illustration by jen singh
In a day and age where millions of people are suffering and fervently
sought-after answers are few, Nancy Guthries book Holding On to Hope
emerges from the darkness and directs us to the Light. TIME magazines
David van Biema says, Few people have livedand continue to liveas deep a
firsthand experience of pain and loss as Nancy Guthrie. Yet, despite the loss
of two of her babies to a genetic disorder, Nancy pulls herself up from the
ashes and unabashedly claims God as her true source of strength. She has even
found joy and peace amid personal anguish, because she has learned and
experienced a deeper intimacy with God.
Rape victim finds power of forgiveness, shares
Debbie Morris life dramatically changed at the age of 16 when she and her
boyfriend, Mark, were kidnapped by Robert Lee Willie, the prisoner whose life
was chronicled in the 1995 movie, Dead Man Walking.
When she was raped for the first time, while her boyfriend was confined in
the trunk of their car, Debbie remembers thinking I will survive, no matter
what I have to endure. She acknowledges that her resolve must have come from
Christ Whom she had accepted as Savior two years earlier.
Debbie also remembers thinking that she needed to remember every detail of
her captors face, so that she could later help convict him. I was so filled
with hate and with the need for revenge, she says.
While she was repeatedly raped over a 24-hour period, her boyfriend was
taken into the woods, hung on a tree, shot in the head and stabbed in the side,
his neck slashed, and left for dead. Miraculously, he survived.
Debbie recalls thinking in the midst of the attacks, Where is God right
nowthe God I love? Does He even exist?
The answer came much later when Willie was seated in the courtroom on trial
for another womans murder.
Why did you let [Debbie Morris] go? he was asked.
I know it was a stupid thing to do, but there was something different about
her, he responded. When I looked into her eyes, I saw love.
Debbie couldnt believe her ears. Love? Disgust, contempt and hatred, she
thought, but surely not love.
When I thought I had been abandoned by God, He really was there, she says.
What her rapist saw was not her love, but the love of Jesus Christ in her, Who
was looking back at him.
Willie was given the death penalty.
Though justice had been served, Debbie felt bitter and scared, and her whole
world was turned upside down. She eventually dropped out of high school and
turned to alcohol.
When the time came for Willies execution, Debbie knew that all she wanted
was peace. I had held on to this hope that once justice was served, I would be
healed, she says.
She finally realized that the people, alcohol and other things she had tried
did not give her that peace. Instead, she asked God to reveal Himself to her
again, to help her forgive the man who had done these terrible things to her.
Forgiveness is something I did for me. Robert Lee Willie did not benefit that
night because of my forgiveness. He died in the electric chair that night. But
I got new life when I forgave.
Debbie also realized that she had turned her back on the Lord and needed His
Debbie now travels across the country speaking to audiences about the power
of forgiveness and Gods boundless mercy for all people. She reminds listeners
that her attacker saw Christ without murdering her like his prior victim. She
invites her listeners to make Jesus the Lord of their lives.
Her book Forgiving the Dead Man Walking was published by Zondervan
Baptist Press contributed to this article.
Throughout her book, Nancy uses the story of Job and uniquely interweaves it
with her own personal testimony. The result is a message of hope to believers
and nonbelievers alike.
Nancy shares her gift of hope with on mission Christians, and she equips us
with on-target evangelism tools. On Mission asked Nancy Guthrie, How can we
effectively reach a grieving person, specifically a nonbeliever? Here are her
Listen. By listening we create a foundation of
understanding. Oftentimes we have the tendency to try to one-up the person were
supposed to be listening to. If we have a sorrow to share, we may interrupt and
tell ours, often with the hope that this will provide comfort. However, grief
cannot be measured, and we should never delve deeply into the details of our
past sorrows when listening. Instead, we should create a shared experience.
Nancy says, I try not to share my experience too much with them. I want to show
respect and a deep recognition of their pain.
Share your emotions. Tears are a way of showing that you
deeply care and that you are willing to be touched by their experience. Nancy
believes that shedding sincere tears with people is the greatest gift.
Pray. The door to intimacy opens when we ask if we can pray
for someone. She says, People seem so relieved when I ask if we can pray. It
creates an intimacy between us. Praying is such an intimate thing that it
often keeps the pathway of communication open between people.
Be an example. As Christians witnessing to nonbelievers, we
need to be steadfast in our faith when trials and tribulations touch our lives.
According to Nancy, We do not always need to have brilliant words to say.
People can just see our peace. The Guthries purposefully invited people into
their lives so that others could experience their deep faith in God. Nancy was
able to share her experience with many people, including the media. While she
was pregnant with Gabriel, her second child to be diagnosed with Zellweger
Syndrome, Nancy sent out cards to everyone she knew explaining that she was
pregnant with another child who would be born with a genetic disorder. She
included a card to her contact at TIME magazine, the religion writer
and a nonbeliever. He told Nancy, Ive never been plunged deeper into that
Mystery than when I read that card. It was her faith in God and her unyielding
obedience to follow His plan for her that touched the man deeply.
When we are confronted by people struggling in their sorrows, we can help
them in their search for answers by pointing them to the Bible. Here are three
topics that often need to be addressed.
God understands sorrow. He allowed His only Son, Jesus, to
die a criminals death on a cross. God is acquainted with more grief than we
could ever understand.
God does not allow any meaningless suffering. This is a key
point that on mission Christians must communicate to nonbelievers who are
grieving. Lamentations 3:31 and 3:33 says, For men are not cast off by the
Lord forever. For He does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the
children of men. There is always a purpose to suffering. Pain often
refines character and causes Christians to become more Christ-like. God can
allow pain in the lives of nonbelievers in order for them to come to Christ and
fully realize Christs sufficiency. Whatever it may be, God will never allow us
to suffer in vain. In fact, many of us can testify that the worst times in our
lives resulted in the best things that ever happened to us.
Gods people have suffered. Gods servant, Job, also knew
utter anguish. Upon his hearing of the deaths of all his children and
livestock, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head (Job
1:20). Anguish and tears are a natural reaction to grief. In fact, the act of
grieving can expedite the healing process. Agonizing over a loss is part of
God commissions believers to be a light to those in the dark. Nancy Guthrie
heeds Gods calling in the writing of Holding On to Hope (Tyndale
Her darkest hours are strewn with rays of hope and peace that God will see
her through. As Christians, we know the true Source of peace. God is calling
each one of us to make the sacrificial choice and lead the lost and hurting
people of this world to a peaceful relationship with Him.
Marcie Shaffer is a writer living in Alpharetta,
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC