Bearing Witness: Charleston Strong

charlestonstrong

Tonight marks one week since the shooting that made the world turn and cry with my hometown. I think I speak for my fellow Charlestonians when I say that this week has lasted years. Each turn of the earth on its axis has felt like a full revolution. Yesterday I stopped and realized that something really important is happening here in Charleston and I am bearing witness to it. I feel the urge to write it all down, if only for my sake to remember.

I wept Thursday morning alone in my home as I read the news. I watched the press conferences with Governor Haley and President Obama with coworkers. I prayed, voice shaking, over our company sales meeting for God to bring comfort to the victims’ families and to us all and to bring meaning to this meaninglessness.

Friday I broke down in my office as I watched the family members of the victims tell the shooter that they forgave him. I cried for them and their supernatural strength in senseless loss. I cried for my city and my state in our pitiful racial division. How could God let this happen? In the silence of my office, I felt God whispering in my heart, how could YOU let this happen? 

Saturday was my 26th birthday and though I tried to be of good cheer, it was somber. My heart was heavy.

And then on Sunday morning I awoke early, foregoing my usual church service to tote around large cases of water bottles. My Awaken Church had organized a big unity service in Marion Square and I was excited to be able to volunteer, if only to make myself feel better, to somehow do something constructive to shake the grief that was aching in my bones. Over 3000 people came to that prayer service and the whole city stood still for nine minutes as all the church bells rang in unison to honor the dead. That day I held hands with strangers and prayed for reconciliation to fall upon our city. I prayed for forgiveness for the sins of my ancestors. I prayed for healing for the grieving families and for the people of South Carolina. And I prayed for Unity. Afterward we all walked a block to Mother Emanuel AME, surrounded the church and sang Amazing Grace to its walls. Later that night over 10,000 people walked the Ravenel Bridge forming a Unity chain, hand in hand with strangers of various races.

Sunday was an amazing day. I saw strangers embrace each other, cry together, and pray together. I saw white Christians recognize that purging the evil from within our borders starts with purging it from our own hearts. I saw black Christians respond with incredible grace. For the first time as I gathered with 3000+ strangers for prayer in the 100 degree heat, I saw God at work in Charleston, breathing life into death.

I saw the gospel personified in Charleston that day. Into utter darkness, God inserted his presence, let there be light. Out of death and despair springs life and hope. Out of the mouths of the wounded and grieving came confounding words of unmerited forgiveness

Monday Governor Nikki Haley, wasting no time, announced the plan to remove the Confederate flag from the ground of the state capital. It was a symbolic gesture that brought anger to a few but relief to many. It’s a start.

I know that the war between good and evil and love and hate will continue to rage on after this. Already ugliness is creeping back into our media coverage, our facebook feeds, and our political dialogue. I know that there is yet much to be done in the Holy City and our country. But for a moment hope has won a battle in Charleston. For a moment, love planted its flag in our hearts and said, in the words of Jermaine Jackson, “No way, not today.”

For a moment, evil relented. Hatred cowered. Racism took a knee as strangers took each others’ hands.

Let us remember this moment. Let us write it on our hearts and speak it to our children. And let us usher in more moments such as this as we fight on toward the redemption of creation. Let this be a turning point: for Charleston and for the Church.

We will overcome someday. Today. Everything changes when you claim it as a promise for today. Everything changes when you believe that peace is winning today.

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