Pastor Jorel Lawson grandson of Nina Simone visits Tryon
Published 3:00 am Friday, June 26, 2009
I had the opportunity to meet with Pastor Jorel Lawson when he made a visit to Tryon in June and spoke at St. Luke&squo;s C.M.E. church. The following is our conversation on the Friday afternoon before he spoke at the church. What do you think of your first visit to Tryon? Very historic in the sense that my family roots and background are here in Tryon. My great-grandmother Reverend Mrs. Mary Waymond was the pastor of St. Luke&squo;s many years back and it&squo;s where my grandma Nina was born and raised. I saw the house. It was my first time seeing all of that, the church, the house, and even the gravesite. You know that touched me in a very special way. Where did you actually grow up? My mother was serving in the Air Force back in 1984, she was stationed in Tucson, Arizona and that&squo;s where I was born. I was there for six weeks and then I was sent to upstate New York where I spent twelve years growing up from infant to adolescence. Then from there at the age of thirteen for my first time I was sent to Ghana, West Africa to do schooling there for about two years. At age fifteen I came back from Ghana and I lived in Chicago. There I stayed and resided for about nine years. I went back to Ghana in 2007 to do missionary work. I also met my wife there. Before I left Ghana, we got engaged, then I left, and then six months later we got married. Since we got married, I decided to move there and I&squo;ve been living there ever since. You were raised as much in Ghana as any place in the U.S. it sounds like. Yes. How would you compare your experience living in Ghana to living in Chicago and upstate New York? America is very fast paced. We Americans, our mind is always running a thousand miles an hour. We&squo;re always busy. That&squo;s why the time goes so fast, whereby in Ghana it&squo;s kind of slow paced. You got to turn the pace and make it fast and move the way you want to move. If you don&squo;t take time it will start getting boring. Ghana is lively, but it&squo;s not as lively as the states where some cities are full of noise. Chicago is just noisy, but here in Tryon it&squo;s calm, peaceful, and very quiet. It&squo;s the same thing with Ghana. At the same time you have some lively places. Where I&squo;m at it&squo;s mostly quiet. That&squo;s the similarities between the two. What was your impetus to do missionary work in Ghana? I have a burden to help people. Like Jesus said in the scriptures, &dquo;The son of man came to seek and save that which was lost.&dquo; I believe that as we fulfill the steps of Jesus of walking as he walked that we should go out there and help people in the world. Now of course, I had my fair share of high school life. I was a knuckle head being disobedient and doing what a teenager would normally do. As I got older I saw that this is not the life for me. I used to do drugs. I used to hang out with the wrong crowd and be under a lot of peer pressure, dating different women, and also got in trouble with the law, little misdemeanor stuff. As I got older I saw that this was not a life, and this was not a future for me. I know that I have a higher calling. When I finally came to my senses, I used to watch about Africa on the T.V. and I used to see the people just suffering living in poverty. When you see them, they look like they have no future. As I devoted myself to the ministry and became an ordained minister I had a burden to go out there and help the people. If I can help a soul and help a person to know who they are and what they&squo;re here for I don&squo;t mind my leaving my country. Was there any specific point that really turned your head around to get your life on track? The last couple of years before I went full time into the ministry I was a geothermal technician. I was working in a construction company dealing with geothermal energy, from the earth. I was working on trucks, with bobcats, and lifting steel. It was a dirty job. I hate dirty jobs, but they paid good money. If it&squo;s paying good money, you don&squo;t care what happens as long as they&squo;re paying you. I was doing that for a while, but as time went on I got bored with it. We used to go as far as 600-700 feet deep down in the earth. We used to deal with geysers. I just got tired of coming home smelling like gas and kerosene. I just said, &dquo;This is not the life for me.&dquo; My mother in 2007 came to Chicago, looked in my face and said, &dquo;Son, you know this is not you. You have a higher calling. Chicago is not your home. This job that you&squo;re working, yes it pays the bills but you won&squo;t be doing this for long.&dquo; When my mom spoke that into me then I saw things on a different note. I said, &dquo;Well I&squo;m going to go ahead and quit this job.&dquo; For the last six-seven months of that year after I met my wife and we were engaged, I was just working my socks off. I said, &dquo;I know I&squo;m not going to be working here soon, so let me just gather up all the money that I can and then I&squo;ll just go ahead and dismiss myself.&dquo; Going back to Ghana, how is that ministry working? Pastor Jorel Lawson speaking to congregation in Ghana (photo submitted) Basically the ministry that I deal with is Charismatic and Pentecostal. I deal with a lot of ministers because when people hear that you&squo;re an American and hear your accent they immediately want to draw close to you. At the same time you have to be watchful because some people will draw close to you just to use you and to get what you have. I go to the villages. In March I was in a village that was about thirteen hours away from the capital of Ghana. Out there, the villagers&squo; houses are made out of mud. I was just taken aback by how I saw these people making houses out of mud and cow manure and it doesn&squo;t stink. I was very fascinated to see how these people survive. When I go out there and minister, I go out with pastors who know the area and know the community. Basically they are my translators. The one thing about