By Carl Stagner
“I really thought there was something wrong with being black.” For two-and-a-half years, she lay confined to a hospital bed, fighting flashbacks of that horrible night when life as she knew it went up in flames. Nothing would ever be the same for this Church of God girl from Graniteville, South Carolina, relegated to the first floor of the hospital with all the other black patients. From her face to her waist, the scars were severe, but in time the wounds would heal. She had barely escaped death’s grip, but her two sisters and brother did not. The Ku Klux Klan had burned down their childhood home, but they could never extinguish Gloria Robinson’s hope in Christ.
Before the bandages, before the skin grafts. Before the smoke inhalation, the temporary blindness, and the gangrene. Before the mistreatment in the hospital, way back when her siblings were still alive in this world, Gloria Robinson was just like any other nine-year-old girl with a loving family and a caring church. As she recounts what happened when her life dramatically changed, she notes the confusion that engulfs a child when religion and racism mix. “It really did turn my life upside down,” she explains. “When you hear about the cross and the love of God but, at the same time, people are burning crosses and frightening people with it all, that’s quite a different story. As I grew older, I learned that some of these people were church leaders and respected business leaders in the community. That really confused me. How can the cross be loving and, at the same time, represent so much hate?”
But Gloria’s grandparents, who had raised her up in the faith, continued to impress upon her heart the unconditional love of Jesus. This unconditional love stood in stark contrast to the racism which reared its ugly, evil head one fateful day in March of 1951.
“When I woke up that night, I was completely surrounded by flames,” Gloria recalls, struggling to maintain composure. “When I talk about it, I can still see it so clearly. Debris was falling all around me, and there was no way out. The next thing I knew, I was being lifted out of my grandfather’s wagon. That wagon was all the way across the yard, next to the woods. Nobody saw it—nobody saw me come out of the house. My family thought I’d been killed with the rest of the children.” Gloria simply cannot tell you how she ended up at the back end of the property that night. All she knows is that if it weren’t for the Lord’s hand of protection, things would have turned out a lot differently.
Though death didn’t have the last word, the sheer trauma inflicted upon Gloria’s body was indeed deadly serious. To this day, the scars across her face tell a story of perseverance through pain—pain that was not only physical, but deeply emotional and spiritual. Gloria’s hands were badly burned. Exposure to the intense heat caused her fingers to contract. At one point, doctors suggested amputation of her arms, but Gloria’s grandfather resisted. The nightmare had only just begun, as two-and-a-half years of medical mistreatment, a hospital transfer, and a painful recovery were in store.
Though some medical personnel treated her well, the vast majority did not.
Gloria’s dreams for her future kept her mind from sinking into depression. “I was so badly treated,” she recalls. “One thing that kept me afloat was my dreams. I faced so much abuse in the hospital that it was my dream that kept me going. I was going to be the best nurse there ever was, and I was going to be in charge. The nurses under my charge would not treat anybody like I had been treated.” Sadly, even some of the medical staff were less than encouraging of Gloria’s dreams. “Because of the condition of my hands,” she explains, “they told me I would never be a nurse.”
But she did become a nurse. She even became a supervisor over other nurses. For more than forty years she devoted her life to the practice she so loved. Then, out of the blue, she was accused of something she had not done, and her life came crashing down once again. Forty years in nursing—now she was out of a job. “I remember walking out of the hospital that morning and hearing the voice of God speak to me, saying, ‘I am with you.’ I remember looking up into the clouds and saying, ‘God, how can you be with me, when I hurt so bad?’ But he repeated it: ‘I am with you.’”
Though God allowed Gloria to have a short stint in nursing following her devastating setback, she soon realized the Lord’s ultimate calling on her life: to enter into full-time ministry. Her husband Leroy is a pastor, and Gloria repeatedly assured God that she was content to simply be available as his helper. Gloria relented and, since then, she has woven bits and pieces of her life story into her sermons. For ten years, Gloria Robinson has served First Church of God on Lee Street in Darlington, South Carolina, while her husband has offered his pastoral services to Evening Light Church of God in nearby Graniteville. But in many respects, the two serve as co-pastors of each. They help each other on a weekly basis at each other’s church. Without question, their combined service to Evening Light Church of God represents a remarkable reclamation of what hell had stolen.
The property on which Evening Light Church of God stands today is the same plot of land on which Gloria’s childhood home once stood. After the house burned, Gloria’s grandfather determined they could not build another house at that location. But they knew the church could use the land, so they donated it to the Lord’s work. In 1951, the land was the site of a monumental spiritual battle between the forces of good and evil. It seemed for a while that hell had triumphed, but today Jesus is the subject of everything that is said and done there. “The place of death has now become a place of life,” Gloria reflects.
Because of the grace that Jesus Christ has shown her, Gloria Robinson has forgiven those who murdered her siblings and left her critically injured. The scars remain, but the wounds have been healed. “But I thank God for the scars,” Gloria concludes. “The scars let me know where I’ve been and remind me of what God has brought me through. I thank God because he didn’t leave me with the wounds, because then I would have been left with hate. And if I am going to be like Jesus, then I am going to have to forgive regardless of what happens to me. I’ve had a lot of love in my lifetime. I’ve been loved by my family, the church family, and the white children at Shriner’s Hospital, too. In contrast, my Jesus was rejected, yet he still loved. So I have no cause not to forgive. Romans 8:28 reminds me that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. We may not be able to understand all of that on this side of heaven. But God knows best, and we can trust him.”
Visit www.JesusIsTheSubject.org to learn more about how the Church of God is working to reclaim what hell has stolen.