By Elizabeth Webster
“What you place value on makes all the difference,” Pastor Sukemi*—or just “Pastor” to his church—said, sitting next to his wife, Claire, of fourteen years. Upon first glance, both Sukemi and Claire look the same. Cocoa skin and eyes, ebony hair, and facial features representing the beauty of Africa. Only one of them, however, hails directly from the United States. Claire, born and raised in the suburbs of Los Angeles, and Sukemi, born in Nigeria, come from different cultures, but share the most important thing: a love for Jesus Christ.
At the age of thirteen, Sukemi immigrated to the United States to Brooklyn, New York. During his teen years in the States, he experienced racism from African Americans. Taunted about his accent and accused of stealing resources from African Americans, Sukemi vowed never to date or marry an African American woman. That all changed, however, once the Lord called him into ministry. His future wife only had to share the same values as him: a belief and commitment to Jesus Christ, a passion for missions, and a heart to see the world changed by the Gospel.
Claire always assumed she would practice law and marry a “brother” who loved going out, had a successful life, and an intimate relationship with the Lord. She never dreamt she and her future husband would have different nationalities. “I never felt it was necessary to look outside of my race for a relationship,” the First Lady** said. “There were plenty of prospects within the sphere of Black men I knew.” Little did she know that the Lord had prepared someone for her from a totally different culture, but with the same love for the Savior.
While Claire lived out her dream of practicing law, she felt called to leave her post and go into full-time ministry. Even though a promotion to the judge’s bench appeared on the horizon, she knew God had other plans. She decided to attend seminary. During her studies, she met Pastor Sukemi during one of her missions classes. He came as a guest speaker, since by this time he worked in the full-time ministry of leading overseas mission trips. Both Pastor and his wife stated that they had a purely platonic relationship. They learned that they both harbored a hunger to spread the Gospel, and that they could work together to spread God’s word. Claire decided to take part in Sukemi’s mission.
As Sukemi worked beside his future First Lady, he noticed Claire’s ability to redirect potential distractions to the ministry. He recalled an incident where another team member within the ministry attempted to create a problem, and how Claire shut that team member down, with grace of course. Sukemi saw Claire’s focus, drive, and commitment to the Lord. One day, he asked Claire if she would like to go from a friendship to a courtship. Claire said she had no idea Sukemi planned to make such a proposal, and experienced total shock. But she agreed to his request to see where it would go. Fourteen years and a teenage son later, she and Pastor now realize that a simple request would go on a journey into a union with unimaginable blessings.
Pastor Sukemi and Claire now labor in love together in a church plant. The Lord enables them to lead many to Christ through their ministry. Together, they encourage couples to fight for and strengthen their marriages. They visit the sick and shut-in, the imprisoned and downtrodden. They continue to go on mission trips and bring God’s word to the unreached. And they continue to grow in their understanding that their spiritual values transcend any other values, including culture and ethnicity. Their story inspires others to look beyond biases and preconceptions so they can experience love impacting their own lives, and the lives of others for the glory of God.
*Names and birthplaces have been changed in order to protect the identity of the interviewees. **The term “First Lady”, in the context of the Black church, refers to the minister’s wife.
Elizabeth Webster is a wife, mother, and social worker. She received her B.S. in Biology from Prairie View A&M University in 2005, and is currently working on her Master’s of Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary.