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Charleston shooting and the prayer that can change everything

Members of the community show their support for the victims of the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in June 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. | (Photo: Reuters)

On June 17 in 1994, O. J. Simpson led police on a low-speed chase through the streets of Los Angeles.

His attorney informed him that morning that murder charges had been filed against him in the killings of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. That evening, he reportedly made a 911 call from a cellphone in the white Ford Bronco of his friend, Al Cowlings.

The California Highway Patrol then began pursuit of the vehicle. The Bronco led them onto the 405 Freeway in Torrance and eventually to Simpson’s home in Brentwood, where he surrendered.

Like millions of others, I watched the pursuit as it was broadcast on live television. But I never thought I would see the white Ford Bronco in person.

Last year, my wife and I were on vacation in the Smoky Mountains, one of our favorite places in the world. We stopped by a museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. And there we found the vehicle on display. Not a replica—the actual white Ford Bronco.

Now let’s turn to another event that occurred on this day five years ago.

On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. He joined parishioners for forty minutes of Bible study, then he gunned down nine of them. He reloaded seven times. His intention was to start a race war, as he later confessed to police. He was eventually sentenced to nine consecutive sentences of life in prison without parole.

I do not expect ever to meet O. J. Simpson or Dylann Roof. I can mourn the tragic deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson, Ronald Goldman, and nine precious lives lost in Charleston. And I can pray for those who mourn their deaths.

But I can do more than respond to the past—I can help create the future. So can you.

The prayer that can change everything

I have no idea what ministries or churches, if any, reached out to Dylann Roof before he murdered nine people in Charleston. I know that Jesus could have changed his heart if he had opened his life to our Savior. If Christ could transform the man who called himself the worst sinner of all (1 Timothy 1:15 NIV), he can transform anyone.

However, our Lord has made us his physical presence in our world (1 Corinthians 12:27) and commissioned us to bring his word and love to everyone we can (Acts 1:8). He will speak when we speak, care when we care, and touch lives when we touch them (cf. Acts 3:1–10).

It is our privilege and responsibility to use our influence for Jesus with compassion and urgency. The next Dylann Roof may be someone you know.

Henri Nouwen observed: “One of the greatest human spiritual tasks is to embrace all of humanity, to allow your heart to be a marketplace of humanity, to allow your interior life to reflect the pains and joys of people.”

If you will ask Jesus to give you his compassion for the people you meet today, he will answer your prayer in ways that will change your life and may change your world.

This is the promise and the invitation of God.

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