Christian Suspense Novel-Godslaughter-First 4 Chapters

Godslaughter: a Christian Suspense novelFollowing are the first four chapters of Godslaughter, a Christian suspense novel by Louis N Jones. This novel follows a young woman who finds herself the target of a professional killer. Having no idea why she is targeted, she accepts the protection of a veteran police detective, until things take a nasty turn and she is forced to take matters into her own hands. Along the way, the detective tries to establish a link between the young lady and a pastor who was shot during a downtown D.C. rally. What he finds would not only change his life, but could have devastating effects on the church at large.

The chapters below are unedited. This book is scheduled to be released on December 24. For more information, go to Dove Christian Publishers. If you prefer to read a PDF version of this excerpt, you can find it here.

Prologue

St. Mary’s County, Maryland

Wednesday, 1:14 am

The road appeared just like any other country road; one lane in each direction, faded striping, lined with lanky loblolly pines on both sides, and illuminated only by the moonlight, when and if the moon bothered to show up. It was miles removed from any major highway, and the only sound was the swish-swish of a 13-point buck moving majestically through the woods. As the brown-coated animal approached the road, the faint drone of an automobile could be heard in the distance. Hearing no other sound, the buck quickly crossed the road before the automobile’s headlights came into view.

The car’s engine slowed, and the car, with Maryland tags, came to a stop on the side of the road near an opening in the trees. Three other sets of headlights were visible farther down the road and were slowly approaching.

With the car’s engine still running, a man climbed out of the driver’s seat and pushed open a wrought-iron gate stretched across the opening in the trees. On the other side was an unpaved driveway that led deep into the woods. The man got back in his car and drove down the driveway. Two of the three cars that were approaching followed the first car into the darkness of the woods. One car had Pennsylvania tags, and the other had Delaware tags. The final car, with Maryland tags, drove just past the gate, then stopped. The engine and the lights switched off. A man, roughly six feet seven in height, got out.

The man, wearing an Army combat camouflage uniform that meshed with the late summer foliage, walked to the mouth of the driveway and poised himself against a tree, making him almost impossible for passers-by to see him unless he revealed himself.  And he would do just that if some poor inquisitive soul dared to figure out what was at the end of that driveway.

What was there was very nondescript. The driveway ended abruptly at a bank of trees, and a narrow, almost invisible trail led to a circular clearing in the trees. At the center of the clearing, a 25-foot diameter patch of dirt dotted with a few tufts of grass and a mixture of fresh and decaying leaves, sat a bunch of smooth stones arranged in a circle, with ashes in the center. At 5-foot intervals along the edge of the clearing were Tiki torches. To the casual observer, it appeared to be a camping site. But this was private property, converted to be a clandestine meeting spot, that due to the curving of the tree branches above forming a natural canopy, was invisible even to aircraft.

Three white men and three black men climbed out of the three cars that had parked at the end of the driveway. Each carried a folding chair. Using flashlights, they trudged along the path until they came to the clearing. One man lit two of the torches using a cigarette lighter, but left the others untouched. They arranged the chairs around the circle of stones and sat down.

They remained silent for a moment, listening and looking around to ensure there were no interlopers or eavesdroppers nearby. The site was fairly remote, with no dwellings or other buildings within a half mile. But their paranoia and need for extreme secrecy demanded that they be extra careful and vigilant.

Satisfied that no other human was anywhere within earshot, one of the black men, the leader of the group, broke the silence. “I have an update on Gary Walls.”

The other men leaned forward in interest.

“The Southern District, Georgia sector reports that Mr. Walls was located. He has been duly silenced.”

Another man, wearing a gray suit, answered. “That’s good news.”

The leader said, “Indeed it is. If Mr. Walls had told any more preachers about us, we might have had to suspend operations. And that, gentlemen, is not an option.” He looked around at the other men, the orange glow from the Tiki torches flickering on his face. “I hope we’re on the same page here.”

The other men nodded.

“Good. Our man in the Georgia sector is working to silence any other preachers he may have told.” The leader looked at the man in the gray suit. “What about the preacher he talked to at the conference?”

The man with the gray suit said, “The plan is in place. Roth’s going to take care of that tomorrow, during the rally.”

“Make sure Roth knows to do it before he talks to any media. We don’t want him blabbing to any news stations about what he knows.”

“Don’t worry. Once we take care of this, the Maryland and D.C. sectors should be sound.”

“Good.” The leader looked at another man. “Any news from the Pennsylvania sector?”

The Pennsylvania sector leader said, “Nothing to report.”

“Delaware sector?”

The man representing Delaware said, “Nothing to report.”

“So, after we take care of the preacher, we can confirm that there are no security risks in this district.”

