My Grandpa: The Overcomer
1 Corinthians 15:57-58 (NIV)
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
When producer Fraser Campbell suggested I sing the old African-American spiritual “Down in the River” on my album, I was excited to get on board. The song reminds me of my grandpa Rev. Canon Thomas Nisbett who performed those old spirituals at 11 and 12 years-old in an a capella group called the Nisbett Brothers. They traveled around Bermuda singing in churches and hotels. Little did he know at that age that he would become a trailblazer and history-maker in his country.
In 1947, at the age of 22, he felt called to go into church ministry and became a licensed lay-reader. His desire was to stay in his home country and become an ordained Anglican minister, but there was only one problem… The Bishop of Bermuda refused to ordain him because he is Black.
They say when a door closes, God will often open a window and that’s what happened for Grandpa. The Anglican Church in Barbados ordained a new Bishop and that Bishop told him, “No one wants you, but I want you!” He subsequently was ordained in Barbados and worked there for two years. However, his desire to go home never left.
When he heard a new Bishop was ordained in Bermuda, he picked his dreams back up and carried them home for a 10-day trip. The new Bishop said to him, “Thomas, I’m going to tell you the truth. Bishop Williams didn’t mention your name when I spoke to him in England. What would you like me to do for you?” Grandpa had one question: “Is there a future for me here in the church in Bermuda?”
It was in that moment of courage that the tide shifted. The new Bishop of Bermuda gave Grandpa the “Yes!” his heart was longing for. “Go back and finish in Barbados and we’ll find a place for you here,” he said.
“That alone was worth my £80 round ticket to Bermuda!” he recounted to me recently as we chatted over the phone.
He later became the first Black Anglican minister in the history of Bermuda. In his later years, “he was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1992 New Year Honours for services to the community. [Twenty years later he] was awarded the Order of Saint Mellitus by the Bishop of London for his contribution to the Church in Bermuda and elsewhere.” (1)
How many times are we tempted to give up on a God-given dream because we experience rejection or even hatred? I am inspired by Grandpa Nisbett’s story as a reminder that God is bigger than rejection, racism, hatred and societal norms. Things may not come to pass in the timing or way that you thought. The path may be filled with unexpected turns, but He is still faithful. If He calls you to head in a specific direction, He will make a way.
COMMENT BELOW: Who has inspired you to be an overcomer?