By Jessica Love
Georgia native Lahronda Little’s call to ministry began in the seeded, colorful rows of her grandparent’s garden.
“I always start with my grandparents garden,” Little said. “Everything that I know about God was formed in that context…Everything I’m doing right now goes directly back to those years in the garden with my grandparents.”
Little said the garden was significant because her grandfather, also a preacher, was a healer who shared fond Bible stories with her near the garden.
“Every time we got sick, he would go into his garden,” Little recounted. “Doctors were always a last resort. He was also a storyteller and he would invariably go to the Bible. I would always say, ‘Read me a story; read me a story!’ And, it would always, in some way, tie back to the Bible; and we would always sit on the porch near the garden.”
Now, as 2020 Women of Color Scholar, things are full circle for Little, who is inspired to find healing for Black women by addressing systemic racism through holistic salvation.
The Angella P. Current-Felder Women of Color (WOC) Scholars program is administered by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), and is designed to provide financial, intellectual and personal support to United Methodist women of color pursuing doctorates in religious studies at seminaries and universities across the U.S.
Ministry as a Garden of People
As the daughter and granddaughter of pastors, Little said that there was never a question about if she was called to ministry. The greatest challenge, however, has been learning to trust and understand what God called her to do.
“I was a chemist before I started this, and so I worked in the industrial chemistry field for almost 20 years,” Little explained. “So, when I started feeling like ‘this ain’t it,’ I looked for other positions. I was like, ‘Maybe I just need to change departments.’”
During that period of uncertainty, one thing stood out to Little—her love for people.
“So, I began to think more deeply about that,” Little said. “I thought, ‘Okay, what does this mean?’ The pieces of my job that I really, really liked had to do with people.”
When Little learned about the Predictive Health Institute, a collaborative project between Emory University and Georgia Tech, she knew immediately that God was illuminating her path in ministry. The institute was created to find innovative approaches to maintaining health rather than simply treating disease.
“During that time, I became a certified [health and fitness] trainer and…I thought, ‘Ooh, that [ Predictive Health] sounds good,’” said Little. “Also, at church, I became the health representative for women’s ministry, and so things just kept falling into place. All of these things just kept happening. You know, these serendipitous moments… I said, ‘okay, let me start looking at seminaries.’”
Trusting God Means Trusting Yourself
Now, Little is a third year doctoral student at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia. She is working toward her doctorate in theology, with an emphasis in pastoral counseling and care.
Little is still learning to trust, not just God, but herself as she navigates academia.
“Growing up in the church, I was always taught ‘Trust God. Trust God.’ Turns out, trusting God wasn’t completely the issue. It was trusting myself. Trusting God is not separate from us. It was not separate from me. So, that is still a huge challenge for me… and in that is imposter syndrome,” she said.
For Little, overcoming this fear is all about affirmation and surrounding herself with those who support and believe in her.
“I stay in close contact with my elders, with my good friends, people who’ve been with me a long time and people who have a vested interest in me making it,” she explained. “This work is isolating…So, I have to be intentional in staying in contact with other voices.”
Women of Color Connecting Voices
Little said that the Women of Color Scholars program is crucial because of the intentional space it makes for voices like hers.
“We really do need spaces to be alone so there are no barriers to feeling what we feel. There’s no one there to say your feelings are not valid,” she said.
The WOC program provides new opportunities for Little to meet other Black women theologians.
“There are very few women of color [in this field], much less Black women, and being around women of color, particularly Black women…has been a light and savior on this journey,” she said.
It was during a course in her first semester at Candler that Little learned why spaces for women of color are vital.
“The professor spent the entire semester looking over my head, and it felt like trying not to answer my questions, which I thought were valid…Spaces for women of color are crucial…and we also need money to do good research and to live,” she said.
Black Women and Holistic Salvation
As a scholar, Little still returns to her grandfather’s garden to find healing. Her research attempts to reimagine the concept of holistic salvation to address the particular needs and experiences of Black women.
Little explained that while holistic salvation is not a new concept, it really became a sticking point for her. She said that while we generally think about salvation of the soul, salvation is really a multifaceted thing.
“And we, Black women, need salvation in a particular way. In ways that other people don’t need,” she said. “Salvation is about the body. It’s about communities. It’s about the environment…Salvation in terms of world systems, the systems in which we live. All of these structures come under what I mean when I say holistic salvation.”
Little’s wants to explore the concept of holistic salvation through the lens of Black women who’ve lost children and family members to police violence.
“I do not feel it’s right for me to say I’m saved, and you’re not saved, or you have a particular need, if people are hungry and dying. We [Black people] are constantly dying at the hands of police violence,” she said.
Little said her work is important because she believes that Black women are a site for and a site through which salvation is mediated for Black communities.
“People love to say, ‘strong black women.’ That’s not what I’m talking about. I believe that… our children, other Black women, we need salvation from structural, systemic racism,” said Little. “We need to be saved in that way, so that we can continue to mediate salvation for our families and communities.”
Little is now going through the process to become an elder in the North Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. As for future endeavors, she is learning more and more to trust God’s will and way.
“Abraham didn’t know where he was going when he was leaving. It was God who said, ‘You’ll know when you get there.’ So, that’s how I’ve been thinking about this journey,” she said.
You can support scholars like Little in their fight against systemic racism by supporting the WOC Scholars program. To give directly to the program, visit: www.gbhem.org/donate4students.
About GBHEM: The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry embraces the ministry of learning and leadership formation in The United Methodist Church and Wesleyan tradition; serving Christians around the world who are shaped by a process of intellectual engagement, spiritual and character formation, and leadership development. We cultivate a dynamic culture of call and vocational discernment that encourages lay and clergy leaders to discover, claim and flourish in God’s ministry and mission for the Church, the academy and the world. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook: @GBHEM.