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More than overcomers

In a fortnight of darkness, light pierces through

More than overcomers

A vigil honoring the victims of the shooting on the University of North Carolina Charlotte campus. (Logan Cyrus/AFP/Getty Images)

Like many journalists, WORLD reporters hear a common question: How do you cope with writing about so many difficult things? Thankfully, WORLD aspires to cover both good and bad news, but some days do appear especially dark.

During the last days of April and first week of May, some moments of darkness seemed nearly to swallow the light, but courageous men and women sought to overcome evil with good.

When 22-year-old Trystan Terrell opened fire on a packed classroom at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte on April 30, bullets flew and students scrambled for cover. But Riley Howell ran straight toward the gunman.

The Howell Family

Riley Howell (The Howell Family)

Howell, a 21-year-old student in the anthropology class, took a bullet to the torso and kept charging. A second bullet didn’t stop him. He hurled himself onto the gunman as he took a third bullet that took his life.

The attack killed one other student and injured four, but police said Howell’s sacrifice stopped the shooter’s rampage. No one who knew Howell seemed surprised by his actions. Family and friends described him as a joyful friend and a natural protector.

Hundreds of people lined a route from Charlotte to Waynesville, N.C., as police escorted Howell’s body back to his mountain home. Officers gave the ROTC cadet a burial with military honors. His parents grieved their son’s loss but marveled at his sacrifice, saying they were “beyond proud.”

Just three days earlier, 19-year-old John Earnest opened fire on a synagogue in Poway, Calif., during the last day of Passover observances. He wounded Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein and two other worshippers, and he killed Lori Gilbert Kaye, a 60-year-old wife and mother. Terrified congregants heard the shots and ran for cover, but Oscar Stewart, 51, ran for the gunman.

Gregory Bull/AP

Oscar Stewart (left) receives a hug from the mayor of Poway, Calif., as they attend the funeral for a victim of the synagogue shooting.  (Gregory Bull/AP)

When the Army veteran confronted the attacker, Earnest fled. Stewart chased him to the parking lot and punched the side of his car, as the gunman tried to flee. (Earnest later turned himself in to authorities.)

The gunman’s family denounced Earnest’s crimes and his hatred of Jews. His local congregation, Escondido Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), repudiated his racism and said they were “wounded to the core” by his actions.

Back in Poway, police said Oscar Stewart saved lives by charging Earnest, but the hero deflected praise: “I thank God that He gave me the courage to do what I did.”

Shootings weren’t the only grim news making headlines. Pro-life advocates were appalled to hear how an Alabama state congressman defended abortion after the Alabama House passed a pro-life bill on April 30.


John Rogers (WVTM)

Democratic Rep. John Rogers lambasted the legislation, and explained his views. “Some kids are unwanted, so you kill them now or kill them later,” he said. “You bring them into the world unwanted, unloved, then you send them to the electric chair. So you kill them now or you kill them later.”

A few hundred miles north in Pennsylvania, Democratic state Rep. Brian Sims recorded videos outside a local Planned Parenthood center where he confronted a handful of pro-life advocates. The lawmaker berated the women as “pseudo-Christians” and called one of them racist and disgusting.

It was a sad display, but a far more encouraging one unfolded in an unlikely place not far away: Times Square in New York City. Several thousand pro-life advocates attended the rally organized by Focus on the Family on May 4.

One of the speakers, Christina Bennett of the Family Institute of Connecticut, spoke about what happened when her distraught mother went to a hospital seeking an abortion more than three decades ago.

A kind janitor gently asked her if she wanted to have her baby. Her mother answered yes and left the hospital. A few months later, Bennett was born, and she spoke as a testament to the value of persuasive words for vulnerable women and children.

Allison Joyce/Getty Images

Members of Zion Church pray at a service on May 5 in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. (Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

Thousands of miles away, more light seeped into dark places: Two weeks after Sri Lankans endured a horrific series of terrorist bombings targeting churches and hotels on Easter Sunday, Christians from Zion Church streamed into a community hall for morning worship on May 5.

Some grappled with crutches. At least one wore an eye patch. All had lost 29 of their fellow congregants—including 14 children—when a suicide bomber struck their evangelical church on Easter morning.

Two weeks later, they worshipped and prayed for three hours.

Sumathi Karunakaran, a 52-year-old mother wounded by shrapnel during the attack, attended the May 5 service with a bandage on her eye and a sling on her arm. Her daughter was still recovering from serious injuries. “I will keep on coming,” the mother told the Reuters news service. “In fact, my husband is here for the first time. He came for our daughter.”

Jamie Dean

Jamie Dean

Jamie is WORLD’s national editor based in Charlotte, N.C. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.


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  • JerryM
    Posted: Thu, 05/09/2019 05:22 pm

    The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

    John 1:5