Dayton Will Be a Beacon of Light - Evil Visited the Wrong City
The Oregon District - I know this brick street well - the street where nine lives were brutally gunned down in cold blooded murder. My daughter and I drive down that bumpy road every day on the way to her school, which is only a block from the shootings.
I've jogged through this area many a days, but Tuesday evening when I jogged down this street it was different, but not as different as one might think, and this made me realize how desensitized we have become to death in our nation.
As I jogged down the street the thought came to my mind, Why don't I feel different? I should feel something right now. Nine people were just murdered on this street. I should feel scared. I should feel shocked. I should be overwhelmed with grief. But I wasn't. There was a weird numbness that I felt.
But, maybe it's because everything seemed so normal, save for the street lined with tents with the news reporters that were camped out and the vigils to the victims. It felt eerily like any other day.
People were sitting outside restaurants eating their dinner. Others hung outside the bar right by the shooting drinking beers. A tall man who wore a shirt that said I Love You and appeared high, stood in front of a store window and watched himself dance.
Another man passed me and when I smiled at him he angrily pointed his finger at me, "I'm not even talking to you". I couldn't help but wonder if he wasn't another mass shooter in the making. Across the street corner was a guy holding a sign that said, "F@ck Nan Whaley" - our Mayor. Another man coming out of a bar who appeared drunk cussed out a bouncer.
I came up on the vigil where the shooting occurred. I saw the pool of blood in front of the bar door. I was surprised that no one had cleaned it up yet, or that it hadn't dried.
I thought about Columbine, the first mass shooting that rocked America to its core. The nation stood still that day, much like when 9-11 happened. Everyone was glued to their televisions in shock, but that was back in 1999. This was something totally new for us, but twenty years later and my kid's generation have grown up with mass shootings.
It's no longer shocking. Sad as it is to say, we've become used to it and we no longer react the way we used to. And part of me gets it. We have to go on living. We can't go hide out in caves or live in fear. With the amount of violence that surrounds us on a daily basis and the increasing number of mass shootings, if we broke down emotionally every time something occurred we wouldn't be able to function. So, I'm not judging because I understand that life must continue.
But, something occurred on Tuesday that really bothered me and broke through the conditioned numbness that has become a coping mechanism for many of us in our society. As I came up on the vigil where the shooting occurred I felt led to kneel down and pray. I began to pray for the hearts of the people in my city and our nation that we would repent for our sins so that God might heal our land.
As I finished praying I lifted my head just in time to see a man walking right through the pool of blood to go inside the bar. Is this how depraved we have become? That we step on the blood of the slain? Up until that moment I hadn't entirely felt the weight of what had just happened, but something about watching that man walk through the blood of the dead bothered me so much. He didn't even try to walk around it. The blood of someone was on the bottom of his shoe.
I imagined if my child had been slain like an animal in the middle of the street and their blood was still laying there. How would I feel to watch someone walk on top of my child's blood? It would rip my heart out. I thought about the scene from the Passion of Christ, when Pilot's wife wiped up Jesus' blood with a cloth and gave the bloodstained cloth to Mary. That seemed like an appropriate thing to do here, but instead this person's blood laid there in a puddle out by the street and people were walking through it.
Is there no honor for the dead anymore? I wondered. I got up from the hot cement and noticed a small plaque someone had placed in the window to the right of the pool of blood. It said HOPE.
I thought about this as I continued to jog down the street. We had to find some hope out of this. On my way back I saw a woman standing at the vigil. She was singing the song "I Can Only Imagine".
The man standing beside her began to sing with her.....will I dance for you Jesus? Or in awe of you be still? Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall?....... I felt a tugging on my heart. I walked over and stood beside them and began to sing with them....Will I sing hallelujah? Will I be able to speak at all? I can only imagine.....
We finished the song and they introduced themselves. Her name was Dawn and his name was Caleb. I thought they were friends, but they had also just met. Instantly the three of us began to connect.
