Atheist meets Pastor

On November 17, 2014 I found myself dragging my body out of a car that had rolled 4-5 times down a 100-150ft embankment, not too far from my resident. This post will not be discussing my accident but rather, a ‘virtual encounter’ with a gentleman I had never met.

My first couple of nights home post surgery, I found an envelope outside the screen of my front door. Inside this envelope was a check donation. I was astonished and touched at the same time. A stranger, a man who had never met me cared. This blew my mind of course. These donations, as in most cultures, are what people normally present to you to show care and compassion when they find out that something tragic has occurred at a home.

A couple of weeks prior to my accident, I had had the opportunity to proofread a story of a young black boy who was inspired by a white lady during the civil rights movement back in 1965. I had actually proofread this story and as it turns out, this would be the same gentleman who sent me a donation. In a town where population black is 1.1%, I always admired how the editor held no prejudices in the topics she wrote about. The black gentleman is a pastor of a Baptist church in Memphis,Tennessee and he told of a story of many years ago when he was just a pre-teen.

My great friend, P.H, who is also the editor of our local newspaper was the person I called immediately after my accident. I called her because I needed her to make immediate arrangements with regards to tying up loose ends of my day i.e. Make sure my son was picked up from school, call my spouse and make sure my sweetheart doesn’t lose her mind while driving to the hospital. P.H. was affected by my accident and she shared her shock and hurt with Pastor. This explains the check that was tucked at the screen door of my house in the middle of the night. The pastor had sent the check through P.H. and so she made sure I got it.

The healing process brought on me a period of sadness, regret, anger and lost total interest in the world outside my door. P.H. kept asking me to contact the pastor just to tell him how I was progressing. Reluctantly, I sent the first email out to him two months after I had received the gracious donation:

Jan 19
Dear Pastor

This is the young lady that got into a horrific accident back on November 17, 2014. P.H. has called me out and told me to snap out of depression mode. I have not been expressive to anyone about my accident. I find it a hard topic to discuss…for now. I am normally in control of my life and this accident has left me helpless, lost and just…sad.
You have been on my mind since you sent me that donation and you have touched my heart since. I am actually excited to have your personal email.
I hope this email finds you healthy and well. I would love nothing more than to stay in contact with you. Please let me know you have received my email.
It’s 9:35pm here in California and I am going to rest my bones now. Looking forward to talking some more with you.
Nide Zimemo Stannard

His reply:
Jan 20

You are more than welcome. I am very glad to hear from you. I am very glad P.H. is trying to encourage you not to let what happened deflate your dreams and goals. I have a lot of confidence in P.H. and she thinks well of you. Since she does, I was touched by her concern for you and I responded as best I could without knowing you all in person. God has a way of bringing people together in strange ways. I have learned never to take meeting of minds and people lightly. I know it is sunny and warm in California. We are in the fifties today and that is far better than what we have had since before Christmas. Of course, in this part of the country, we can see 0 and 72 degrees this time of year. Tomorrow or the next day, it will be in the forties. Thanks to God that he provides for our ability to cope with whatever comes. If is in your schedule or mindset, please read the Old Testament book Habakkuk. The first chapter and the last part of chapter three are essential to your finding inspiration. You may already be aware of that fact.

All my friends and associates are well aware of my anti-religious beliefs. Part of dragging my initial ‘thank you’ email to the pastor was because I did not want to find myself debating the bible. This is inevitable with a religious person. So, of course when Pastor gave me a passage to read from the bible, I did more than that. My curious mind did not just stop there. I researched the history of the book of Habakkuk and was particularly curious to learn about this amazing prophet called Habakkuk. As with all my other bible research, it came as no surprise on my side that there was suspect information about this beloved prophet.

My Second email to Pastor:
Jan 20

Molo Mr. Wright,

(That’s how we say ‘hello’ in my mother tongue Xhosa).

