Addressing President Donald J. Trump and a room filled with American political and civic leaders — as well as international leaders including King Abdullah II of Jordan — on Feb. 2 at the 65th National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, recalled the motivation his mother gave him to memorize Bible verses, which kindled a lifelong quest to know the Author of those words.
Black’s mother, a sharecropper’s daughter who had a limited education but unlimited vision, had challenged him and his siblings with a promise of 5-cents for every verse they memorized.
“One day I memorized 1 Peter 1:18-19,” Black recalled. “I was only ten years of age. [The verses read,] ‘We are redeemed not with corruptible things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ,’ And even at ten I had sufficient analytical skills to know that the value of an object is based upon the price someone is willing to pay.”
Black continued, “And when it dawned on me, a little guy in the inner-city, that God said what John 3 calls the only one of its kind, ‘His only begotten son,’ to die for me, no one was able to make me feel inferior again. Moreover, moreover, I said I’ve got to get to know this Man who died for me. So now, it was not just for the nickels that I started reading the Word.”
Now in his 14th year as Senate Chaplain, Black is the first African-American, the first Seventh-day Adventist, and the first retired military officer to hold that position. He was named to the Senate post after retiring from the United States Navy as Chief of Chaplains, holding the rank of Rear Admiral.
Black is the second Seventh-day Adventist to keynote the breakfast, with neurosurgeon and Housing and Urban Development
Secretary-designate Dr. Benjamin S. Carson, Sr., being the first. Carson addressed the breakfast twice, the most recent time in 2013.
During his prayer breakfast keynote, which was broadcast nationally on cable and satellite television, Black mentioned the kind of relationship God wants to have with those who approach Him in prayer, citing Jesus’ words to His disciples in John 15:16, “I no longer call you My servants, I call you My friends.’”
He illustrated this with an anecdote: “My oldest son is in the audience, and one of my pet peeves is he calls, and when he calls he says, ‘Hello, Dad. This is Barry.’ Really? I mean I have Caller ID and yet he’s got to identify himself? If I get a call that says, ‘Hello, Darling,’ I should not respond, ‘Who is this?’ God wants an intimate relationship with us.”
Black noted the power of prayer, said he was praying for President Trump, and reminded the audience of Paul’s injunction to pray for those in authority. Referring to Vice President Michael Pence, Black said, “I was talking with [him] backstage and I said ‘I am praying that the hand of God will be on you.’”