The men nodded again.

“Good. We can’t afford for anyone to find out about us. It was a huge mistake bringing Gary Walls into our fold to begin with. My team is working on tightening up vetting procedures so that this does not happen again. Gentlemen, I’ll stress again that in order for us to accomplish our mission effectively, society at large cannot know that we exist. Our adversaries cannot win this war if they have no idea who they are fighting against. Even if we have to silence more people, we cannot give the dogs any trace of our scent. I hope we are clear on that.” The leader removed a bulging folded envelope from his jeans pocket and handed it to the man with the gray suit. “Hand this to Roth on the way out. Make sure he doesn’t botch this.”

The man in the gray suit scoffed while taking the money. He motioned toward the driveway, where the tall man was keeping guard. “Roth is the most effective enforcer in this country. When have you ever known him to botch anything?”

“He’s also the most expensive,” the leader pointed out.

“Well, you get what you pay for. Trust me, in less than twelve hours, Pastor Benjamin Lyons will be dead, and no one will know what happened.”

The leader rushed to correct him. “Pastor Benjamin Lyons will be silenced. Remember, we do not use the word dead or kill or any such words.”

The man in the gray suit nodded while parting his jacket to put the envelope in his inner jacket pocket. As he did so, he revealed a security access badge hanging on a lanyard around his neck. The badge was labeled with the words Senior Pastor, Harbor Christian Cathedral.

The man with the gray suit closed his jacket and said, “My mistake. Pastor Lyons will be silenced.”

CHAPTER ONE

Freedom Plaza

 

Benjamin Lyons

11:16 am, Wednesday

Freedom Plaza,

Washington, DC

 

The preacher stood behind the red oak pulpit and looked out over his audience. As he prepared to speak, his heart felt both elation and disappointment. He and his pastor’s coalition had been planning this Rally for Racial Reconciliation for over three months. Several suburban white churches and several urban black churches had agreed to come together to sing, preach and pray, presenting a united front against racism. He quickly estimated there were over 500 people in the crowd standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the concrete plaza in the blazing sun on an eighty-degree day. A few witnessed the event from the fringes. Some stood on the steps of the Wilson Building, the seat of the District of Columbia government, directly across Pennsylvania Avenue from the south side of the Plaza. Others filed in and out of the Marriott Hotel on the north side of the Plaza, stopping long enough to see if the event would interest them and then either staying or moving on. Despite his rally having been scheduled on a weekday morning, Pastor Ben Lyons was pleased with the turnout.

However, Pastor Lyons was not happy about the lack of news media. He saw only one reporter with a tripod-mounted camera close-by. He wasn’t sure how many print reporters were there, but there didn’t appear to be many. He had sent out press releases and called media contacts weeks before the event, trying to draw attention to societal racism. Pastor Lyons was disappointed there had been no requests for on-location interviews. He knew that without substantial press coverage, events like this were not as effective. Maybe I would have drawn more media had I held this event on the Capitol grounds instead of the Plaza, he thought. From his vantage point on the Plaza, he could actually see the Capitol dome, even though it was fourteen blocks away.

Knowing he would probably get only 15 seconds of coverage on a local station during the C block, he would press on. He pulled a cotton handkerchief from his pants pocket and wiped the sweat from his bald, dark head. He saw he had the crowd’s rapt attention-they had been waiting to hear from the man who had championed this cause of racial unity ever since his 17-year-old son disappeared in a Birmingham suburb two years before. Speculation from local residents was that his son was killed by a white police officer, then disposed of to cover up the crime. No evidence had ever come forth to support this theory, but Pastor Lyons felt in his spirit that the theory was likely correct.

Pastor Lyons adjusted the microphone, the clunking noise ringing loud over the speakers and the constant roar and drone of nearby traffic. Several pastors, both black and white, stood behind him on the raised platform, fanning themselves under a green tent. Feeling their energy, he started his speech. “First of all, I want to thank all of you for being here today. It warms my heart to know that so many of you are willing to come together to present a united front, to show our elected officials, our communities, our families and our churches that people of different racial backgrounds can lock arms together, despite the continued racial animosity that exists in our country.”

His remarks earned a few amens from the crowd. He looked over briefly and saw that the news crew was recording his comments on camera. Pastor Lyons couldn’t see what station was recording him. He hoped it was the AP, or maybe Reuters, which gave him the chance of getting broader coverage beyond the local channels.

He acknowledged a few key individuals who were there, men and women who had helped him to organize the rally, and several who weren’t—his wife, who was at his upper northwest Washington church preparing a luncheon for rally organizers, several D.C. councilmembers, the mayor, a few other prominent pastors. For good measure, he threw in the reps the National Park Service, with jurisdiction over Freedom Plaza.

