149) A Gentle Response

The Amazing Story of Antoinette Tuff

By Eric Metaxas, http://www.breakpoint.org , September 5, 2013

     How do we respond when everything is on the line?  In fear, or in faith?  Or perhaps in a little of both?  Well, one amazing story is getting national attention, and I want you to hear it. 

     The scene had all the makings of yet another tragedy.  Twenty-year-old Michael Hill walked into the Ronald E. McNair Learning Academy in Decatur, Georgia armed with an AK-47, five hundred rounds of ammunition, and in his words, “nothing to live for.”

     Yet events in Decatur didn’t turn into another Newtown, thanks to the grace of God and a remarkable woman armed only with her faith.

     That woman was Antoinette Tuff, the school’s bookkeeper.  After Hill took her as a hostage, Tuff acted as the go-between for Hill and the authorities.  It was Tuff who relayed Hill’s demands that the police stop using their radios and “stop all movement” or else he would start shooting.

     But that’s not all that she did. Tuff started talking to her captor.  Specifically, she started talking to him out of her own experience and as a Christian.  As she told CNN, “I was just praying. . . . in the inside of myself and saying ‘God, what do I say now?  What do I do now?’  I just kept saying that on the inside because I knew that I had no words to say.”

     But she found the words.  She referred to Hill as “Sir,” “sweetie, and “baby.”  She told him that “we’re not going to hate you.”  She then went one step further and told him that “I just want you to know I love you, though, OK?”

     And she didn’t stop there.  Understanding that Hill was a troubled soul– he had actually gone off his psychiatric medication– she shared her own struggles and pain.  She told him about her divorce, her disabled son and her own thoughts of suicide, adding that “We all go through something in life.  You’re gonna be OK, Sweetheart.”

     She even offered to walk outside with him if he turned himself in to make sure that the police wouldn’t shoot him.

     Through a combination of love, empathy, and grace she persuaded Hill to surrender, and then told him that she was proud of him.

     After the ordeal, she told the 911 dispatcher who heard and recorded her entire conversation with Hill, “I’ve never been so scared in all the days of my life.  Oh, Jesus.”

     She told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that part of what helped her was a sermon series her pastor had started on the previous Sunday about being “anchored in the Lord.”  In fact, the morning before her encounter with Hill she had started studying what the pastor had to say about being “anchored in the Lord.”

     As Cooper told her, “That was good timing of that sermon,” to which she replied, “Very good timing.”

     I can’t imagine what she was feeling while Hill pointed a gun at her, and I don’t want to imagine what it would be like to be in her shoes.  All I want to do is pray that if I’m ever in such a position that I would respond with a fraction of the grace, love, empathy, and courage that Antoinette Tuff did.

     The word “hero” gets thrown around pretty promiscuously in our culture.  We often use it when what we really mean is “reliable” or even just “celebrity.”

     But Antoinette Tuff is the real deal.  She is a reminder of what Christian courage looks like:  She didn’t need a weapon, just her faith and a willingness to love the unlovable and to share her own pain, failures, and struggles, knowing that the rest was in God’s hands.

Antoinette Tuff

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Proverbs 15:1  —  A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

I Peter 3:13-15  —  Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.  “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”  But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect.

Ephesians 6:10-13  —  Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

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 A PRAYER FOR OUR ENEMIES FROM THE EASTERN ORTHODOX CHURCH:

Lord Jesus Christ, Who didst command us to love our enemies, and those who defame and injure us, and to pray for them and forgive them; Who Thyself didst pray for Thine enemies who crucified thee:  grant us, we pray, the spirit of Christian reconciliation, that we may heartily forgive every injury and be reconciled with our enemies.  Grant us to overcome the malevolence and offences of people with Christian love of our neighbor.  We further beseech Thee, O Lord, to grant to our enemies true peace and forgiveness of sins; and do not allow them to leave this life without true faith and sincere conversion.  And help us repay evil with goodness, and to remain safe from the temptations of the devil and from all the perils which threaten us, in the form of visible and invisible enemies.  Amen.