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Power to Diffuse Even the Most Horrific Of Circumstances

by Jim Johnson

By now most of you are aware of the terrible tragedy that occurred last Friday in the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta. The subsequent events that led to Brian Nichol’s arrest have also hit the airwaves. Every now and then something of this significance deserves comment from someone more qualified than me. With that in mind, I wanted to reprint for you a portion of an article written by Rob Moll and found in this week’s Christianity Today:

It was a “textbook case” of how to deal with a hostage-taker. Ashley Smith talked shooting suspect Brian Nichols into turning himself in. After several hours in her apartment, Nichols allowed Smith to leave, and she immediately called the police.

“To avoid this thing becoming even more crazy, it wasn’t a question of who was right or wrong, but how do we get this thing taken care of, managed, so nobody else gets killed?” Robert Benjamin, a veteran conflict negotiator in Portland, Oregon told The Christian Science Monitor. “And her deft touch, unstudied as it was, was quite frankly a moment of brilliance.”

Reading Smith’s account of the story, it’s clear that sharing her faith with Nichols did much to help them both get through the situation safely.

We went to my room. And I asked him if I could read.

He said, “What do you want to read?”

“Well, I have a book in my room.” So I went and got it. I got my Bible. And I got a book called The Purpose-Driven Life.

I turned it to the chapter that I was on that day. It was Chapter 33. And I started to read the first paragraph of it. After I read it, he said, “Stop, will you read it again?”

I said, “Yeah. I’ll read it again.”

So I read it again to him.

It mentioned something about what you thought your purpose in life was. What were you—what talents were you given? What gifts were you given to use?

And I asked him what he thought. And he said, “I think it was to talk to people and tell them about you.”

As Nichols began to open up to Smith, she told him about her life. Smith’s husband was murdered four years ago. “As a teen, she was arrested for shoplifting and was on probation for a year. Later came arrests for drunken driving, speeding, and battery,” according to CBS News.

Two days before, Smith moved into the apartment where Nichols held her hostage. She works two jobs and recently completed a medical assistant course. Smith was returning from a store at 2:30 a.m. when Nichols held a gun to her back and forced her into the apartment. But by 9 that morning Smith convinced Nichols to allow her to pick up her daughter from AWANA, according to Baptist Press.

Smith said she wanted to gain his trust, and the two talked for several hours. She even made him pancakes for breakfast. “He said he thought that I was an angel sent from God,” Smith said. “And that I was his sister and he was my brother in Christ. And that he was lost and God led him right to me to tell him that he had hurt a lot of people. And the families—the people—to let him know how they felt, because I had gone through it myself.”

Smith even showed Nichols her husband’s autopsy report. “That’s what a lot of people will have to go through now, because of what you’ve done,” she told him. “You need to turn yourself in. No one else needs to die, and you’re going to die if you don’t.”

She helped Nichols believe in something beyond his immediate situation. “After I started to read to him, he saw—I guess he saw my faith and what I really believed in. And I told him I was a child of God and that I wanted to do God’s will. I guess he began to want to.”

Over breakfast, Smith said, “I just talked with him a little more … we pretty much talked about God … what his reason was, why he made it out of there.

I said, “Do you believe in miracles? Because if you don’t believe in miracles—you are here for a reason. You’re here in my apartment for some reason. You got out of that courthouse with police everywhere, and you don’t think that’s a miracle? You don’t think you’re supposed to be sitting here right in front of me listening to me tell you, you know, your reason here?”

I said, “You know, your miracle could be that you need to—you need to be caught for this. You need to go to prison and you need to share the Word of God with them, with all the prisoners there.” . . .

So, before the SWAT team surrounded the apartment complex with guns, Smith had defused the situation with love. In fact, when Nichols left her, untied, with ready access to guns, and when Smith followed Nichols in her own car while he ditched his stolen truck, Smith declined to take the opportunity to free herself. Instead she hoped to convince Nichols to turn himself in without hurting anyone else. “For a country used to getting things done with overwhelming force, it was a humbling lesson in Peacemaking 101,” writes the Monitor.

Her account makes a great illustration of how God works in our lives, and it ought to be told. Hopefully it doesn’t become a clichéd Hollywood story of faith, courage, and hope, because it is a beautiful illustration of the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. … I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

As Dallas Willard says, Jesus was a pretty smart guy, huh?

(This article first appeared in March 16,2005 issue of Christianity Today. Used by permission of Christianity Today International, Carol Stream, IL 60188.)

As I have read and reread this article I am humbled and amazed—humbled by wondering if I would have responded anywhere near as faithfully as Ashley and amazed by the power of God’s love to diffuse even the most horrific of circumstances. All I can say is the line from the chorus that we love to sing at PRESTON TRAIL: Blessed be the name of the Lord. My prayer for all of us is that no matter what situation we may find ourselves in, that we will trust the power of our good God to see us through!

See you Sunday as we continue to experience and grow together in Christ!

Jim Johnson