Pastor Lyons continued. “We stand just across the street from the hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King wrote his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, and this plaza is named in honor of him. It is unfortunate that although we have made a few strides in the area of race relations, the—”

They were the last words out of his mouth before something slammed into the outer corner of the pulpit and shattered a chunk into splinters. A few seconds later, Pastor Lyons jerked back and then fell backward on the raised platform.

The crowd stood shocked for a moment. Someone yelled, “He’s been shot!” Then, chaos broke loose. Amid screams, shouts, and confusion, some spectators dropped to the ground. The rest of them scattered in various directions, causing traffic to screech to a halt on Pennsylvania Avenue and on 15th Street to avoid hitting them. The spectators spewed into the street as fluid as water, knocking down the green metal barriers that surrounded the Plaza, some tripping and falling over them. The pastors standing on the platform ran to the rear and crouched down behind it. A few bravely ran up to the platform to attend to Pastor Lyons. They could see the jagged hole in his jacket just above his waist, and the widening pool of red moisture surrounding it.

A few spectators ran up the steps and inside the Wilson building, which alerted the guards inside to the melee. “Somebody’s shooting,” the spectators yelled. The lieutenant in charge of the guards quickly sprang into action. Using an active shooter scenario, he ordered the building shut down, and sent word through the building’s intercom that all employees should shelter-in-place, at least until they can ascertain there was no greater threat. He ordered another guard to dispatch police and an ambulance to Freedom Plaza, although myriads of people had dialed 911 on their cell phones.

Two police officers, who were already in the area, sprinted to the Plaza, guns drawn, to see what was going on and to mitigate any threat. After seeing the officers and deciding there was no longer an immediate threat, the people that remained at Freedom Plaza gathered around the pastor and prayed. The pastor had slipped into unconsciousness. A woman cradled his head in her lap and rebuked whatever demons interrupted a peaceful event with sickening violence.

A man knelt next to the pastor, his head nodding as the woman prayed, his hand laid on the pastor’s shoulder. His actions appeared genuine and caring to everyone around him, but were as fake as the knockoff Gucci loafers he wore.

This man had not only engineered the attack, but secretly hoped that the pastor would die right there on the Plaza.

Wynn Delano

9:30 am the same day

Freedom Plaza

The assignment editor had called him earlier that morning on his day off. “Windy, get down to Freedom Plaza. Pastor Lyons is giving some sort of rally down there. I’ll shoot you the NR.”

Wynn Delano, a one-man-band reporter at local station NewsNetwork 10, had only been at the station for a year, not long enough to ruffle feathers by refusing to work on his day off. And besides, all the station’s other reporters were across town covering the aftermath of a violent storm that had blown through the night before. Wynn was often assigned to do filler stories that aired after sports, stories not important enough to merit airing during the coveted A block. Wynn knew that almost every producer in town thought Pastor Lyons to be a blowhard using his son’s disappearance as an opportunity to gain publicity for himself and his church. Most producers had decided to no longer accommodate Pastor Lyons’ media hogging. But one producer for NewsNetwork 10’s dinnertime broadcast was a member of Lyons’ church. Wynn was assigned just so the producer could save face, although the story stood almost no chance of airing.

Wynn arrived at Freedom Plaza and parked his black Ford Escape in the prohibited zoning parking spots along the northern neck of Pennsylvania Avenue. According to the news release that his station had sent to his cell phone, the rally was scheduled to start at ten; at least three hundred people were already present and watching the stage hands as they installed sound equipment. A group of nattily dressed men and two women stood off to the side of the platform and appeared to be in an impromptu meeting. Wynn saw Pastor Lyons among the group and was tempted to approach and get comments from him before the rally began, but decided against it. He was probably too busy and hectic right now. If need be, he could always pull Lyons to the side afterward. Best to see how the event would progress.

Wynn checked himself in his car mirror, hoping that his carefully coiffed black hair, peaches-and-cream skin, and his boyish good looks would one day win him an anchor position, or, at least, the attentions of one of the lovely young corporate ladies he had seen walk past his vehicle.

Wynn popped out of the vehicle and surveyed the Plaza for a moment. He walked to the rear of the SUV, popped the hatch, and pulled out his camera, tripod, and a fistful of cords and microphones. He approached the Plaza, walked up three steps to the Plaza floor, and found an abutment, raised higher than the floor, where he could set his tripod and record the events without worrying about people walking in from of his camera.

Just as he had set up, a multi-racial choir of about 40 singers took the stage. Wynn pointed the camera toward them, found a good angle, and let the camera record. He hadn’t been to church in almost four years, but from the looks of it, he would be getting plenty of church today.

