It doesn't matter whether one sees God as black or white.
What is important is that people realize all colors and races of man are children of divine origin and are on Earth to learn to love one another, say three people who were the first black missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.Speaking Friday as part of the celebration for Black History Month at Brigham Young University, Marcus Martins, Mary Sturlaugson-Eyer and Jacques Jonassaint were united in their affirmation of a God who loves all and of a heaven that doesn't see color.
"I firmly believe heaven is not about blacks and whites. Heaven's about loving," said Jonassaint. "You are his creation and I am too."
Jonassaint was the first black missionary to enter the Provo Missionary Training Center, called in September 1978 to serve in the Florida Fort Lauderdale Spanish-speaking mission after LDS President Spencer W. Kimball "extended the priesthood to all worthy male members."
Martins, the son of the first black man to be called as an LDS general authority, was the first missionary to serve in the field.
At the time of the announcement, Martins was engaged to be married, with a deposit on an apartment and invitations ready to be mailed. Instead, he almost immediately left on a mission to his own land - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
"I couldn't even wait to be called. I had to go right now," said Martins. "The pressure was so great. Arrangements were made, and I entered the Brazilian MTC almost before it was ready."
Jonassaint is Haitian, though he was living in Canada at the time of his conversion. His "mixed" heritage brought him a couple of deportations during his mission while officials tried to deal with the change in church policy and acknowledge his status as an LDS missionary.
Sturlaugson-Eyer, well-known for her book "A Soul So Rebellious," was the first female black missionary, called to serve in San Antonio, Texas, when she wanted to serve in Africa.
"I felt we were dealing with a just God," said Sturlaugson-Eyer. "I think the Lord knew he had valiant souls here who wanted to serve him."
The church policy that didn't allow blacks to hold the priesthood probably held back the black men during a time when it would probably have been harmful to the church's progress to have a large black membership, said Jonas-saint.
He said a warning from the missionaries who baptized him did not deter him from joining the church. "I felt they were wrong (in telling him he would never hold the priesthood)."
Martins said his father taught the boys in the family to memorize the sacrament and baptismal prayers despite the fact they did not expect to be performing sacred ordinances.
"Our faith was so great," he said, "that we did everything to prepare. We never thought it would be so early, a week or two before the millennium, maybe."
Questions about interracial marriage and whether God is white or black show there's still some educating to be done, said Sturlaugson-Eyer.
"If you've been listening, then there's no need to address those questions," said Sturlaugson-Eyer.
"We have to stop categorizing by race or color or gender," said Jonassaint. "It's not reality."