I told them how frustrated I was with what I was seeing. "The bodies aren't even cold yet and people are already starting the hateful, political rhetoric and finger pointing. If they want to blame somebody, blame me," I said. "It's my city and I should have been praying more for my city. I could have been doing more. So, I'll take the blame."
A news reporter walked up behind us. Dawn grabbed me and Caleb. "You need to talk to them. He had a cousin that was killed in the shooting and she has something to say," she said. Before we knew it a microphone and a camera were in our faces. Me and Caleb both looked at each other and let out an awkward laugh. Neither of us were prepared to talk to the news. I was still wiping the sweat off from my run.
But as soon as Caleb opened his mouth I knew this was the providential hand of God moving in the midst of complete strangers. In spite of losing his cousin he didn't begin to point the finger or use it as an opportunity to push an agenda, instead he talked about the moral state of our nation and how we need to turn our hearts back to God, the very thing I had been silently praying about only moments before I met them while kneeling in front of the vigil.
After he finished and I shared with the reporter what I said about taking the blame, the three of us knew we couldn't let this go down as just another shooting. We had to do something. "Let's make a plan to meet up and talk about what we can do," said Dawn.
We decided to meet back up at 8:15 later that evening back in front of the vigil. Again, divine providence. I called a friend of mine and asked her to meet us there as well. We all met back up at 8:15. Only minutes after we arrived, a woman and her two small children and friend showed up. She began wailing. One of her close friends was one of the murdered in the shooting.
It was the kind of wailing that brings attention. It commanded you to feel the weight of her grief. She fell to the ground. And this is when the numbness left me. Caleb grabbed her and held her. Her two children stood bewildered beside her. Their eyes began to water. I grabbed the kids and put my arms around them. I held them and kissed them on their foreheads. "It's going to be okay, all right."
The woman was crying so hard she began to hyperventilate. "I can't breathe," she said between sobs. Caleb began to pray for her. Dawn came up from behind and tried to comfort the woman. Another woman came around the side and began praying. Then another woman....and another woman....
Tears were falling from everyone's eyes as we all huddled around this woman - all of us, black and white, complete strangers, coming together to help a hurting person in our community.
Before we knew it, there were so many people gathered around this woman to comfort her that she could barely move. Caleb picked her up and began to carry her to the parking lot where her car was parked. The rest of the gang followed. One woman held up a sheet around the woman so cameras couldn't take pictures of her in her grief stricken moment.
Caleb sat her down in the passenger seat as the woman's friend got into the driver's seat. "What am I going to do? Who's going to take care of her baby?" The woman cried out. My friend Latika stayed by her side, ministering and comforting the woman.
The woman's friend started up the car to get ready to leave. She seemed agitated. Stressed. I asked her if she minded if I prayed for her. She turned the car back off. She relaxed a bit. "Sure".
"Do you mind if I lay my hand on your head?" I asked. "No, that's fine," she said.
I laid my hand on top of her long, blue hair. I began praying for protection and healing over her - healing from any type of rejection, abandonment or things that people had said to her that were hurtful, and then I prayed that God would fulfill His purpose for her life. I finished praying and she let out this big, sigh of relief.
Her whole demeanor changed and she suddenly blurted out, "I need to get saved."
"Well, we can do that right now if you want," I said. She jumped out of the car. "We need to pray over the kids too," she said opening the door so the kids could get out.
And there we all stood, in the parking lot behind Ned Pepper's where the shootings occurred, a hodgepodge of strangers who met out on the street, praying over the woman with blue hair to get saved and another woman, Brooke, from East Africa who lost a friend in the shooting as well.
As a result of that night we have now decided to start a weekly citywide prayer vigil downtown to pray for our city and meet the needs of broken people. I know we are not the only ones who have decided to do something. There are many more who feel just like us. We are not going to sit back, complain and blame. We are going to come together and bring about real change.
Evil might have come to our city, but God is going to use it for good. We are already seeing light show up in the darkest of places. I declare we are going to unite. We are going to pray. We are going to heal. We are going to go out into the streets and help the people. Dayton, Ohio will be a beacon of love, light and power. Evil, you visited the wrong city. The sleeping giants have awakened.