Celia Rayburn

11:10 a.m. the same day

“So, did I get the job?”

That was always Celia’s last question at interviews. If she had absolutely no chance at getting the job, that question would make interviewers squirm, which was her sign she should not expect a call back. But if the interviewer was engaging and encouraging, she figured she might have a shot.

The interviewer responded with, “Well, you were better than the last two candidates. We still have a few more interviews to do before we can decide who gets the job.”

Ambiguous, but at least it wasn’t an outright denial. Celia thanked the interviewer, expressed once again her interest in the job, and stood to leave.

Her interview was at a corner table in the food court of a sixteen-story office building directly across the street from Freedom Plaza. The manager of the pizza place had no office in the booth where he served pseudo-Italian fast food, so he would meet potential employees in the dining area. Celia didn’t mind people buzzing around while she was being interviewed. Having come from a family of six siblings, not including herself, she was used to such distractions.

Celia took the escalator downstairs to the lobby and headed for the Pennsylvania Avenue exit. She felt confident the pizza place guy would call her back and offer her the job. Her ace in the hole was mentioning that she had worked in her father’s restaurants in Detroit and Canada.

When Celia left the building, she saw that the rally that had begun when she entered the building was in full swing. The message of racial unity resonated with her and struck a personal chord. She was a twenty-six-year-old African American woman who, five years ago, married Justin Rayburn, a white man four years her senior. In Celia’s old Detroit neighborhood among her peers, that was an act akin to a federal crime.

Celia stopped for a minute, adjusted her purse on her arm, and watched the goings-on. Her parking meter would expire in fifteen minutes, but she still had enough time to hear the words of the preacher, who had just started his speech. Her silk-linen white suit, the only one she owned, was sharp and professional, yet still lightweight enough for her to survive a few minutes in the heat, although she despised wearing it with a passion. She would have preferred to wear ripped blue jeans and a crop-top, but knew it wasn’t appropriate. Her bob haircut with rose-colored streaks shone in the sunlight and danced in a slight breeze around a face the color of ceylon cinnamon and eyes big and round with full eyelashes.

Celia watched as the pastor’s words were cut short with a grunt and a sonorous dull, cracking sound, as if someone had taken a sledgehammer to an old rotten oak tree. Bits and pieces of the edge of the pulpit catapulted into the air, and suddenly the preacher was on the ground. There was no sound other than the crashing of wood and the muted thud as the bullet hit Pastor Lyons body.

Despite the chaos and screams and scattering of several people from various directions of Freedom Plaza, Celia stood transfixed, shocked, unable to believe or register what she was seeing. Did she just see a man get shot? She felt the urgency and fear as people ran for their lives. She heard no gunshot, and she saw no apparent assailants, but the confusion and uncertainty of what was going on compelled her to move. She quickly ran back inside the office building and stood in the lobby, watching the scene through the floor-to-ceiling windows. She saw no less than ten people gather around Pastor Lyons’ body, and several people ran up the steep stairs to the Wilson Building to promptly alert the D.C. Protective Service guards inside. And just ahead of her, there was a cameraman, standing on an abutment, who was intently recording everything around him, seemingly unconcerned about his own safety.

The sounds of sirens blared in the near distance over the noise of traffic. Celia watched as two D.C. police cruisers charged the wrong way down 15th Street and screeched to a stop on the western edge of the Plaza. Two officers emerged from each cruiser, and they immediately started to squirrel to a far corner any remaining people still on the Plaza. Within three minutes, an ambulance and ten more police vehicles pulled up. Swarms of officers in Crayola blue shirts blocked off streets around the Plaza. One officer shooed the cameraman away from his vantage point just at the edge of the Plaza and stretched yellow crime scene tape around the perimeter.

An office building security guard came to the window and stood beside Celia. “What’s going on?”

“A minister got shot over there.”

The security guard uttered a vulgar phrase that meant, “No kidding?” He walked out of the building, but a canvassing police officer ordered him to go back inside. The security guard quickly obeyed and stood next to Celia, watching as U.S. Park Police officers arrived, adding to the throng of cops. About fifteen police vehicles and 40 police officers, some holding assault rifles, were now milling around.

“This city,” the security guard huffed. “Always something.”

Despite the seriousness and the fact that a minister was shot, Celia’s mind now drifted to other concerns. Lord, how angry will my husband be if I come home too late?

***

Wynn Delano

This was Wynn’s big opportunity to get out of the C block dungeon. This story just turned from an insignificant fluff piece to the biggest catch in D.C. at the moment. A shooting of a high-profile D.C. pastor, and he had caught it live on camera. And he was the only reporter on the scene. He had already texted one of his contacts in the public relations office at the MPD, trying to get some inside information on what had happened. Now he needed to talk to some witnesses, the ones that hadn’t scattered away, and get their perspective. And he needed to do it quick. He had to get this story on the air before the other stations discovered it.

