Bus Ride to Injustice (May-Jun 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

by Greg Taylor
May – June 2002

Fred Gray, in Bus Ride to Justice, chronicles the courageous Montgomery bus boycott that was set in motion by the December 1, 1955 arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to follow a bus driver’s order to stand in the aisle so a white man could sit. For more than a year, the wheels on the buses went round and round in Montgomery while African Americans boycotted them, an act that started the Civil Rights Movement.

The wheels on the bus of justice still go round and round today. Yet as you have read in this issue on social justice, the ride is far from smooth. The oppressed and neglected on the bus go ‘up and down’ as the bus of justice goes ‘bumpty bump’ over speed bumps and obstacles such as reparations for slave descendants and racial profiling. Some churches today are noticing ethnic diversity of their neighborhoods and choosing to witness to their neighborhood or shift ethnically rather than simply moving to higher ground.

Little more than a decade after Rosa Parks rode the bus to freedom, buses were again used for justice. Civic leaders used buses to desegregate schools and churches bused children and their parents to church. Eddie Plemmons, children’s minister at Woodmont Hills Family of God, says that through JOY (Jesus Others You) bus ministries, churches looked outside themselves, outside of their box, some for the first time in their history. Deacons nationwide came to seminars, such as the Tulsa Soul Winning Workshop, clutching their cashier’s checks, purchased used school buses from exhibitors, drove them back across the country, then religiously followed ideas of visionaries such as Jack Hyle, whose Independent Baptist church in Hammond, Indiana, at one point ran 108 buses and met in various warehouses across town. JOY bus workers painted their sputtering buses brown and yellow, stenciled JOY BUS on the side, and the buses rolled into trailer parks and public housing, complete with driver, captain, and Bible teacher perched atop a backward facing seat. Often bounced from their seats as they taught, this was the first time since the Reformation persecution that Bible teachers were getting injured in the line of duty.

In Dewey, Oklahoma twenty years ago my Dad, two brothers, and I worked a JOY bus route. Dad drove, Brent ran to escort kids to the bus, Toby squeezed in those bonus Bible classes on the way, and I sat in back and led ‘1-2-3 The Devil?s After Me.’

We picked up an African American seven-year-old named Tracy, a precocious boy being raised by his grandmother. He dressed in tattered clothes, much like another boy I knew in Houston named Hilroy, who, when asked if he wanted to go to church said, “I don’t have clothes nice enough for church,” to which the bus captain replied, “God doesn’t care what clothes you wear; you want some candy?” Holes in his shirt and pants, Hilroy climbed aboard the JOY bus in the 100 degree heat of Houston and two decades later he is finishing his master?s degree in Abilene.

My friend Tracy, however, never achieved a higher degree, but success is not measured in how many degrees or conversions our bus ministry produced as much as it is measured by the plumb line of justice. Have we loved mercy, done justice, and ridden humbly with our God?

Forever etched in my mind?s eye is Tracy’s grandma’s house, where we would drop him after Sunday night service. Dimly lit in the dark behind a tree barely stood the drafty and decrepit shotgun house. Watching Tracy walk into that house I felt my first jolts of injustice in this world. Why did I, in my perception, have so much and he have so little in this world? Blessed are the poor.

Many churches rode the JOY bus wave enthusiastically for more than a decade, but the candy bucket dried up, teacher flip charts frayed, and we’d sung, ‘The more we ride the JOY bus the happier we’ll be’ enough to sicken the cheesiest among us. Meanwhile, churches sold buses, built family life centers, hired counselors, community life and worship ministers. Had bus ministry figured as mostly another church growth scheme or a compassionate effort to reach out to the poor and tell them about Jesus? Maybe it was both.

In spite of our motives and methods, lives changed along the way. Hundreds of churches could tell stories like Kenne’s story. He rode JOY buses to three churches, settling on the one that empowered him to attend Oklahoma Christian University and later to preach for a church in Kansas. “I was raised by the church,” says Kenne. When the two girls who invited Kenne to ride their bus boarded, they would wave goodbye to their father, Steve, a heavy-drinking factory employee. Later, however, Steve went to church with his girls and Kenne. No one in recent memory had seen someone be saved like Steve was saved. He has lived joyfully in his and his family’s redemption. Recently, however, his wife, Susan, who also put on Christ, got cancer, battled it for three years, and died in February 2002. Susan’s funeral was held by the church that led she and her husband to Christ and the church that raised Kenne. “Her funeral was the most spiritual experience I?ve ever had,” says Kenne. That was a glimpse of what Heaven will be like.

While JOY buses and the bus that Rosa Parks rode to freedom are rusting, the legacy of justice for the poor and neglected lives on. In this New Wineskins issue on social justice are dozens of ideas and resources for doing justice today. After reading it you may be ready to do something, to promote justice and love mercy! But before you do something, just get on the bus, sit still, and humbly ride.
New Wineskins

Greg TaylorGreg Taylor is managing editor of New Wineskins, a former missionary in Uganda, and now an associate minister for spiritual formation, outreach and small groups at Garnett Road Church of Christ in Tulsa. He is married to Jill and they have three children. [Journey With Greg Taylor Blog]. E-mail him at .

You might also enjoy reading this review in an earlier issue of Wineskins covering Bus Ride to Justice

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This author published 1598 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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