A Somber Summer By Mother Gwen Benton

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church

June 17th, 2015 marked an unforgettable season in the history of our nation. It marked the beginning of a phase in which the unbelievable became a reality and that which requires reason and solution still remains without closure. I recall the streaming across the bottom of the television screen. I remember reading the words, “a mass shooting has taken place at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. One victim has been taken to the hospital. Several are dead.” “Surely this could not be happening in a church!” I thought. “ I know this church!” Then I realized that I had two friends that were now ministers at Mother Emanuel and because I knew how devoted they were to studying God’s word and corporate prayer, I knew they were there. Frantically I began praying, then texting and calling other friends in Charleston to get more information. I felt so helpless and detached from everything that possibly existed at that moment. I was four and a half hours away and needed to be where I could get some answers. It was not until the next morning at 6:30 that I received answers. The news was not exactly what I wanted to hear and the worse that could possibly be expected had occurred.

On Wednesday, September 9, 2015 Charleston’s daily newspaper, The Post and Courier, published an account from two of the three survivors. On the same day, NBC broadcasted an interview with these survivors Felicia Sanders, (mother of Tywanza Sanders and niece of Susie Jackson), and Polly Sheppard. The interviews recounted the emotional and spiritual struggles and authentic accounts as they publicly relived for the first time each moment from the closing prayer of the twelve prayer meeting attendees to the bloodshed and its aftermath. Just as Jesus chose twelve disciples, there were 12 prayer warriors in the Mother Emanuel prayer circle- the nine victims and the three survivors including the eleven year old granddaughter of survivor Felicia Sanders. With eyes closed the group collectively spoke their closing and final prayer from Genesis 31:49, “May the Lord God watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another” prior to 77 shots resounding in God’s house.

Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson dedicated their lives to the principles and teachings of Jesus Christ not just through their words but in their deeds as evidenced even to their deaths. Their earthly inscriptions will forever live as flags are removed, memorials are created, statues are erected, monuments are carved, and streets are renamed.

These whom we honor for their sacrifice were husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts, friends, spiritual leaders – but most of all God’s chosen ones. As we the survivors remain unnerved by the loss of these beloved victims and continue to mourn and grieve the absence of their presence, the comfort is in knowing that their hearts and minds were already with the Creator, for they left this earthly world doing what they loved most – “being about God’s business.”

It is our Christian assignment to continue the work of the nine who taught us so well how to activate God’s power through prayer and forgiveness and the three surviving victims who continue to show us God’s miraculous power as He continues to shower them with His love, His grace and His mercy. It is so easy to become bitter and take matters into our own worldly hands when we are hurt or feel “short changed”, but we must continue to build on the strength of the widows, widowers, motherless and fatherless children, childless parents who stood in the face of the man who cruelly ripped their innocent loved ones from their lives in a crazed deliberate act and expressed their forgiveness to him. Yes, it is so hard for us to forgive in the midst of tragedy, but through God’s strength we will all survive and endure the pain as we continue to live with the memories of our martyred sisters and brothers and share the messages that God continues to reveal to us each day.

May I be strengthened through the final release of a dear friend, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor through the writing of this tribute. Please continue to pray for Charleston and especially the three survivors who witnessed this massacre for they too are victims who were graced by God to survive and live His story.
Created By
Berean Baptist Church
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Credits:

Travis Dove for The New York https://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/06/18/the-murders-at-mother-emanuel-church-in-charleston/;  Times http://www.wsj.com/articles/tywanza-sanders-church-shooting-victim-called-quiet-industrious-1434660835; https://www.flickr.com/photos/stephenmelkisethian/albums/72157652424754754

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