Using his camera. He rolled back the footage and watch it again, trying to catch any details so he could craft more compelling questions for witnesses. As he watched the moment leading to the shooting, something caught his eye, something strange, maybe inconsequential, but suspicious.

Only 30 seconds before the shot was fired, a man, standing on the dais behind Pastor Lyons, looked up and to his right. Wynn froze the footage. Yes, the man was looking upward toward one of the hotel windows. No, this didn’t look like a momentary glance at something that had just invaded his peripheral vision. Wynn slowed the footage and saw the man glanced furtively around as if to see if anyone was paying any attention to him. From what Wynn could see, all eyes were on Pastor Lyons.

The man’s next move told Wynn that something was amiss. The man gently took two steps back and moved to the left, away from the pulpit and several feet away from Pastor Lyons. Several seconds later, the gunshot found its target.

Wynn continued to watch. After Pastor Lyons hit the ground, the man stood there, watching. Even as everyone else scrambled away, he stood there, for more than a few seconds, with no sense of surprise or danger. Then he ran off the platform and hid behind it. His delay in retreating would have not been noticed by the casual witness due to the chaos on the Plaza, but Wynn saw it clearly. His guy was as dubious as a three-dollar bill.

A few seconds later, a beefy police officer ordered him behind the yellow police tape stretched around the block. It was not a problem. Wynn had gotten enough footage to fill out his story. He gathered his equipment and moved outside of the crime scene tape, looking around for the man he had seen in the video. He spotted him, standing on the other side of the Plaza, behind the crime scene tape, talking with a group of men and a woman as they watched the EMTs prepare Pastor Lyons for transport to the hospital.

Wynn ran this over in his mind. This was his chance. Being on the air before the other stations was no longer a concern. He now had an angle the other stations did not have. He was certain this man knew that the shooting was about to happen and moved out of harm’s way. The other stations could only report what had happened. Wynn had a suspect.

He grabbed his equipment and hauled it to the other side of the Plaza. He set up the equipment just a few yards away from his suspect and set the camera to record. He then approached the man, who had been eying him since he rounded the corner to the side of the Plaza where he stood.

“Hi,” Wynn said to the man, ignoring the others in the group. “I’m Wynn Delano with NewsNetwork 10. May I speak with you for a minute?”

The man, wearing a crisp black suit as if he had prepared to go to a funeral, nodded affably and said, “Sure.” He moved a few yards away from the group, closer to the camera, with Wynn following.

“Again, I’m Wynn Delano.” He extended his hand. ”Your name is- “

The man reluctantly shook Wynn’s hand, then hesitated. “Um, I’m Jonathan Newberry.”

“It looks like you were close to the pastor. I wanted to get some on-the-air comments from you about the shooting.” Wynn removed his notepad from his pocket. “Would that be okay?”

“I’d prefer not.” The man avoided eye contact with Wynn. “My friend has been shot, and I’m not in any mood to make any comments at this time.” He looked to the right and saw that the EMTs were moving the pastor on a stretcher toward the ambulance.

“I understand that, but there is some footage on the video I’d like to ask you about before I turn it over to the police.”

Wynn hoped his bluff would work. He had no intention of turning the footage over to the police, and such a thing would have to be handled by his front office anyway. He was surprised that no cops had requested his footage, even though he was recording. But in this age of cell phones, umpteen people probably caught that shooting on camera. Maybe the cops didn’t need his footage.

The man’s eyes finally turned to Wynn. “I need to get to the hospital to see about my friend.”

“Not a problem, Mr. Newberry. Maybe I could speak to you there?”

Jonathan looked at Wynn for an uncomfortably long few seconds before he said, “Yes. I should be in the waiting area.”

Wynn could tell he had gotten this man’s attention. “Do you know what hospital?”

“Um, I don’t know yet. Maybe you could give me your card, and I’ll call you once I know.”

“Not a problem.” Wynn pulled a card out of the cardholder in his pocket and handed it to Jonathan.

Jonathan looked at the card briefly, then moved away, saying, “I’ll call you.”

“Please do.” Wynn watched as Jonathan joined the group again as they gathered near the ambulance. He knew Jonathan would not call him. So, that angle was dead unless he decided to bum-rush Jonathan at the hospital.

He needed someone else to comment. He looked across the Plaza, remembering earlier seeing a petite black woman with rose-colored streaks in her hair standing not far away from where his camera had been perched. He remembered her because she was pretty and because she was dressed like a professional. He needed someone like that in his life rather than the emo women he usually hung out with.

