My name is Reginald Levi Walker. Yes, I am a man of God. Born and raised in rural Marion, Alabama, I graduated from American High in Miami Lakes, Florida. In 1986, I was licensed to preach and was later ordained an itinerary elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. I was educated at an AME college, Shorter College in North Little Rock, Arkansas. I am a third generation preacher.
After a short stay in the United States Army, I relocated to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Tulsa was where I was first introduced to the African Methodist Episcopal Church. My father, Rev. Roosevelt Leon Walker, Jr., and my mother, Janie Mae Marshall had divorced during my youth and my father had relocated to Tulsa after the Civil Rights Era. Although I have always known that I was destined to preach, my father was the one that inspired me to join the AME church. However, I had no concept of the depths of God’s calling on my life.
Although I received some theological education from Jackson Theological Seminary at Shorter College, my true spiritual education is continually being given to me through my walk with God. In 1986, I was given my first appointment to pastor by Bishop F. C. James. Rev. George Edward West was the presiding elder of the Fort Smith district of the AME church. I first meet Rev. West in Tulsa at St. John AME church.
I had been licensed as a deacon and Rev. West needed a pastor for one of the churches on the Fort Smith district. I never quite found out what happened; nevertheless, I was appointed as the pastor of Derrick’s Chapel AME Church outside of Fort Smith, Arkansas. It was here where I met and later married Velda West.
The first week of October 1986 was a very busy week. That Monday, I had moved into the old wood frame church parsonage next to the church. On Tuesday, I met with Presiding Elder West and he hired me as the Assistant Manager at West Apartments. On Wednesday, I traveled back to Tulsa to gather some more things and arrived back to Arkansas just in time for Wednesday night prayer and bible study. On Thursday, after work, I went back to Tulsa one last time for a revival. Then Friday, after work, Rev. and Mrs. West picked me up at the parsonage for the weekly Friday night ritual of High School football. Saturday, Rev. West and I drove across the state of Arkansas to West Memphis for a church meeting and then drove back for church the next day.
That Sunday morning, I arrived to the old white church building a little late and very tired. My first church conference was scheduled for today and I had stayed up late to finished all of my conference reports. By the time I was reaching for the old unpainted wooden door to the white cylinder block church building, I silently shouted to myself, ‘Reggie, you forgot your reports.’
As I rushed back across the green lawn to the church parsonage, the telephone began to ring. I wrestled to open the door and answered the telephone by the fourth ring. ‘Thank you for calling Derrick’s Chapel AME Church. This is Rev. Walker speaking.’
‘Hello, Preacher. This is G. Edward West. How are you doing this morning?’
I nervously replied to Rev. West, ‘I am alive; so I can not complain, Presiding Elder.’
Rev. West continued, ‘Listen, Preacher. I will not be there with you today. I will be at Quinn Chapel, this Sunday.’
‘Okay.’ I replied hoping he could not hear the relief in my voice.
He continued, ‘But my wife and my daughter will be there to represent me and to receive your reports.’
‘Yes, sir.’ I replied. Our conversation continued for a few more minutes before I hung up the telephone. Retrieving the reports from the coffee table, I again headed for the church building across the lawn. By this time, it was 10:45 am and Mr. George Perkins was ending the Sunday school class.
Derrick’s Chapel was a very small church. In 1986, the membership roll listed only 36 members and only 12 of those were active in the church. As I entered, the sanctuary Mr. Perkins directed everyone’s attention to me. ‘Our pastor has just arrived. Rev. Walker do you have anything to say before we adjourn Sunday school class.’
I quickly greeted the few member of the Sunday school class and briefed them on the conversation with the presiding elder. After my short remarks, I retreated to the pastor’s study to prepare myself for the Sunday morning service.
Fifteen minutes passed by quickly as I sat reviewing some of the sermons I had previously written. Normally, I would write a new sermon each Sunday; however, because of the past few days I did not have the time. I decided to preach one of the sermons I had preached when I was staying in Tulsa.
