With churches partially closed, social distancing still the norm, and racism becoming bolder by the day, maintaining a sound mind during a season of pain can be difficult for some.
After being on the frontlines of the year's most recent events, Bloomington church and community leader William Bennett has released a new book with a message of hope and transparency.
“As a pastor and public figure I try not to be too open about my personal life, but there are times of necessity when we have to do that to make people realize that even though I have this title, I'm human and have human experiences too,” said Bennett.
“From the virus, to the injustices, to people being affected financially, there's a lot of stress. This book provides hope that we can rise up to challenges and reassures that if we find ourselves with our backs against the wall, we can get off the ropes and still have victory.”
Released in May free of cost, Bennett’s book is titled, “I Am Fierce, I Am Brave” because it serves as a testimony of his and his wife’s lives during troubling times. Noting a specific chapter entitled,“I Am Brave,” the couple reflect on a time in their life when they had difficulty conceiving. The book was co-authored by his wife, Charlatta.
“When my wife and I got married in 2003, we wanted kids the next year, but it just wouldn’t happen,” said Bennett. “Being so young we would’ve never thought that we’d be unable to have kids and we battled the trauma of trying, going to the doctor having to be vulnerable in front of our physicians, being vulnerable with our bodies and testing surgeries, and then fighting through the mindset of, ‘It's never gonna happen.’”
But the Bennetts kept trying.
“We still stood up and trusted that it would happen and now I have three children and don't want anymore,” he said with a laugh. “That portion of the book is special to me because it reminds me to continue trusting God and have that fierce and braveness to stand up to challenges when it doesn't look like the thing you want is going to happen.”
Bennett said that experience and the steps taken to overcome the emotions felt during that time is relevant to the way many people feel today after enduring tragedies just a few months into the new decade.
“We're living in troubling times right now, and we're all in a season where we need to tap into that fierceness as we step up and take these challenges,” Bennett said. “This book is about what it takes to be fierce and brave. It reassures that if you're in a situation where you don't think you can be fierce and brave that you absolutely can because we were in plenty of situations where we absolutely didn't think we could but still did.”
Upon the year’s tragedies, Bennett’s church, City of Refuge Ministries, was one among many affected at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had to quickly adjust to doing ministry online and that's been a test," he said "I haven't had anyone specifically from our church who contracted the virus, but I've had members in my church who have family members who did contract it and even some who have passed on.”
“That's very tough because as a pastor you want to be able to be with those who are hurting and wrap your arms around them. I’ve had members call me and say, ‘Hey grandfather is sick but we can't see him,’ and I couldn’t go up there to pray for him so that was a very tough experience. We've just had to give our prayers of comfort from our homes which was really tough.”
Bennett said while staying home seems a little more comfortable to others, he misses being active in the building.
Shifting his energy toward a new task, Bennett most recently led a peaceful protest of more than 250 people in downtown Bloomington to speak out against the injustices that have taken place toward African Americans worldwide.
Bennett said while he doesn’t agree with the most recent acts of looting and vandalism that others have undertaken, he sympathizes with the inner pain.
“While I'm not necessarily for the burning down of the communities we live in, I do understand the internal pain that causes that,” he said. “Oftentimes I say a silent and peaceful protest is the whisper of the people and it's good if people are listening. But if people are not listening, that's when you get the riots. Riots are the screams of protesters who feel like no one is hearing them, so we need people to listen.”
Bennett said the most important thing for people to take into account is the “why” behind certain actions instead of the actions themselves.
“I want people to understand that before we simply judge people for doing what they're doing, or if they should be doing it the way they're doing it, let's be cautious and understand why,” he said. “Let's not lose sight on the why, if we can fix the why. It should not take us having to film injustice or protest against injustice to be heard.”
Overall, Bennett hopes more people will take a stand within the community.
“We in the Bloomington-Normal community have to take a stand. Every community you're in, whether it's something that's happened recently or not, you have to take a stand against injustice. You have to take a stand against racism and we have to do it together,” he said.
“Our leaders have to come together and have dialogue and come up with a strategy after the protest. The protest will eventually stop, but just because the protests stop, racism doesn't. So we have to continue with a strategy and that strategy has to be within our education, our economical system, political system, and we have to have good leadership. Everybody doesn't have to be the leader but everybody has to be a part.”
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