Wynn gathered his equipment again and walked to the other side of the Plaza, near the office building where he had seen the woman. If she was still there, he might kill two birds with one stone: get a comment for his story, and get her telephone number. If he did that, it would be a relatively successful day.

Jonathan did not take his eyes off him.

Celia Rayburn

There didn’t appear to be an urgency of danger outside anymore, nor anything else to see, so Celia decided to get home before her meter expired and a D.C. parking control officer slapped her car with a pink love note. As she walked out of the building, a man approached her directly, as if he had every intention to speak with her and no one else.

“Did you see that?” Wynn asked her.

“See what?” Celia responded, thinking how rude of this man to ask questions before he introduced himself.

“Pastor Lyons get shot.”

“Yeah. I was looking right at it.”

“Would you be willing to be interviewed on camera?”

“Who are you?”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Wynn was a little miffed that he still had to introduce himself, even though he had been filing stories on the air for the station for a year now. Maybe she wasn’t local, or maybe she didn’t watch the news. Wynn gathered his equipment on his left arm and extended his right hand. “I’m Wynn Delano, a reporter with NewsNetwork 10.”

Celia shook Wynn’s hand. “Celia.” She intentionally left out her last name.

“Celia, would you be willing to give an interview on camera about what you saw across the street?”

Celia quickly agreed. Being on the news would give her a readily confirmable alibi on why she was getting home so late. Plus, the exposure couldn’t hurt her job prospects.

“Cool. Give me a minute to set up.” Wynn found a spot directly in front where he could interview Celia against the backdrop of Freedom Plaza. Once he was set up, he motioned for her to come over and had her stand in front of the camera, her back to Freedom Plaza. Wynn pulled a notepad and pen out of his pocket, switched on the camera, and started his interview.

“Please state your full name,” Wynn asked.

Celia hesitated. Wynn quickly reassured her. “We won’t be using your full name on camera. Just for our information.”

“Okay. Celia Rayburn.”

“Celia, can you tell me what you saw over there?”

Celia recounted everything she had seen from the moment she walked out of the office building following the interview. Wynn periodically interrupted with questions to get more detail. When it was done, he switched off the camera and nodded his thanks.

“Appreciate it, Celia.” Wynn offered his business card. “You know, I’d really like to thank you by taking you to dinner.”

Celia scoffed at first, but then checked him out. He was decent looking. Not the most handsome man she had ever seen, but since she was certain she would be in divorce court with her husband within a year, she would entertain his interest. A dinner wouldn’t hurt. She wondered what it was about herself so many white boys were attracted to.

“I’ll call you,” Celia said, intending to control the communication so her husband didn’t discover.

Wynn had heard that before. He knew he would never hear from her again. “Not a problem. Call me anytime, day or night.”

Celia heard a siren and looked back at the Plaza. The ambulance, with Pastor Lyons inside, was speeding away to the hospital. Some police officers were milling about, while others were talking to the witnesses who had not run away. She watched as Wynn dismantled his equipment and made his way back over to the Plaza, hoping to speak to an on-site police supervisor about what had happened.

Celia, feeling as if there was nothing more to see, headed back to her car, knowing she would have a whopper of a story to tell when she got home.

***

CHAPTER TWO

Celia and Justin

12:16 p.m., Wednesday

Celia’s apartment was on the 10th floor of a luxury sixteen story high-rise in Silver Spring, a city in Maryland at the upper northeastern edge of the District of Columbia. The neighborhood was downtown Silver Spring, located just over the D.C. line, boasting a large shopping and dining district. The one-bedroom apartment cost $1700 per month and had a great view of downtown Silver Spring. It was the only apartment she had lived in since leaving Detroit five years before, and was a far cry better than any flat she had rented in the Motor City.

Yet she still dreaded coming home because of who was waiting for her inside.

When she inserted the key in the door, she hoped—prayed—that he wasn’t at home. Her hopes were dashed when she opened the door, and a strong smell of hybrid strain weed assaulted her nose.

Celia rushed inside, dropped her purse on the carpet, and headed for the kitchen just to the right of the door. She grabbed the aerosol air freshener from under the kitchen counter and sprayed liberally around the living room and in the outside corridor near the door. Lord, she couldn’t stand that smell. She quickly closed the door and headed to the bedroom.

Justin Rayburn lay on the queen-sized bed, a joint smoldering in the ashtray on a nightstand next to the bed. He wore only a pair of dingy, wrinkled boxer shorts. A daytime talk show was playing on the flat screen TV affixed to the wall across from the foot of the bed. Justin never took his eyes off the TV as Celia entered.

