m so thankful that I can continue my education while serving here in Greenwood.”

By Ryan Breland, Online Student in South Carolina

I never wanted to leave California. I definitely never saw myself living in the South. And yet, here I am in South Carolina, serving as a Youth Pastor in the small town of Greenwood.

I spent most of my life in Long Beach before moving to Simi Valley to take classes at Eternity and work in Student Ministry. It was just a short move, but it was a huge transition. Compared to Long Beach, Simi Valley was such a quiet suburb. The students I worked with didn’t share my experiences or my culture. The city was much smaller and safer. The students were a bit more sheltered, and they definitely weren’t asking the same questions I grew up asking.

It became clear that if I wanted to disciple these students, I would need to learn how to build bridges into their world. Thankfully, my professors didn’t only teach me the Bible, they taught me how to listen and love better. They equipped me with the tools I needed to bring the Good News into all kinds of contexts and to all kinds of people. These things I learned in California helped prepare me for what I would find in Greenwood.

A Small Town with Deep Wounds

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I came to Greenwood. I’m a black man from the West Coast, and I grew up learning about Jim Crowe and the history of racism in the South. It’s easy to think these problems are all in the past, but there are pockets where they’re still alive. Sometimes its right in your face, like at the nearby shop that sells KKK memorabilia and is run by klansmen, but in my experience the tension is most visible in the relational barriers that keep this city divided. Even the local churches continue to remain mostly segregated (although that’s not just a problem in South).

They may call the South the “Bible Belt,” but just like the rest of our world, this place needs the Gospel. Greenwood needs the healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation that can only be found at the cross. The Gospel breaks chains and tears down the walls that divide us from God and one another (Eph 2:14-16). I’ve experienced this first hand, I see it in my church family, and I’m excited to preach this peace to “those who are far off and those who are near” (2:17).

Home Away From Home

Like I said, I never imagined living in the South, but I’ve come to treasure this community. When you talk to people there’s an authenticity and genuineness that you can’t find in most places. God has placed me in an incredible church that values relationships and has made me feel right at home. My students are hungry to learn and they’re always ready to serve. The fact that they look to me to accurately teach and demonstrate the truths of the Bible challenges me to grow more myself.

Life in the South is very different from the life I knew in California, but God has brought me here and given me the tools I need to make Him known. I use the things I’m learning at Eternity every day, and I’m so thankful that I can continue my education while serving here in Greenwood.