Author Todd Gerelds discussed faith and love’s role in a person’s life at Samford University on April 4, 2018. He spoke in Brooks Auditorium at 5 p.m.
Gerelds is the author of “Woodlawn” and “Always Fall Forward.”
“Woodlawn” recounts Gerelds’ childhood during the Civil Rights Movement in Birmingham, Alabama. In 1973, Gerelds’ father became Woodlawn’s head coach when the football team integrated.
Five hundred black students integrated into Woodlawn. Before 1973, only seven out of the 2,500 students were black.
Gerald’s said his father ignored race because he prioritized winning over his players.
Besides apathy, Gerelds said students responded with hate. They whipped black students with motorcycle chains. One student pointed a shotgun at another student. The student grabbed the gun and turned it toward his attacker. He pulled the trigger, but it wasn’t loaded.
“Even if 10 percent of people are filled with hate for another group, they can do a lot of damage,” Gerelds said. Students even began threatening Gerelds’ father. They surrounded his father and attacked him. However, his father’s black friend, Julius Clark, shielded him.
“If you’re going to kill him, you’ll have to also kill me,” Clark said.
Rather than fighting or running, Gerelds said Clark responded with love.
“The Bible teaches us as Christians that we possess the Holy Spirit,” Gerelds said. “Jesus gave himself for other people. That’s the definition of love. Even if we’re going through a stressful situation, we can respond with love,” Gerelds said.
However, Gerelds said his father lacked love due his competitiveness. Unlike Clark, Gerelds responded by wearing a gun to school.
Gerelds said his father only cared about winning, and his divided team risked that.
Consequently, Gerelds said his father promoted unity by hosting a summer football camp.
His team practiced, ate and slept together. Despite proximity, the black and white players sat apart.
Then, Gerelds said Wales Goebel asked to preach to his father’s team about God.
While at college, Gerelds said Goebel had been an athlete and student body president. Unfortunately, he was expelled for selling alcohol.
Risking jail, Gerelds said Goebel’s searched for his life’s purpose. Goebel discovered it while attending church.
Following his conversion, Goebel shared his story with the school’s football teams. Gerelds said Goebel asked to speak with his father’s team, but Gerelds’ father refused. Gerelds’ father wasn’t Christian and feared Goebel would distract players thus hindering their performance.Finally, Gerelds said his father agreed.
While speaking, Gerelds said Goebel asked the players whether they identified as Christians. Out of 44 players, only four identified as Christians.
After Goebel shared his story, Gerelds said every player embraced Jesus Christ.
Gerelds said the team sat together crying, laughing and then hugging.
“Goebel wasn’t on billboards. He was just sharing what God had done in his life. It wasn’t spectacular but obedient,” he said.
Gerelds said his father remained distant but was crying. Despite his tears, Gerelds’ father believed this unity would eventually shatter, but the team remained united.
As the summer concluded, the team wanted to host a fellowship of christian athletes in the white Crestwood neighborhood. However, three families refused to host.
Finally, the family of player Hallie Miller agreed. Gerelds said they loved everyone due to their Christian faith.
Gerelds said his father watched the boys play while Mrs. Miller made sandwiches and hugged players.
“Rather than players, Dad was seeing these people as human beings. They were enjoying each other. Loving someone requires something from you. It means laying your life down for the other person. He realized that he didn’t have that love,” he said.
Feeling out of place, Gerelds said his father left.
“He started talking to a God he wasn’t sure existed. He wanted what they had ,and he met Jesus that night,” Gerelds said.
However, Gerelds said his father’s behavior remained unchanged. Gerelds said people think Christians must act a certain way.
“Dad did the same things, but his motivations changed. He was no longer obsessed with winning. He worked us hard, but it was about us,” Gerelds said.
Despite his father’s experiences, Gerelds said he also doubted God’s existence after being diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder.
“Why did you make me like this, and why don’t you love me God,” he asked.
After work, Gerelds said he came home and cried everyday.
“I went to bed as early as possible so I could turn off my thoughts and not have to deal with them,” he said.
Gerelds said his friends comforted him, but he eventually isolated himself.
While alone, Gerelds said he heard God in his soul, and that God loved him through his friends.
Gerelds said Christians are called Christ’s body because bodies shake people’s hands, hug and kiss. Bodies bring food to families when they suffer a death. Bodies sit with someone when they are sad.
“Bodies are the way we manifest love. I knew God was real because love only comes from Him,” Gerelds said.
However, Gerelds said people today prioritize themselves when searching for love.
“The spectacular is the impact you have on an individual life. The spectacular will be when someone knows love because of you,” he said.
William Marlow, News Editor