It's time for me to share a story. Some people dismissed the events I'm about to tell you about as "nothing," and it may have very well been "nothing." But next time, it may not be... and it could have changed from "nothing" to tragedy in just a fraction of a second.
A few months ago, as I was pulling up to church on Wednesday night for supper before prayer meeting, a car pulled over on the wrong side of the road across from the church caught my eye. When I got out of the car to go inside, I heard a rustling in the woods and saw a man wearing a masquerade mask standing in the woods, watching our church. Terrified, I called 911 immediately, and as soon as they pulled up, he ran to his car and sped off, clearly up to no good. They did catch the man a little ways up the road, but all they could fault him for was not wearing a seat belt.
I was shaking all over and something in my gut told me that something just wasn't right, but what could we do? Prayer meeting began and I was sitting about midway up on the right side closest to the inner isle. About halfway through the service, I heard the double doors at the back of the church creak open, and as I turned my head, our eyes locked. It was the man in the masquerade mask, standing in the center of the isle at the back of the church. He was wearing a huge coat, his hair was disheveled, and his eyes were wild, darting from one side of the room to the other. He hesitated for a second, then took a seat a few rows from the back. My heart was beating out of my chest, and I decided that it was my responsibility to protect my family. I got up as calmly and discreetly as possible, walked out the back door, and called 911 again. He was back, they hadn't stopped him, he had on a mask, he could have a gun. Help.
It only took a few minutes before the police surrounded our humble little church building. Our fearless leaders, Tony (youth pastor and associate pastor) and Josh (head of the deacons), who had been at Youth Meeting, had been alerted of what was going on, and came quickly, speaking to police, keeping the few people who were aware of what was happening calm, and letting the ladies working in the nursery know what was happening so they could get the children to a center room, and lock the doors.
During the service, Pastor Max was fearless. He stood bravely, behind the pulpit, and preached through what could have easily been his last sermon. The man in the mask moved from the back of the church up to the front during the middle of the service, making jittery movements, looking around, and fidgeting with the mask. It was the most terrifying moment of my entire life, and I watched through a window, as some of my precious church family in the pews began to pick up on what was happening. I watched as their eyes widened, then closed in prayer, asking God to protect us, and change this man's heart if he had ill intentions.
After the service, I saw some people bravely greet him, thank him for coming, and walk away. He could have been an angel, for all we know, and of course we want everyone to feel welcomed at our church, but I don't think he was. I think, sometimes you have to trust your instincts, and my instincts told me he came there to kill.
The police couldn't just barge into the sanctuary and tell the man to leave, because technically he hadn't done anything wrong, just suspicious. He could have just been crazy or mentally sick... or he could have been a gunman that changed his mind because he felt the presence of God. We will probably never know, but what I do know without a shadow of a doubt, is that God protected us that night, and He allowed us to see a glimpse of what people all over the world in countries that don't have the freedoms we do in America face everyday. It was my worst nightmare coming true, and nothing mattered except Jesus. Yes, I knew that if I was to die that night, I would instantly be in the presence of the Lord, but it was so terrifying.
This morning, when I heard about the shooting that took place yesterday at the church in Charleston, it all came flooding back. I still remember every detail of that night as vividly as if it had just happened yesterday, and there will never be words to explain how grateful I am to God that He spared our lives. What happened in Charleston could have happened to us, and my heart goes out to the families dealing with the loss from this tragedy. It breaks my heart that we live in a world where evil is not only accepted, but embraced whole-heartedly, and everything seems to be tolerated except for Christianity.
It's time for us, as Christians, to start speaking up, standing up for the religious freedoms that our country was founded upon, and sharing our stories.