“J, I thought I told you you can’t smoke in here,” Celia said with a slight tremble in her voice. “This is a non-smoking building.”

“Who are these people to tell me what to do in my own apartment?” Justin’s defiance rode on a very smooth, deep voice. It was that voice, his perpetual tan, his unruly brown hair, his square face and prominent cheekbones that attracted him to Celia. She was sure there were other things, but she had long forgotten them.

“It’s my apartment,” Celia said with an edge that on any other day would have earned her a smack in the face. But thanks to the effects of the weed, Justin was much too mellow now. It was a different story when he had three or four boilermakers in his system.

“How’d the interview go?” Justin feigned interest.

“Might be a possibility.”

“What took you so long?”

“Something happened downtown. Somebody shot a preacher speaking at a rally. I saw the whole thing.”

Justin grabbed the remote and switched channels. “Nothing on TV about it.”

“It’s probably gonna air on Channel 10 tonight. The reporter interviewed me.”

“Why’d you do something dumb like that?”

Celia was used to Justin criticizing her, but this time, it especially bugged her. She had told him she saw a shooting, and all he could think to do was to call her dumb. Maybe she was, for thinking that Justin would care about her enough to ask how she was doing.

“Don’t be dramatic. I just told him what I saw.” Celia turned toward the door.

“Where are you going?” Justin asked.

“To make lunch,” Celia responded. “And to put something out for dinner, if you don’t mind.”

Getting no further response from Justin, Celia kicked off her shoes, left the room and headed to the kitchen. The kitchen was a lot smaller than she desired, with only a stove, a refrigerator, and six feet of faux oak counter space spilt in half by a stainless-steel sink. It was a kitchen made for people who didn’t use kitchens. However, Celia, back when he first rented the apartment, didn’t see it as an issue. There were so many restaurants nearby, she knew she wouldn’t spend much time cooking.

She opened the refrigerator and found one package of chicken legs, the only thing edible in the fridge except for a carton of milk and two half-drank bottles of beer. Food was scarce these days. Justin had been unemployed for several months after losing his job as a car mechanic because he couldn’t stop getting high. They were two months behind in rent, and Justin’s meager unemployment payments weren’t helping much.

Celia’s attempt to find employment was the last-ditch effort to get money flowing into the house before they got evicted. At least, that’s what she wanted Justin to believe. But Celia’s real plan was to make enough money so she could get as far away from Justin as humanly possible.

Celia switched on the kitchen radio, hoping the smooth sounds of Jill Scott would infuse pleasure into what had been a challenging day.

***

It was 5:30 pm when Justin suddenly announced, “I’m going out for a minute.”

Celia knew what that meant. He was headed to a bar, where he would hang out for a few hours and then come home drunk, if he came home at all. Celia almost wished he wouldn’t come home. When he stayed out all night, the buzz would wear off, and she stood little chance of being beaten at the least little thing she said. She tried to convince herself that when he stayed out all night, he was just sleeping it off in his car, or on a park bench somewhere. It couldn’t be that he was with another woman, because who, other than her, would want a drunk, unemployed stoner? These were the things she told herself to make herself feel better. But her woman’s intuition always reigned supreme, and she knew he was likely hanging out with some woman who was as much a loser as he was. But it also meant that between his episodes of intoxication and womanizing, he had little interest in her, which was all right with Celia.

At 5:58 p.m., Celia sat on her living room couch, a modernesque aqua leather one she had bought during more lucrative days from a nearby furniture store. She favored pastels, as everything else in the living room was white or pink. She switched the flat screen TV to channel 10, and watched the teaser while she enjoyed fresh-out-of-the-oven barbecue chicken and some green beans out of a can. She was disappointed to see that the teaser did not mention the pastor’s shooting.

Celia grabbed the remote and switched to another channel, and then another, and then another. All local channels had the pastor’s shooting as the lead story and were working the angle that the shooting was likely a hate crime in response to the racial unity aspect of the rally. Some channels had obtained cell phone footage from attendees at the rally.

Celia turned back to channel 10, hoping that maybe they would cover the story later. She eventually watched the entire half hour telecast, but there was no mention of the Plaza shooting. Her fifteen minutes of fame dwindled to nothing.

Celia grabbed her purse and pulled out her phone and Wynn’s business card. Within five minutes she had accessed several TV and print news sites on her phone-all of them listed the Plaza shooting as one of their top stories. NewsNetwork 10-nothing.

Celia read all the stories and pieced together a few facts. Police were investigating the shooting as a hate crime. They speculated that the shot likely came from a sniper in one of the buildings surrounding Freedom Plaza and that the bullet that had struck the pastor was from a military grade weapon. This wasn’t a casual drive-by from some street hood. This was a carefully calculated assassination attempt.

