FQ: How long have you been a pastor, sir? And what made the Book of Jonah call out to you to write this particular book?
HUGHES: I’ve been a full-time pastor for 14 years, all with my current congregation, CrossRoads Community Church of Jefferson Hills. Prior to that I was a teaching pastor at CrossCurrent Church in Ashburn, VA but that was as a volunteer. My main job at that time was as a consultant with the government.
FQ: When you look at the news on TV, and see what’s happening in our communities, what is the first thought that comes into your mind?: Along those same lines, do you feel we CAN, as a people, eventually stop hatred?
HUGHES: The first thought that comes to mind is the lack of hope that is being portrayed. There actually is hope in our communities but what we see on TV is hatred and violence and division. The stories of hope are few and far between and don’t get any attention unless it directly plays into the narrative of anger and division somehow. I think we can stop hatred but it has to be intentional and there needs to be an external influence, which is where God comes into the situation. Left to our own devices we naturally choose hate and violence and tend to lean towards Lord of the Flies or the Wilds as a way of life.
FQ: Fear can breed hatred, as we all know. In a world where fear and panic grew because of the pandemic, do you feel there is a way to change the path we’re on?
HUGHES: The opposite of fear or the natural enemy of fear is trust. It is hard to fear that which you trust. To combat the fear and change our path we need to restore trust...in our politicians, the media, even in the religious leaders in our community and in the brave men and women who serve as first responders and lay their lives on the line to serve and protect our communities.
FQ: If you had one chance to give a word of advice, so to speak, to the masses, what would that advice be?
HUGHES: Whether you believe in God or not, no one can deny that the main message of Jesus is one that everyone can do and one that can change the world: Love your neighbor as yourself, the neighbor that may not look like you, vote like you, or even believe like you. Love them like you would want to be loved and it will change your world and theirs.
FQ: You mention in the book that you’re a bit of a movie “geek.” In fact, you have many fun, witty places in the book that brings a smile to a reader’s face. Is there a favorite movie of yours? And is there any one movie that inspires you in your own profession that you feel people should watch?
HUGHES: My favorite #1 movie of all time is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, a musical. I try to get people to watch it whenever I can. My 2nd favorite movie of all time is the one that inspires me as a pastor, The Matrix. It’s a movie about a team of people dedicated to convincing one person how important they are to someone else. I mean that’s my job in a nutshell, but without all the guns and fanfare, to reveal to people how important they are to God.
FQ: What made you go down the path to being one who spreads the message of God? Is there a backstory of your own you would like to share with readers?
HUGHES: It was never my intention to become a pastor. In fact, I told my pastor at the time that I really thought his job sucked because he was under appreciated and under paid. That was a fun conversation. Growing up I wanted to be a superhero, which at that time meant a NYC cop. They were my heroes. Despite all of the negative press and media, and whilst I acknowledge there are bad cops, I also know there are many who are good and who go out every day and put their lives on the line to protect and serve their communities. The ones who do that every day, especially with the bad press and media hype, they are still my heroes. After time in the military and consulting with the government I felt like God was calling me to something that, although not akin to being a hero, was truly needed and vital to the fate of humanity (being a geek makes me lean towards over dramatizing), sharing the truth of God’s word with the world.
FQ: The world has had to go virtual during the pandemic. Can you speak about how that has affected your work? How has the virtual realm helped you continue your fine work?
HUGHES: We’ve been livestreaming for several years so it wasn’t a huge impact. Not to sound morbid, but the pandemic actually helped us. I live in a racially divided area and as a black pastor of an all-white congregation in a predominately white suburban area, most people have been hesitant to come to our Sunday Celebrations. When we went online a few years before the pandemic, we saw multiple people joining online and downloading the messages later. Once the pandemic hit, that multiplied immensely. If the goal of a congregation is to get people into their building, then having to go virtual truly hurt them. If the goal is to expand God’s kingdom by sharing His message of love and forgiveness with the world, then the pandemic was a blessing in disguise because it forced congregations to share their messages online to people outside of their communities.
FQ: Can you tell us when the next great story is coming? And, if so, could you give us a peek as to what it will be focused on?
HUGHES: I have two I’m working on. One is about politics (I mean religion, racism, politics, I’m going for the trifecta). It’s a devotional looking at politics from God’s viewpoint and challenging Christians to prayerful consider where their allegiances lay, with God or their political party even though people from both parties believe God is supporting just their political party. The other one is a fictional book, what I am calling BiFy, Biblical science fiction. It’s about a person God sends on a time traveling journey. Both are about halfway through. Again, not to be morbid but the pandemic has blessed me with a lot of time that I use to write instead of just being bored in the house.