TUVYA: I’m excited today to be talking with Daryl and Stacy McKillian, two of the people I interviewed in 2001 when I was working on my doctoral research on intercultural communication. My goal was to gain understanding into the challenges reported by Jewish Gentile couples. Stacy was still Stacy Katz at that time. Her family was from Skokie, Illinois. In the 1960s, it was home to the highest percentage of Jewish Holocaust survivors in America. STACY: My grandma is in Skokie, and that’s where my mom and dad were raised. I actually grew up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.
TUVYA: And Daryl, your early childhood was in south LA during your elementary school years before you were moved to the West Los Angeles suburbs?
DARYL: Yep, that’s exactly right.
TUVYA: When I first interviewed you two, I asked, “What are some of the ways you two have discovered your cultures are very different?” You guys agreed that subject was “dog.” What was that was about?
STACY: At the time you interviewed us, my family had a dog named Pia. She was very much our little fur baby. She slept anywhere she wanted in our house. That could be in our bed or wherever. She ate inside, under our table, and basically was a member of the family.
DARYL: Yeah, so for us, dogs were not family members. They served a purpose. Our dog’s name was Rosco. That dog slept outside in his doghouse. We fed him outside. And his primary contribution to the family was as a guard dog. His job was to protect our perimeter and scare off any folks who were intruders. So, “dog” was a very different concept in my family growing up. He was not a pet, but part of the home security system.
TUVYA: Okay. Well, that introduces the differences in your cultural family backgrounds. Daryl, what was your spiritual upbringing like?
DARYL: I was raised in the context of a local church, a predominantly African American church in Venice, California. My great grandfather was the pastor and the church planter. My family was completely integrated at every level of the church. We all went to church on Sunday mornings and stayed all day. We went to church on Mondays for discipleship. On Wednesdays
we were there for prayer meeting. Then on Thursdays we had choir rehearsals. So, as a kid, if I wasn’t at school or at home, I was in church with my family.
TUVYA: Did you identify as a Christian in those years?
DARYL: Well, no. I really just went to church because I was forced to, not because I had any sort of spiritual aspirations. I walked away from the church when I was a teenager because I was searching for my own purpose in life and for my calling. I was searching for a place to belong, and I didn’t feel like that place was at church.
TUVYA: Okay. Stacy, we know you didn’t grow up in church. Tell us what your spiritual cultural background was like growing up.
STACY: I was taught that we were Jewish, but my family was not particularly religious. We didn’t belong to a temple. We celebrated Jewish holidays, but more as a cultural thing. Hanukkah was very exciting for us with the gifts. We would usually have Passover dinner at my grandparents, but it seemed like the purpose was the meal together and not a seder service. I wasn’t brought up with any strong spiritual teaching. It was more like, “You’re Jewish,” which means you don’t go to church. And my parents would tell me, “Jews don’t believe in Jesus.” Almost all my friends celebrated Christmas and Easter. I’m sure at some point I asked, “Why don’t we celebrate Christmas?” The answer was, “Well, because we’re Jewish!”
TUVYA: When you met, both of you were working at the same Los Angeles retail store. Daryl, at the time you were thinking about going into the pastorate?
DARYL: Yes. That was the plan. I was finishing up my undergrad degree at Biola University and wanted to go into a master’s program at Talbot Seminary. By that point, I was back involved in church. I had recommitted to my faith and my life was radically transformed from the self-destructive adolescent I was before college.
TUVYA: So, you guys met at work, and you were dating. Stacy, can you tell us what your relationship was like and what were those first challenges that you two experienced?
STACY: Daryl and I were dating when you first interviewed us. We were definitely having challenges, but mostly on his part. I didn’t see any issues about us dating and getting married, because I figured he could do his thing, I’d do my thing, and it would all be fine.
TUVYA: But it wasn’t all going fine. Daryl’s grandmother arranged a meeting with the three of us at the Jews for Jesus office.
STACY: Right. We met with you as a last resort to save our relationship. I just didn’t see how it was possible for me to practice Christianity and still be Jewish at the same time.
TUVYA: You said, you’d been taught “Jews don’t believe in Jesus.” Was that a big issue for you in dating Daryl?
STACY: Yeah. I never met anyone or was even introduced to the idea that you can keep your Jewish identity and all the cultural aspects and also believe in Jesus as Messiah. It was like they were mutually exclusive in my eyes—until we met with you.
TUVYA: Daryl, what was the struggle for you? You loved Stacy. You knew she was Jewish. That didn’t stop you from dating. Why not continue toward marriage?
DARYL: I realized we needed to be spiritually on the same page. That became a critical issue for me. I couldn’t understand her resistance to Jesus. To her credit, Stacy showed a lot of courage and a lot of humility. She came to church with me on Sunday mornings trying to understand my religion. Though as I look back, and as she told me later, it was a pretty traumatic experience. I didn’t understand what was taking her so long to place her faith in Jesus. Our church was teaching from the Bible, even from the Jewish Bible. So, I thought that should be enough for her right there.
TUVYA: Stacy, tell us what that church experience was like for you.
