On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became pro baseball's first black player when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers. But there's an amazing story of faith and courage behind Robinson's entry into baseball.
Branch Rickey was the Dodger's baseball executive who eventually signed Jackie Robinson. Rickey's pastor was Wendell Fifield, from the Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims in Brooklyn. (This church, at one time pastored by Henry Ward Beecher, had a history of working with the "underground railroad" to help free slaves.) While Rickey was trying to decide if he should sign Jackie Robinson, he paid a visit to Rev. Fifield. He barged into the pastor's study and told Fifield, "Don't let me interrupt. I just want to be here. Do you mind?"
According to an eyewitness report written by Fifield's wife June, the two men passed the time without words. The pastor continued his work and Rickey energetically paced the floor, stopping occasionally to look at the pastor's window. For forty-five minutes he continued pacing, pausing, pacing, and then pausing. Finally, Rickey broke the silence by pounding his fist on the pastor's desk as he shouted, "I've got it!"
"Got what, Branch?" the minister asked.
June Fifield said that Rickey finally relaxed on a chair and told his pastor, "This was so complex, fraught with so many pitfalls but filled with so much good, if it was right, that I just had to work it out in this room with you. I had to talk to God about it and be sure what he wanted me to do. I hope you don't mind."
"Wendell," he said, "I've decided to sign Jackie Robinson." Then Rickey straightened his bow tie, donned his hat, and left the room as he said, "Bless you, Wendell."
In a couple of interviews from 2011, people who knew Rickey reflected on this story. Rickey's grandson said that when a well-known journalist told Rickey that "all hell would break loose" when Jackson took the field, Rickey quietly countered, "I believe all heaven will rejoice." Also, Jackie Robinson's widow Rachel had this to say about Rickey's need to pray about the decision: "He knew he was going to be pretty well isolated in making it, so he needed all the strength he could summon up, to be able to take the step."
You see, Mr. Rickey knew what King David had discovered: In His presence is fullness of joy and part of that fullness was knowing that in the decisive moments of life, His presence would light every step. You see, I truly believe God waits to give us direction, but that direction is not found in the often fickle advice of men; it is found in the guidance of God.