I was in Charleston last week when Dylann Roof murdered nine people during a Wednesday night bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
While the world moves on to the next tragedy, the next big story, I feel the responsibility to bear witness to the events which unfolded that night and the days that followed.
This is what I saw:
As our taxi slowly approached the intersection of Meeting and Calhoun Street, my eyes were quickly drawn to the chaos.
Through the barrage of red and blue lights, I saw crime scene tape stretched from one corner to another. There were police and emergency workers running back and forth with purpose and desperation as crowds gathered outside the Courtyard Marriot across the street from Emanuel AME church.
Our driver quickly turned left on Calhoun Street, darting away from the scene and back to our house a few blocks away. During that short ride, we began checking the internet for news. Instantly, we became aware of the horrific events that had taken place just an hour before. The sounds of sirens and helicopters filled the air. Local news stations relayed information as it was made known to them, and all residents were advised to stay inside while the search for the killer continued.
The next evening my wife and I attended a memorial service, then walked to Emanuel AME to pay our respects and to pray and mourn with our brothers and sisters in Christ. What I witnessed there, what I experienced firsthand, was a battle. Not a battle between black and white, but between the light and the darkness, good and evil, love and hate.
I saw news affiliates from all over the world converge upon one city block. In heat close to 100 degrees, some of them built the tension with stories focused on racism, gun control, hate crimes and the symbolism of the confederate flag. All the while, waiting and watching to see what would happen.
With the spotlight upon them, I saw men and women of all races standing in prayer circles bathed in God’s peace in the midst of chaos. I spoke to a young woman who lost four people in that church the night before. She was devastated, yet spoke adamantly of forgiveness and prayer for the salvation of Dylann Roof’s soul. She said, “I am angry. I am upset. But if we call ourselves Christians, if we really believe this, it’s time to forgive.” I did not see hatred. I did not see surrender to anger or cries of racism. I saw a community of believers. Men and women of all races united.
Still, the world watched and waited for something to happen.
Still, the battle raged on.
As I stood in front of the church I could picture it in my mind, I could hear the conversation between God and Satan straight from the book of Job.
I could hear The Lord asking, “Have you considered my servants at Emanuel AME? For they are blameless and upright men and women, fearing God and turning away from evil.”
Then I could hear Satan saying to God, “if you would you remove your protection, the hedge around their house and all they have, they would surely curse you to your face.”
This was the battle.
I saw that these nine children of God and their families understood this.
They knew they “were not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” *Ephesians 6:12
They understood that Satan himself came into that church and sat down amongst them as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
After he was welcomed with open arms, he listened to God’s word for one hour before pulling that trigger. Before taking the lives of nine people in that bible study last Wednesday night.
Only evil does that.
Only evil comes to “The Holy City” to defame Gods name.
Only evil in the heart of Dylan Roof led him to one of the oldest black churches in the south, which serves as a symbol of perseverance to this community of believers.
Only evil chooses a scenario like this, with the stated intent of starting a race war.
For evil knows, this would fuel the fire of hate in the hearts of men and women.
I saw this happening. I saw Satan tempting and enticing, whispering to the pride of the human heart: “Be angry, get revenge.” Don’t just stand by and let them do that to you.”
Satan desired for the people of Emanuel AME to respond with anger, with hate. To show the world that when the hedge is lifted and all is taken away that they would not glorify God, but they would curse Him to His face.
But then I saw the power of God.
For while the whole world was watching, the light shined in the darkness.
And what the devil intended for evil, God used for good.
For through their grief and anger, though everything was taken from them, though the devil waited for them to curse God and die, they said like Job,” though he slay me I will trust in Him”, and they never cursed God.
They know the world is watching right now and through the power of the Holy Spirit they will not let evil win. They will not respond with hate. They will let their light shine before others so that their good deeds will be seen and God will be glorified.
At Dylann Roof’s bond hearing, I saw the nine families speak words of forgiveness to him. Not revenge, not hate, but God’s forgiveness:
“You have hurt a lot of people. May God forgive you. I forgive you”
“For me, I am a work in progress. And I acknowledge I am very angry. But one thing that she’s always joined in our family with is that she taught me that we are the families that love built. We have no room for hate so we have to forgive. I pray God on your soul and I also thank god that I will be around when your judgment day comes with him. May God bless you.”
“I forgive you, but we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent, confess, give your life to the one who matters most: Christ. So that he can change it, can change your ways no matter what happened to you and you’ll be OK. Do that and you’ll be better off than what you are right now.”
Then I saw that the world could not understand this.
I heard a reporter on CNN say, “This is very difficult to hear. How can they be so forgiving?”
The world; the darkness, does not understand forgiveness.
It understands violence, hatred, revenge, anger, an eye for an eye. Darkness needs someone or something to blame. The darkness expected a riot. It expected a reaction of anger and violent retaliation.
Then I saw inside myself and must confess that part of me expected it too. I realized, as did Job,” My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” *Job 42:5-6
Last week in Charleston at Emanuel AME Church; I saw God.
I saw the love of Jesus Christ in the faces, words, and actions of these people.
I saw love that I have never seen before.
Love that could be felt and breathed in; the blood and guts of what love truly is.
I saw a people surrendered and obedient to God’s will and not their own.
That they truly believed in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and loved one another as He commanded them.
I saw that they truly believed that, “if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” *Matthew 6:14-15
I saw that they truly believed that God in them is greater than the evil in this world.
I saw that God in them gave them the power to repent, to turn from their anger and grief and turn to forgiveness; from what the devil intended for evil, to the good that God desires.
I saw the light come into the darkness and the darkness could not defeat it.
I saw the battle won.
Please pray for The Lord’s continued presence in Charleston and for the repentance and salvation of Dylann Roof, so that God would be glorified. As that young woman said to me, I say to you: ” If we call ourselves Christians, if we really believe this, it’s time to forgive.”
Repent Believe Persevere