Wednesday night, Dylann Roof sat in prayer meeting at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.
One hundred miles away in Columbia, I sat in a church prayer meeting, too. While our pastor led six of us in a Bible study, the door opened and a visitor walked in. We were surprised. Young people don’t attend church much anymore, and only the devout come out on a steamy night in June to pray.
We welcomed him and shared our pizza. We were glad he had found his way to the house of God. When the study ended and we bowed our heads to pray, he bowed with us.
“Please come back,” we said as he left, “our doors are always open.”
Today my heart is breaking for the nine prayer warriors who lost their lives at Emmanuel AME Church while praying and studying God’s Word—in God’s house.
The sacred has been defiled. The defenseless have been destroyed. The darkness has dealt an evil blow to the body of Christ.
My heart aches because those who lost their lives in Charleston are my brothers and sisters. They are part of my family. They knelt to pray like I kneel to pray. They studied God’s Word like I study God’s Word. They had a right to assemble unmolested like I have a right to assemble unmolested. They welcomed a stranger in the name of Jesus like I welcome strangers in the name of Jesus.
My sadness is deep because this tragedy has occurred in my country. In my state. One hundred miles from my home. In South Carolina’s Holy City.
President Obama, in a statement following Roof’s arrest, said, “Any death of this sort is a tragedy, any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy. There’s something particularly heartbreaking about death happening in a place we seek solace, and we seek peace, in a place of worship.”
He spoke truth. In times past people ran to the church for safety. Wednesday night people ran from the church in horror.
Last night a visitor sat among my small group of believers gathered to study and pray. One hundred miles away, another visitor sat among a small group of believers gathered to study and pray. My brothers and sisters went home to rest safely in their beds. My Emmanuel brothers and sisters went home to rest safely in the arms of their Savior.
When did the church become the most dangerous place in town?
Maybe it has always been.
The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, fingered the mastermind behind the shooting long before Charleston police fingerprinted Dylann Roof:
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (6:12).
How did my brothers and sisters in Charleston spend the last hour of their lives? Studying God’s Word. Praying for the lost. Welcoming strangers.
May their courage make us brave. May their commitment make us strong, and may their example cause us to live each day in wholehearted pursuit of our Savior.
“Therefore,” Paul instructs us, “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13).
Lori Hatcher is an author, blogger, and women’s ministry speaker. She shares an empty nest in Columbia, South Carolina, with her minister husband, David, and best dog ever, Winston. She’s the editor of Reach Out, Columbia magazine, and has authored two devotional books, Hungry for God … Starving for Time: Five-Minute Devotions for Busy Women and Joy in the Journey – Encouragement for Homeschooling Moms. You’ll find her pondering the marvelous and the mundane on her blog, Hungry for God. . . Starving for Time. Connect with her on Facebook (Hungry for God), Twitter (@lorihatcher2) or by email (LoriAHatcher@gmail.com).
Publication date: June 19, 2015