The title of Failure Is Not Final suggests a story of rising above adversity and overcoming all odds, but also with some heartache involved. But never would I have imagined it to be the story of a Baptist Church’s pastor. While the media loves to report on clergymen’s downfalls, this story is the much more personal and private story of how Pastor Sam Rachal felt the call to the ministry, his honeymoon with his congregation, and then the breakup of his marriage as well as internal problems with his church, especially over a church building program. Ultimately, it is the tale of a flawed human being who has decided not to focus on what went wrong in his life, but to keep moving forward.
Even before deciding to become a minister, Pastor Rachal had several forms of adversity he had to overcome. He grew up as a Catholic in Louisiana so it was a big step for him to convert to the Baptist faith, despite knowing that his mother and the Catholic Church believed that only Catholics would enter heaven. As an African-American and Creole from Louisiana, while he does not discuss ways he personally experienced racism, he was constantly aware of it, including its presence in Bremerton, Washington and the surrounding areas where he was a pastor. And in his early years as a young man in the military, he was attracted to what he calls the “fast-lane” lifestyle of women and alcohol, which he had to give up to become a family man and church member. And finally, as a pastor, he often had to face opposition from the members of his congregation, even at times when he knew he was doing what was for their own good.
While I don’t want to give away the darkest moments of Pastor Rachal’s life, it’s sufficient to say that as I read, I truly doubted he would recover from the situation, and the story of Christian forgiveness he shares — forgiveness of himself as well as being forgiven by others—and how he went on to be the successful pastor of the vibrant and Christ-filled congregation of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church for many years to come is moving and inspiring. Pastor Rachal continually comes back to reminding the reader that “Failure is not final” and that reminder should help anyone going through a dark time to realize that God has amazing power to heal, and that if we are patient and learn from our mistakes, we can be born anew and go on to have fulfilling lives.
I recommend Failure Is Not Final to anyone interested in organized religion and how a church functions or what the life of a pastor is like. More importantly, I recommend it because I think people will appreciate Pastor Rachal’s honesty about his mistakes and his sincere faith. His story is a strong encouragement not to beat ourselves up over our mistakes, to believe that God forgives us, the importance of learning to forgive ourselves, and then the need to move forward with hope and trust in God.