Even though it was already planned that we would visit our daughter in Charleston, as soon as I heard the tragic news of the shooting, I knew I needed to visit (Mother) Emanuel A.M.E. Church. The original plan was to go with friends on a cheap vacation to the beach, stroll through the downtown market, and visit family, but on June 17 the agenda changed.
In a text to Roy Cavender, a friend who was already planning to go with us on vacation, I said, “My plan while in Charleston is to visit Emanuel AME Church and pray. You down with that?”
His reply was short and simple: “You know it!!!”
So that is what we did.
It wasn’t that difficult to know when we had arrived at Emanuel A.M.E., for the flowers and memorials of all kinds were neatly stacked against the sturdy black iron fence separating the front of the church building from the sidewalk.
But it was more than just the flowers and trinkets that caused me to pause; it was the trees and the fire hydrant, all of them covered completely with condolences, names, and Scripture references written with colored Sharpie pens.
It took me a while to find a small, clear place on one of the trees, but when I did, I had to reach as high as I could without a stool. With a red Sharpie I simply wrote: John 17.
You see, unlike in the days after other tragedies, the people of Charleston, along with so many around the country, came together in a way that put evil to shame. This was especially evident by the support shown by the other churches all over the city. It was evident in the way people talked, put together fund raisers, and even in the way they welcomed the prayers from a total stranger.
Now, let me say up front that I did not originally pose for the accompanying photo of me praying. Let me explain what happened.
Like I said, I determined early on that I wanted to go pray on location at Emanuel A.M.E. What I did not go seeking, however, was a photo opportunity. However, it was only after I was given permission to kneel and pray on the front steps that a couple of ladies (members, I suppose), decided to take my picture – with several cameras.
As soon as I finished praying – praying that the name of Jesus Christ would be proclaimed through the deaths of His saints and the love of those who forgave – I started to stand. As I turned to me right, there was this lady with a camera phone saying, “Oh, I’m sorry…could you keep praying? I was trying to take a picture.” Once again I knelt down and prayed aloud.
As soon as I finished praying a second time, there was another woman with another cell phone: “I’m so sorry, sir, but could you pray some more? Please?” What was I supposed to do? So, of course I knelt once more and prayed…aloud…for real.
Believe it or not, just as soon as I said “amen” and started to stand, there the woman was again! This time, however, she had a 35mm camera in hand! I said, “OK, look, if I’m going to keep doing this, at least take MY phone and take a picture; I’d like a keepsake.”
“Of course!” she said. “This is something you should want to remember!”
The Big Picture
For many years to come people will be asking the same question: “Why?” Why did God allow a murderous young man full of hate to snuff out the lives of nine people during a Bible study? We may never know all the answers, for God’s ways are higher than our ways. However, a quick study of a small word in the New Testament could lend some understanding.
You see, the word translated “witnesses” in Acts 1:8 is the Greek word μάρτυς (pronounced mä’r-tüs). It is also the word from which we get the English word “martyr.”
“But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” – Acts 1:8
When we look at what has happened since June 17, I cannot help but believe the deaths of those precious nine people were not in vain. Their “witnesses” in death, along with the “love that passeth all understanding” shown by their families, have been nothing less than a fulfillment of Jesus’ words as recorded in Acts 1:8!
What the Devil meant for harm, God has changed to good! Those who died in that church may have never had much of an impact outside of Charleston, but the ripple effects of their deaths have been felt to “the uttermost part of the earth!”
Folks, as evil becomes more and more prevalent in this world, the love of Jesus can bring healing to our cities, unity to the Body of Christ, and dumbfound the world. May the families of Emanuel A.M.E. be a testimony to that fact. Keep them in your prayers.