To begin this month’s column, I would like to extend my thoughts and prayers to all of those affected by last week’s Boston Marathon bombings, and explosions in Texas, especially the victims and their family and friends.
No doubt we will be reeling from these events for a long time to come. I hope that by the grace of God we can find consolation and peace even during these most trying times.
By Michael J. ARVIZU
As I write this, I have just gotten off the phone with Pastor Stephen McAlpin, church planting resident for New Hope Fellowship Church in Cambridge, Mass. As a planting resident, Stephen is learning the ropes in everything from counseling, preaching, and teaching to working with the homeless. Stephen also nurtures young church members as they seek to become church leaders themselves. Stephen is a native of St. Louis, where he attended seminary and met his future wife Emily.
“We just try to support each other through prayer, even going around the city, engaging it and doing things together,” Stephen said of his work.
Later this summer, Stephen and Emily will plant a new church in the west side of Los Angeles. It will be called Adorn Church. Stephen will serve as lead planter and pastor.
“It’s an exciting thing, but it’s also a scary thing,” Stephen said. “We’ve been blessed to have this year to prepare … to get a sense of what we might do when get out there.”
I wholeheartedly encourage Stephen and Emily to move to sunny Southern California as fast they can (it was 50 degrees in Boston when we were on the phone). I joked with him that he will have to adjust his wardrobe to include shorts.
“I don’t think I’ve worn shorts in a long time,” he said, chuckling.
But planting a church has been the last thing on the couple’s mind of late. Early Friday morning, they did not know if they would even be alive the next day.
Steve and Emily live in Watertown, Mass., about 10 miles west of Boston. A town of about 32,000, Watertown is where Boston Marathon bombing suspects Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, led police on a chase that climaxed in a shootout as they tried to get away. The older brother was killed in the melee. The younger sibling was later found hiding inside a resident’s boat, suffering from gunshot wounds.
Stephen’s voice sounds tired as I speak to him. In the last few days, the couple has received thousands of emails and a multitude of media inquiries from around the world asking them to share their story of their brush with death. Emily did not join us for the interview as she, too, is extremely exhausted and has health challenges.
For a couple of hours early Friday morning – Stephen doesn’t know how long it was, really – the couple hunkered down beneath their kitchen table and, later, in their bathtub, as explosive devices detonated in the street outside their home and bullets whizzed by them. Seven bullets hit their home – five hit the bedroom wall where Emily had been standing moments earlier. Another pierced the living room wall. Another bullet struck their car. One bullet struck their neighbor’s bedroom, narrowly missing one their kid’s bunk beds.
And yet they prayed, not knowing whether they would live or die. Faith, he said, defines us all as Christians and is part of every single area of our lives, “it shapes the way our whole lives are. For us, in that moment, we felt like our faith definitely defined what kind of experience we had in the midst of all that chaos.”
As the bullets flew and the sirens wailed, they prayed to Jesus to protect them and to protect their neighbors.
“We were able to just let go and say, ‘God, whatever you’re going to do, we trust you.’”
As hard as it may be to stomach right now, Stephen and Emily are also praying for the individuals responsible for the bombings. In his blog Stephen writes, “Pray for the evildoer(s) who were responsible for the tragedy, for repentance and faith. Also, pray for apprehension, that no more evil may be done.”
“We’ve tried to take that very seriously,” Stephen said. “It’s one thing when you just love somebody and they say a bad word to you or slaps you on the wrist. It’s another thing to try to love someone who’s terrorized your city. It’s really hard to do.”
Stephen said that when it all comes down to it, we are all sinners, we were once “enemies of God ourselves,” he said. “All people have this common, sinful condition in our hearts that leads us to do bad things, do evil things. So we see that common ground where we say we’re all enemies of God; but as Christians, we believe that God saved us from evil and from death through Jesus.
“When we see somebody in the world really acting as an enemy toward us, bringing out about evil and death through their works, we look at them and say, ‘We see you as someone who is desperately in need of the Gospel.’”
Stephen says God is the only one who can do justice on the individuals responsible, along with the government officials whom we trust to perform that duty. It is not up to us, he said, to dispense justice or say that the perpetrators could never seek forgiveness or healing.
It’s a radical call, he said, taken from Scripture. “It’s very hard to take seriously,” he said.
I asked him what each would have done if they didn’t have the other to get them through the crisis. Stephen said he doesn’t know.
“Her presence … you just feel this peace when you’re around your loved ones. There’s comfort, sitting there in the arms of your wife,” Stephen said. “She’s just helped me stay grounded.”
Stephen and Emily do not know what will happen now or what the next few days have in store for them. One thing is for sure, however; the couple will be retreating to a small cottage in Maine this week for some well-deserved R&R.
On Monday afternoon, Stephen tweeted: “Finally finished up with interviews today, as far as I know. Just ate a ton of bacon as a reward.”