it, we don&squo;t give up. If it fails, hey, I&squo;m going to keep on trying until something succeeds. That&squo;s what we normally do there. What types of change have you seen from the work that you&squo;ve done so far? Lives being blessed and changed. When I first arrived, a lot of people weren&squo;t happy with their lives especially regarding marriage and their personal lives. After you sit down and counsel them you help them to see that they are of more value to God than how somebody else would look at them. What every African that lives on the continent of Africa needs, is encouragement. They need somebody who will sit down and listen to them word for word. When they see that someone is listening, and when they see that someone is taking the time to invest in trying to help them then they will respond positively. God puts people in other people&squo;s lives for a reason. Would you say that the problems with family and needing encouragement are different in Ghana than in America? As for America, we have counselors, community centers, and even therapists that people go and see to talk about their problems and whatever they&squo;re going through. Ghana on the other hand, they don&squo;t have that, or if they do it&squo;s very rare. They&squo;re suffering because poverty is what&squo;s killing the mindset and the mentality of the African. They work so hard, but they only get paid so little. They go through other means such as prostitution, alcoholism, and drugs. Right now prostitution is one of the main things going on there because there is no money. Now Ghana is right behind South Africa for the HIV/AIDS. You have people getting pregnant from age eleven up to fourteen. Shockingly, the people that get these kids pregnant are young themselves. Since the young ladies are not prepared for parenthood, their hearts and their minds can&squo;t handle that, they tend to leave the chil
d with their mother or with their grandparents and they run away. There&squo;s no such thing as child support. You don&squo;t go to court for that. The males can get away with that severely over there. It leaves the women in such an awkward position because in Africa people look at them different. If you&squo;re having babies at this age then you don&squo;t respect yourself, you must be a prostitute. Instead of trying to encourage them, you have some people that just discourage them. Then they&squo;re just doing it more and more. The latter part is worse then when they first started. It&squo;s not only in Africa or America, but it&squo;s in the whole world there are people walking without hope. You have to believe that it is going to get better. We can all bring changes in our society, community, city, and our country. If we don&squo;t realize that, then we&squo;ll always be stuck in the same predicament and having people feeling sorry for us. You are somebody, you can do exploits, and you can always talk to somebody. Spiritually the church is the backbone of every country in the world because the church is a place where you come to for peace, solace, tranquility, counseling, anything. Is Ghana predominantly Christian? Or what is the religious make-up of that country? You have varieties. Christian is the main religion. Of course, you have Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam. It depends on the region. The Greater Accra Region, that&squo;s where I live, you have about 95% Christian with other religions following behind that. In Ghana you don&squo;t have a state religion? No, you have the freedom to choose what religion you want. Is there communication between the religions? There is communication between the religions. I believe that wars could be prevented if people can just communicate accurately. Any other plans for your visit here? Pastor Jorel Lawson speaking to congregation in United States (photo submitted) I got here on the 15 of May and everything has been so fast paced for me. I made stops like New York, Stroudsburg and Allentown, Pennsylvania, Miami. I&squo;ve been to Jacksonville. I just got here on Wednesday coming from Chicago. I&squo;ll be leaving for Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania early Monday morning. Dr. Armbrust has already taken me for a tour of the whole place. Today I&squo;m just relaxing and then tomorrow St. Luke&squo;s and another Baptist church are going to be having a little barbeque. I was invited over there to come and grace the occasion. Apart from that I&squo;ll be speaking at St. Luke&squo;s on Sunday. When I&squo;m done speaking at St. Luke&squo;s then my itinerary is finished and I just prepare and get ready to go back. Every city that I&squo;ve gone to I&squo;ve made contacts and formed good relationships and friends. Also, we&squo;re trying to collect funds, trying to help sponsor the work in Africa, trying to build churches, trying to send clothes and food to those that are less fortunate. By God&squo;s grace I&squo;ve been very successful doing that. When I go back to Ghana everyone will be able to hear a positive report of what the Lord has been doing here. How has your mom responded to the work that you&squo;ve been doing? My mom has been very supportive of my ministry. She has actually invested in my career and she&squo;s very proud of what I&squo;ve become and what I&squo;m doing. She looks at it as a big transformation. She&squo;s going to be continually supporting me in what I&squo;m going to be doing. I thank God for that. I&squo;m very thankful that she has an understanding heart to know that this is what I want to do, this is my dream. Will your wife come with you on your next visit? My wife is back in Ghana, but I&squo;m planning for her to come with me the next time that I come around. It will be her first time coming to the U.S. If people are interested in contributing to your ministry, how do they contact you? We have three contacts and we have an email address. We have the Amazing Grace International Church. We have our email address which is firstname.lastname@example.org or my cell phone which is an international number 011-233-243-909-262.