I don’t know if you know this but I proofread your article that was published in our November monthly edition. I remember being entirely impressed by your style of writing and “storytelling”, and how you too were inspired by an inherently good person.

I believe in the goodness of people. As I journey through life, I am in awe of people who have overcome major hurdles in their life and have made a difference in their lifetime. I am not too quick to allow people in my heart because I know I have a big heart and fear those who will use it and abuse it. By this standard, I choose to know the real side of someone because I cannot help but show that someone the real side of me.
All day today I pondered how you being a pastor, and me being an atheist could communicate without trying to convince each other about our individual opposing views. I read the book of Habakkuk and even further than that, I researched who this prophet was.

Turns out, I actually enjoyed reading about him and identified with his concerns and cries. It is however very interesting that chapter 3 holds controversy amongst biblical scholars because of the quick change of tune and change in the style of writing. It is also interesting that when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, chapter 3 was not included. Maybe you can clear this controversy.

As an atheist, I live on a secular humanistic creed. I am against religion. I am pro human rights. Religion does not have rights but people do, and that is me in a nutshell.
I also enjoy debating these topics because I get to learn something new…even if it leads me further from having ‘faith.’

P.H. is taking me to my doctor’s appointment this Thursday and I will see (by x-ray) how my hip is healing. I’m very nervous.
I have never been to the southern states and have always been curious how life is down there.
How is your family?

Nide Zimemo Stannard
His reply to my second email:
Jan 20

Thanks for the response. I hope that your healing is progressing well. I also thank you for your honesty regarding your belief system. I will look into the concern about the Dead Sea scrolls involving Habakkuk, chapter three. My OT professor can help us out with some clarity on the matter. What I find in that reading are some words of inspiration. No, I don’t try to convince anybody to believe what I believe. However, I do believe in God, who I believe to be the Creator and this world or all life is sustained by the invisible power. I cannot understand it fully, but my faith guides me to reason in the power that I cannot see with my physical eyes.
When P.H. spoke of you in such a beloved manner, it was a natural response to offer some hospitality, regardless of how small the amount might be. See, I believe God to be kind and loving and I believe strongly enough to spread some kindness in response to Him being kind to me and not just me. P.H. has been kind to me and so has her husband, G.M. It is through P.H. that my faith in God has been refreshed and renewed with more vigor.
As far as the southern states are concerned, historically it has been very strange and tragic in so many ways. The problems of the south in America runs deeply. These problems of this era are indirectly impacted by what transpired over four or five hundred years ago. For example, my great great grandfather, Richard Brown, was a slave in Louisiana back in the early to mid-1800’s. He was forced to fight in the Civil War or the War Between the States. My story in this regard is not unique. This is common history for just about every African American/Black American. California was not developed too well during the civil war, but existed and I am not sure how blacks were viewed back then, in the 1700 and 1800’s. California, Michigan, Illinois, New York, Wisconsin, and Nevada were a few states that blacks migrated to, in an effort to escape to horrible conditions of injustices, inhuman treatment, racism, and flat out hatred for people of color. I can assure that things are much better than they were just 45-60 years ago in the USA. However, I do understand that things are not as well as they could be. The bitterness, hatred, resentments, and disrespect are real. People like Patric and Frances O’Brien shine rays of hope that things are getting better and they will continue to get better as long as there are those who care, love, and have deep compassion for all human beings. My current wife is doing fine now. She had three major surgeries since we have been married (2006-present?). My previous wife died from a dreadful disease called Leukemia. My most treasured mentors are all deceased. It is not hard for me to love people. I have overcome so much and the Creator gave me great inner strength, will, and a decent mind. For that, I am very grateful to the Almighty. There are many roads in this life that lead to various endings. I have chosen the road that leads to the road that Jesus Christ of the New Testament lays out so well.
My wish and prayer for you is that you get well and function as you are purposed to do in this life time.

