IT STARTED as a friendship between two ministers in Mississippi, and soon the older African-American minister, Charles Johnson DL ’86, told the younger white minister what it was like to be black and living in Mississippi during the turbulent 1960s. Chet Bush ’96, that young minister and the pastor of the Church of the Nazarene in Oxford, Mississippi, soon realized that Johnson’s story was one that needed to be preserved. Although he had never written a book before, Chet explained that he was “deeply called to write Johnson’s story; I felt as called towrite this book as strongly as I feel about my own call to preach.” This year Abingdon Press published that book—Called to the Fire: A Witness for God in Mississippi, The Story of Dr. Charles Johnson (2013, $21.99).
The national launch of the book took place in Trevecca’s chapel on February 19 in front of an audience of 900 persons, which included executives from Abingdon, members of the Johnson and Bush families, students, and friends of both men. Thirty-three members of the choir from Dr. Johnson’s church, Fitkin Memorial Church of the Nazarene in Meridian, Mississippi, provided the music for the service, and then Michael Johnson ’82/MEd ’03, public liaison for the Office of the President, interviewed Bush and Dr. Johnson and had them recount the central facts of the book.
Fresh out of Bible college in the 1960s, Johnson accepted the pastorate of Fitkin Memorial Church, in Mississippi, where he knew God had “called” him—in spite of Johnson’s fear of Mississippi and the racial turmoil there. When three young voting rights activists were murdered in Mississippi, Johnson, who had befriended the three, was called as a witness at the trial that became known as the “Mississippi Burning” trial, which resulted in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Johnson became a leader of the civil rights movement in Mississippi, and in spite of the racism he encountered, Charles Johnson committed himself to a ministry of love, conviction, grace, and redemption; that commitment was tested when he was later visited by the man who had been at the center of the murders.
Chet noted the secret of Johnson’s ministry: “Dr. Charles Johnson knew that in order to be called to the fire, one must be called by the fire. His passion flowed from a center more fiery than the furnace of racism.” The podcast of the February 19 chapel is available at www.trevecca.edu/campus-life/spiritual-life/chapel-podcasts.