In the AME church, the Sunday morning service starts at 11:00. As I was reviewing the sermon, Mr. Perkins knocked on the half-opened door. ‘Rev. Walker, it is 11.’ I thanked him, gathered my things, and walked into the sanctuary.
Most of the members of Derrick’s Chapel AME Church were already present from Sunday school; however, four others came in as I stepped into the pulpit. The small church soon filled with the sounds of music from the piano and voices singing. Although Derrick’s membership was small, the members believed in praising the Lord. The opening hymn was sung by the head stewardess, Mrs. Johnson and Mr. Perkins prayed the opening prayer. It was now 11:20 am and Mrs. West was not there. I felt relieved.
After another song by the small choir, I approached the large wooden lectern and placed my black bible and sermon there. Mrs. West still had not arrived. Closing my tired eyes, I said a short prayer. The moment I finished, I heard the front door of the church building creak as it opened. Keeping my eyes fastened on the white wooden door of the sanctuary, I instructed the members of the congregation to open their bibles to the book of Psalms and began to read a scripture.
When we finished reading the scripture, the sanctuary door slowly opened. First, a small thin older woman with flowing gray hair came through the door. She was followed by a teenage girl. The woman and young girl came into the sanctuary and was seated. A few minutes later, the sanctuary door opened again. This time, Mrs. Jane West came through the door.
Although I had started to preach the sermon, I stopped and presented Mrs. West to the members of Derrick’s Chapel. ‘Ladies and gentleman, Mrs. West has just arrived to worship with us, today.’ I quickly said. ‘I am so glad that you could make it, Mrs. West.’ I promptly restarted my sermon. Then the door opened again. As my eyes focused on the slowly opening door of the sanctuary, I continued preach the sermon I had selected. I had preached this sermon before and had memorized it. The manuscript was there so I could use it if I needed it. It was there for a day like today.
It has always amazed me how beautifully God has created the female species of our race. Through the opening sanctuary door stepped a vision of perfection and beauty that only God could create. Velda Patrice West was the oldest daughter of George and Jane West. George, Jr., was the oldest child. Carol was the middle child and Kenneth was the youngest. Velda was born October 31, and graduated from Northside High School in Fort Smith, attended Spelman College in Atlanta, and graduated from the University of Arkansas law school in Fayetteville. When I met her, she had been practicing in her own firm for a few years.
Velda was five feet and six inches tall. Her caramel petit frame was covered by the black fabric of a tailored made business suit. As she covered the short distance from the sanctuary door to where her mother was sitting, her soft brown eyes met mine. I forgot the words to the sermon I was preaching and abruptly stopped speaking. I quickly covered up my memory lapse and said, ‘This must be Rev. and Mrs. West’s beautiful daughter. I am sorry I do not know your name, Ms. West.’ ‘Velda,’ she quickly stated as she took a seat by her mother. Except for the height difference, it was clear that she was her mother’s daughter.
Velda and I started dating that same night. She wanted to go to the mall by her parent’s house after church and I quickly volunteered to go with her. From the mall we went to dinner and saw a movie. We talked the whole time as if we had known each other all of our lives. Velda told me all about her days growing up in the small town of Fort Smith. She was active during the civil right marches and demonstrations during her high school years. After graduation, she received a scholarship to attend Spelman. Later, she graduated law school from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.
Velda and I dated for almost nine months. She would travel to Fort Smith on the weekend to visit her family and to see me. I would travel to Little Rock after work a lot to see her. Mostly, we spent intimate hours talking on the telephone to each other. After we married, I relocated to Little Rock where Velda lived and operated her law practice. It would be in Little Rock where God would drastically change the course of my life.
Two years into our marriage, we were given some bad news after Velda went for her routine physical. She had tested positive for HIV. This news devastated us. I helplessly watched as she slowly withered away to only a shadow of her former self. I foolishly placed my hope in all the expensive experimental medications that the doctors had quickly prescribed to her. I hoped and prayed that they would work. Nevertheless, three short but wonderful years from the day we married, my precious wife died.