My third and final email:

Hi there!!
I am waking up this morning feeling well-rested and just happy. I like this feeling better.
I’m so sorry to hear about your first wife. I am happy to hear that your second wife is doing fine after a total of three surgeries. She has to be the toughest person out here. Please say ‘Molo’ to her for me.
I lost my mother in 2006 to full-blown AIDS. We think this was the result of her taking care of my uncle a few years prior who too had the same virus. She used to yell at me when I tried to help my uncle with daily activities: “Nide, how many times have I told you not to go around your uncle?” I always thought she was harsh because I loved my uncle. I see now why she was like that.

Being from South Africa, I appreciate learning American history straight from the mouths of Americans. In the 14 years I have resided in this country, I have fallen in love with the different cultures and the diversity it offers. I am also a foodie. I intend to come down to the South and taste ALL local cuisine…including moonshine lol! I love this country, I respect what it stands for and so I call it home.

I have a very handsome 8-year-old boy. He has been so attentive and helpful through my healing process. He is funny and likes to joke a lot…even when I am not in the mood.
I have been married to my wife since 2009 and we were able to get legally married here in California in 2013. She is a Desert Storm Desert Shield War Veteran. In 2009 she underwent total hip replacement surgery due to her prior battle wounds. We both walk around the house with canes and walkers. She is amazing and is my greatest support.

P.H. and G.M. are an amazing pair. They were amazing even before my accident. They continue to do other amazing things for the community as well. I am lucky to have them on my side and now I feel so honored to have had a chance to “meet” someone like you.
Have a fantastic day, stay warm and drive safe.

Nide Zimemo Stannard
His third and final reply:
Jan 21

Thanks for the note/response. I am glad that you are at peace with yourself and injury. You are so right about P.H. and G.M. They do a whole lot for a lot of people. I don’t know them in the sense of having seen them in person, but I can tell that they are strong people and very smart. Any support you give them is a good thing. P.H. listens well. I am happy you love this nation. It is a good place and like any place, it has its pros and cons. With all of the history, bad and good, it is still one of the best countries around. When people understand the issues, the problems, or the barriers; it is much easier to find and execute fair solutions. Martin Luther King was so right when he said: “God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty.” That is so true. However, violence and crime is never the answer to bringing about right or justice. There are some things that are beyond our comprehension and even reasoning capacities. There is a song that has been sung for years down here in the south and it is called, “Put It All in His Hands.” We try hard to do what is right by people, the nation, humankind as a whole, and make as much of a contribution to the good of society and leave the rest to God, the Almighty and the Creator of it all. Life has a way of balancing itself out in the long run. That is the beauty of the animal kingdom, they usually balance nature out when we leave them alone and don’t try to make them something that they aren’t capable of doing. Have a good day and best wishes to you, your family, P.H. and G.M., and the sunny California residents. By the way, I have a number of cousins who live throughout the state. I have a sister-in-law in California(LA). The cousins are first, second, third, fourth, and beyond. With all due respect for your belief system, I still God’s blessings upon you and your healing process.

This is where things have been left so far. It has taken a lot in me to refrain from replying to this email. As I navigate my way in this journey called life, I will respect anyone’s views as long as they do not put my views down and/or impose on my world. Pastor’s last email was a conclusionary one that purposely did not acknowledge any of my personal life/lifestyle, which I opened up and shared with him. In fact, I deliberately brought my mother, my uncle, my war veteran spouse and my son up to give him plenty of optional topics he would feel comfortable talking about. My last email clearly caught him off guard. It is apparent that somehow it never occurred to him that this black woman, from Africa, living in America could be an atheist…let alone a homosexual.

It does bother me a lot when so-called-people of god/s claim they sow goodness in this world but evidently that goodness is only restricted to those who believe what they believe and conform like they did. I am left wondering if his concern was really for me or for the newspaper. Either way, I appreciate the time he spent emailing me and the initial thought of sending me a donation. This type of treatment is appalling,particularly from an African American pastor who turned his life around because he was inspired by a white woman that fought against racism. Oh the irony!