Memphis Meets Masada

On the top of remote Masada, Stacy met the woman who changed his life.

by Scott Morris

Years ago I became part of an inter-racial, interfaith group of Memphis clergy that met regularly. One year, Rabbi Micah Greenstein of Temple Israel said, “Let’s go to Israel together.” We met for almost a year to plan the trip.

None of my friends tried to one up each other on how much we knew about the Bible, but collectively there was great wisdom in the group. At certain places we would stop and reflect: the Sea of Galilee, the Western Wall, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of Jesus’ tomb. We had a service at a spot where in 70 AD the Romans threw down huge rocks as they destroyed the temple in Jerusalem.

But nothing prepared me for the experience we had at Masada, the site of one of Herod’s fortresses. Masada sits high on a mountain plateau. In 66 AD a group of Jewish rebels overtook the garrison and built an elaborate self-sustaining encampment. When Jerusalem fell in 70 AD, other zealots joined them. In 73, the Romans finally completed a rampart that allowed them to breach the fortress with a battering ram. When the end was inevitable, the Jews committed mass suicide rather than surrender to the Romans.

While we were walking around Masada we overheard tourists say they were from Kentucky. One of my friends went to Stacy Spencer and, tongue in cheek, said to him, “Stacy, aren’t you from Kentucky? You should go introduce yourself.”

Stacy, snapped back. “Yeah, like a bunch of white folks came all the way from Kentucky to meet a black preacher on the top of Masada.”

Stacy is an amazing young pastor. Leaving an associate position in one church, he started a new church in a very poor neighborhood. This was to be a Disciples of Christ congregation, traditionally a white denomination, in an African American neighborhood. In five years New Directions Church had 10,000 members. I can listen to Stacy preach all day long.

After a while the pastor in Stacy got the best of him on Masada. Without the rest of us knowing, he went and introduced himself to the group from Kentucky.

“They were very nice to me,” he said, telling the story later. “We started talking and I realized they were from Mayfield, the same town I grew up in. One woman in particular kept asking more questions. She had been a teacher. It turns out she taught in the school I went to elementary school. Scott, what none of y’all know is that when I was a kid I had a terrible stutter. I could hardly get out any words without an effort. I was too shy to go or do anything because of my stuttering. Then the school arranged for me to have a speech teacher who worked with me every day and I got better. The woman asked me where I lived. Then she asked me my last name. And then she said, ‘Stacy, I was your speech teacher.’ And I remember her. Can you believe that?”

On the top of remote Masada, Stacy met the woman who changed his life, helping him become one of the great preachers in America. I could see the tears in his eyes as I felt the ones in my own. There are only a few times in my life when I have heard God saying, “Here I am. See what I am doing.” But that day in Masada was clearly one of those times.

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