Brett Fuller, a USA-based African-American preacher, grew up in a white dominated environment and as the only black child in his early school days, suffered all sorts of racism but God used that to raise him to reconcile the whites and blacks. He was in Nigeria for the Realm of Glory International Church annual men’s conference held recently in Lagos where he spoke with Mary Ekah about his life as a black African-American minister and how he has been able to overcome the challenge of racism
People know you as a preacher but there seem to be more about you than that?
My name is Brett Fuller, I am from Chantilly in Washington DC. I am the pastor of Grace Covenant Church and also the Chaplain for
Washington Redskins, an American football team. I help the ball players, coaches and the organisation to understand how they can best live with integrity and honour; I teach those who wish to understand more about the Bible and give regular Bible studies to the members of the organisation. We have a chapel service, which is like a small church for all the ball players and coaches the nights before any game. I will then do Bible study individually with ball players and coaches as well as family studies with wives and children and also provide childcare. I am also the Chaplain of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, an organisation that helps to certify amateur basketball coaches all around America.
So if you want a job with the National Collegiate Atheletics Association (NCAA) which is the primary lead organisation for amateur college athletics and basketball, then you have to be certify through the National Association of Basketball Coaches of which they are about 5,000 coaches. I help these coaches to understand how to live with integrity in their occupation and how to balance the time constraint of an 80-hour a week job and still be a family man and it is a joy to be serving at that capacity. Lastly, I also serve as the Chairman of Board for Every Nation Churches in North America and I also serve on the international leadership team for global “Every Nation Churches & Ministries.”
Is your interest in sports part of your strategy for evangelism?
I grew up playing American football and I went to college having my education paid for through scholarship money, so I could play football. When I met the Lord at the age of 20, I wanted to see how I might be able to combine sports and ministry. And when I was sent to Washington DC in 1982 to help establish a church, I was only 21, so I couldn’t be a senior pastor but a supporting person but I established the campus ministry in the Harold University; that campus ministry was joined by other campus ministries in different universities. We will bring all of our students together on Sunday morning and that was how our church began. While I was in campus ministry in Harold University, they hired a new football coach in 1983, I called his office to ask if he needed a chaplain and he said, absolutely yes. He asked me to come for an interview and I went and I was given the appointment with no pay but I volunteer to serve as a chaplain and that way I got involved in sports while I was helping people with their spiritual needs and that inspired me to be the Chaplain of Washington Redskins.
How do you combine your role as a pastor and a chaplain?
As a pastor of a church, there are so many responsibilities that I must attend to at a regular basis but I have a wonderful staff. Our church is not small therefore our staff is about 30 in number with five full time pastors and this allows me to do what I do best for the most, which means I can relegate my ministry to the things that I can accomplish the most for the most people. I don’t have to be in the office every day because I have other pastors that do most of the counseling while most of the administration is done by somebody else. So my job in the church is relegated to three functions: vision on a Sunday morning - casting the sight o for what we have to be as a people; the primary teaching of doctrine and preaching and leadership development – raising up people to do the work of the ministry. These three things, I give myself; when I do that well, which it takes probably 30-40 hours a week, though I’ve never had 40 hours a week job in my life, it has always been 50-60 hours and the rest of the 15-20 hours I give to Washington Redskins. And that serves as an outreach to my community in helping young men be what they need to be.
It is an extension of my church ministry. These are leaders in the community whether they like it or not; all athletes are seen as models of which people, mainly kids want to be and so I think it is important for somebody like me to be in the lives of these young people who are mainly between the age range 22-24 and have a lot of money, time and more fame than anybody should have and their heads get big, ego get larger making them think they are invincible, they make stupid decisions and they are on the front pages of newspapers. I try to make sure that does not happen; I want them to help them make good decisions for their lives, so that they can only be on the paper for what they do on the field and not off the field.
Do you still find time to do sports personally?
I am 52, so it not a good idea for me to do sports but I do exercise quite a bit. I exercise five times a week and I try to keep myself in shape as much as possible. My sons will challenge me - I have seven kids; five boys and two girls and my eldest is 25. My boys love to take daddy out on the basketball court and teach him a few things. So that is the extent of my athletic endeavours today.
You head one of the formidable churches in the world with a congregation made up of different races. How have been able to do that in the face of racism around the world today?
The church that I pastor is a multiethnic congregation with a large percentage of African-American as members, the rest are Whites, Latinos, and Asians. You walk into our congregation and you immediately know what we are. Look on the stage, there are Black, White, Asian and Latinos etc. and it does not just happen like that in America. In America, black folks had been going to white things or places. They shop in white stores, go to white schools and Churches; everything is white because white is a predominant group and we are used to that. But it is rare for a white person to cross to a predominantly black environment. So often I have pastors who are African-Americans come to me and ask how I get white people to stay in my church – they tell me that these white people come to their churches and enjoy the service and choir and yet they do not stay. And I tell them that it is not a recipe but it is I.
My mother and father decided to move me from the ghetto to the city and we were the first black family to break the colour barrier in my neigbourhood. When moved into the neighbourhood, our house was egged and our cars were destroyed. We came out one morning and Mama was supposed to take us to school but we found that somebody had used a sledged harmer to destroyed the headlights and windscreen of our beautiful car, ripped the tyres, pulled out the steering wheel, break all the windows and took out all the car seats all because we were blacks. I was the first black child to go to the elementary school in the neighbourhood but I hated school because they call me every name in the book. It was not pleasant at all. But my parents did a fabulous job of making sure that I was reconciled with everybody. They never spoke one evil word about anybody in the neighbourhood rather they always say it would be okay; you would make it just forgive.
I did not like it but I did not know that they were preparing me to pastor a church in Virginia some 50 years later and to pastor white people because I understood their culture and I spoke their language whereas all of my friends back in the hood who were African-American, grew up differently, they grew up talking slangs all the time; they grew up with a traditional afro centric American accent while I grew up with the white accent and every time my friends saw me, and they had we speak, they said, oh you are not from around here. They try to talk down on me and so I try to speak their language and speak slang like them and my mother told me to stop it because where I was going I must speak twice as well to be heard in this world. So she made learn to be heard by speaking good English.
What would you advise people who still practice racism around the world?
I will first ask them to recognize that God created all men in His image and they all need to be respected in the same way. So no one particular ethnic group is more in His image than another. So all of them need to be honoured and respected.