A few months after we buried her, the doctors gave me the same news. Sitting in the doctor’s office, I knew the words I would hear. The doctor tried his best to be gentle and kind with his words. However, there is not a gentle and kind way to tell a man that he is going to die.
“You tested positive for HIV, Mr. Walker.” The doctor nervously said.
“I know,” I replied without lifting up my head to look at him.
“So what do you want to do?” was the next question.
During the lonely months after Velda died, I had taken some time to think. She died and whatever she had, I had contracted. My chances, of not being HIV positive, were somewhere between slim and none. I was an AME preacher and that meant I had no health insurance. All the money Velda and I had saved was spent and gone a long time ago. I was not sick enough to receive disability. All I could do was fall to my knees and cry, “My God, what am I going to do?”
That is when I experienced God. I had experienced the presence of God before after being baptized by the Holy Spirit. This was no where near the same type of experience. I experienced a dynamic peace in the center of my soul. Then, I heard the voice of God reply, “By my strips, you are healed. All things are possible if you choose to believe.” For about fifteen minutes, I experienced God and I chose to believe every word He said.
Yes, I thought about killing myself, but I could never do that. I considered trusting the doctors and hoping they would find a cure. I use to live my life afraid of getting sick. I was just trying my best not to die. Then I found myself in the doctor’s office faced with the choice of my life. The doctor asked again because he thought that I had not heard him the first time. “Mr. Walker, so what do you want to do?”
I finally lifted my head from silently praying to God and I heard my spirit man reply aloud, “Well, Doctor Allen, I do not know what you are going to do, but I am going to believe God.”
That day I made my choice. That day I stood my ground on the word of God. The Scriptures state, “By His stripes, I am healed.” I decided to believe God. The Scriptures also state, “Anything you ask in Jesus’ name, that too the Father will do for you.” I decided to believe God. I have heard it preached as a young boy by my paternal grandfather, Rev. Roosevelt Leon Walker, Sr. I have read it many times as I studied under my late father, Rev. Roosevelt Leon Walker, Jr. I have also preached about faith in God, myself, for over twenty-five years. Therefore, I must choose to believe God.
I have made my choice. I decided not to live my life trying my best not to die. I decided to live my life trying my best to live. I did not decide to trust in the wisdom of man, because man’s knowledge is foolishness unto God. I did not choose the doctor and the pills because like the woman with the issue of blood, my money was completely gone and I did not want to deal with the deadly side effects from the medication. I did not choose God because life had me backed into a corner. I did not choose God because I had become HIV positive. I had made my choice at the age of nine when I ask God to save my soul. It was now time for me to stand up and grow up. HIV forced me to mature from being just a child of God into living my life as a man of God.
On May 29, 2008, it will be twenty-two years since I married Velda. If I could, I would do it all over again. It has been twenty-two long hard years. I still will not take any medication that the doctors want to prescribe to me. I read what the Scriptures had to say and I decided to take God at His word. Yes, I still test as HIV positive and the doctors still ask me the same question. “What are you going to do?” Some have even questioned, “Why are you not doing anything about your disease?”
I just smile and reply; “I have done something about it. I prayed to God and He said, ’By my strips, you are healed.’ And I choose to believe God.” Twenty-two long hard blessed years later, I still choose to believe God. My life is not as easy as some would think; nevertheless, my life is full of difficult choices. Even when the test confirms that I am still HIV positive, I still choose to believe God. Moreover, I thank God that by and only by His grace and mercy, I am still alive.
I have made up my mind, that even if science could somehow prove that God does not exist, I would continue to believe God. If some archeologist could somehow discover the deteriorated remains of the man that we called Jesus, the Christ, I would continue to believe God. My faith is not built upon the things that I see. I do not believe only when things turn out the way that I would want them to be. My faith is built upon the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. I choose to believe God.