STACY: I mean, like culturally, it was something I had never experienced. Aside from that, I was pretty much the only white person there. At the time, I’d been living in LA for maybe five or six years. Where I grew up in Illinois, I was not around many African Americans at all. So, there was that big difference in our cultures. And then there was the spiritual part. Every single week, the pastor would extend the altar call, and the challenge saying, “Don’t leave here without accepting Jesus as your Savior.” That was really uncomfortable for me to hear.
DARYL: It felt like a weekly guilt trip to her. It wasn’t spiritually where she was. I can imagine now why that was such a traumatic experience. At that time, I was only trying to figure out what her problem was.
TUVYA: Okay, so the next thing I knew, your relationship had ended. How did that happen?
STACY: Well, I guess Daryl just got to the point where he said, “You know, we can’t get married if we don’t share the same beliefs. So, we might as well end it here.” He broke off the relationship, and I was devastated. We spent some time apart. He told me we could still be friends. So, we would still hang out and talk a lot. I think that’s when he got back in contact with you and we all met together and started talking about our differences.
DARYL: It was the hardest decision I ever had to make in my life. I was so torn. On the one hand, I loved God. I wanted to honor Him with my life, and at the same time, I knew that I loved Stacy and wanted to marry her. That was the hardest thing that I ever had to do. By that time, we’d been together for two and a half years. That one spiritual issue was the barrier that we just couldn’t seem to get beyond.
TUVYA: Stacy, what happened next in your life?
STACY: A few months later was the celebration of my parent’s 10th wedding anniversary. My dad and stepmom decided that they would go to Las Vegas to renew their vows and have “Elvis” perform the ceremony. That’s how crazy they are. The trip was planned for September 3, 2001. We were all going to fly into Vegas, go to a “little white chapel” and have an “Elvis” do his thing and then celebrate together. But just before flying out, I just had an awful sense: What if something happens to me on this flight to Las Vegas? I was thinking about life and death. Where would I go if I died without knowing Jesus? I kept thinking, even if Daryl and I don’t end up together, can I just ignore everything that he’s told me? I wanted to believe and trust in God, but it meant heading down a different path than I had followed my whole life. So, on the day before I was to fly out up to Vegas, I prayed with Daryl, and invited Jesus to be my Savior. That was the beginning of my faith journey. A week later, the tragic events of September 11th happened. I kept thinking about all those people who lost their lives. I wondered, did any of them have the same frightful thoughts that I experienced before they boarded their planes? It was really eerie.
TUVYA: What prepared your change of heart that finally enabled you to believe in Jesus?
STACY: I remember hearing gospel songs in my head. Daryl would play them constantly in his car. Certain lyrics would come to mind. They made me think about Jesus. The message comforted me. In the end, I realized I didn’t want to chance it. I figured even if everything I’m hearing is untrue, the worst that would happen is I’d honor God and love people.
TUVYA: How did your family respond when you told them about your faith in Messiah Jesus?
STACY: At first, it caused a little damage in my family relationships. My Jewish relatives didn’t necessarily believe in a God. They just knew that they were Jewish and that didn’t include Jesus. When I told my dad that I had come to faith in Jesus, he was like, “Well, you know it’s good for you, I guess. I just feel like religion is a crutch. But if that’s what you need, then that’s fine.” But now I actually think what I’ve learned since I came to faith has made me feel even more Jewish. That’s because there are so many things in the Bible that have a Jewish background or are learned from the Old Testament. I see that Christianity is such a Jewish faith.
TUVYA: Daryl, Stacy’s faith journey was set in motion by the crisis of your relationship. While she struggled about whether a Jew could believe in Jesus, you were wrestling with the dilemma of how a Christian could be married to somebody who is not a follower of Jesus. So, now you are married to a wonderful woman who is Jewish and believes in Jesus? Do you have spiritual harmony?
DARYL: Absolutely. It’s been an absolute game changer. We’ve been able to bring people along on our journey. We can highlight the Jewish nature of the Bible. We can show how
diverse the church is supposed to be. We believe the same things, even though we’re at different stages in our spiritual journeys. One thing that helps is our embrace of both cultures. We are raising three daughters. Ethnically, they are totally Jewish and Gentile. At the same time, they embrace Daddy’s African American culture and Mommy’s Jewish culture. Stacy and I have the same core beliefs; we can more easily harmonize our cultures around our faith. That’s what is most important to our family.
TUVYA: Does that mean that all the cultural differences have been resolved?
DARYL: When she breaks out the gefilte fish, I still run in the other room! That is never going to be resolved, especially when they add horseradish to it—no and no. The same thing is true when my family pulls out a big pot of chitlins. Stacy wants to run and hide. We’ve got cultural differences, but we respect those differences without judging one another. At the same time, having a core faith together in the Lord has made a huge positive impact in our marriage relationship.
TUVYA: Everything is good ... until one of you decides to get a dog, eh? Sorry, I couldn’t help having fun with that one! And, Daryl, how do folks get in touch with you if they want to know about Reconcile LA Church?
DARYL: Our email is [email protected] and the website is found at, www.reconcilela.church. We are a multi-ethnic, multi-socio-economic church, and we are committed to embracing unity in our diversity. We want to see what God is doing in bringing all backgrounds together.
If you or someone you know would like support in your relationship, write to [email protected]