But the best part of the story for Celia was that the pastor was still alive. In critical condition, but alive. She prayed, as she had done several times that day, that the pastor would recover from his injuries.

Then she looked at Wynn Delano’s business card. She thought about calling him, if only to discover why NewsNetwork 10 had no coverage of the shooting. At least, that would be her excuse for calling. She knew that after discussing the reasons for the lack of coverage, that Wynn would segue the conversation into a more personal one. Then, she could decide if she wanted to risk cheating on her husband and go out with this guy.

After a few minutes, Celia thought the better of it and decided not to call, at least not now. She had no desire to sneak around Justin, although she was certain he was sneaking around her. No, first things first. Get enough money, then an apartment away from Justin, then the date with the forlorn news reporter.

Celia slipped the card back into her purse, hoping that within a month, she could put that card to use.

***

George and Marjorie Wise

Forest Hill, Toronto

8:24 p.m.

With his stomach pleasingly overstuffed from another of his wife’s fabulous dinners, George Wise headed toward his study just down the corridor from the living room. On the way, he opened a door, walked into the garage, and checked the garage side door to make sure it was locked. He then headed to his study.

He checked his postal mail immediately upon arriving. Amid the voluminous pieces of junk mail and bills was a statement from Royal Bank with his daughter’s name on it. He sat at his desk and gently opened the envelope. He pursed his lips and gently shook his head as he read the numbers on the statement. He ran his hand over his closely cropped gray speckled hair as if trying to assuage a non-existent headache.

Seconds later, his wife, Marjorie, walked in. She flipped on a light switch. “Honey, what have I told you about reading in the dark?”

George did not respond to her comment, although he took pride he could still read so clearly in the dark at fifty years of age. Instead, he said, “Honey, come over here and look at this.”

George watched his wife as she walked over. There were those who thought they were brother and sister because they looked so much alike. Both were thin, tall, well-spoken, and well-educated. Marjorie’s dark-chocolate complexion was a tad darker than George’s, but that didn’t stop the comparisons.

Marjorie stood just over George’s shoulder and peered at the statement. “Only $218.00?”

“That’s right.”

“She had almost ten grand last year.”

“Should I be worried?”

“Maybe she has another account?”

“When she calls tonight, I’ll ask her. And if I find out Justin is bleeding her dry-”

“Now, George, please don’t go prodding into her affairs. You know how proud and independent Celia is.”

“Marge, I can’t just sit back and do nothing.”

“That’s exactly what you’ll do,” Marjorie said emphatically. “If Celia needs our help, she’ll tell us. The last thing I need is for your trigger-happy self to go down to Maryland and catch a case.”

The desk telephone rang, the one attached to the number for family only. George knew it was Celia, calling them faithfully as usual once per week. “He answered quickly. “Hey, Pookie.” He put the call on speakerphone so Marjorie could hear.

“Hey, Daddy.”

George noticed her voice was devoid of the usual spirit. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Celia lied. “How’s everyone?”

“Everyone’s great. Your mother’s here, too.”

“Hey, Mommy.”

“Hey, sweetie.”

“You wouldn’t believe what I saw today.”

George and Marjorie answered together. “What?”

“I was in downtown D.C. today, and this pastor who was leading a rally got shot.”

Marjorie drew in a sharp breath and covered her mouth “Oh, my God. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, Mommy, I’m fine.”

“Is he dead?”

“No. The news said he was alive.”

“Thank Jesus for that,” George chimed in. “And you saw all this happen?”

“Yeah. I was right ‘cross the street. It wasn’t like in the movies, where somebody gets shot, and blood and guts fly all over the place. He was just giving his speech, and then he just fell like somebody gave him an uppercut.”

“What were you doing in downtown D.C.?”

“Meeting a friend for breakfast,” was the quickest lie Celia could come up with. She hoped it worked.

It didn’t. George knew something was going on. He shot his wife a disappointed frown for forbidding him from prying any further. “Pookie, are you sure you’re okay? It must have been scary to see someone shot like that.”

“Yeah, it was scary. But I’m okay. It reminds me of that time you took me up near Runners Mill, and we went hunting, and you shot that deer.”

“And you cried for two days and would not eat any of the meat.”

“The funny thing was, I didn’t cry for that pastor. I don’t know why. Why would I cry for an animal, and not a human being?”

While George searched his mind for an answer that would never come, Marjorie broke in with, “Sweetheart, maybe if you knew this pastor, you’d feel differently.”

“But why should that make a difference? The man gets shot, and I feel nothing.”

“Maybe you’re distracted by something.” George hoped his subtle hint would draw something out of her on what was going on in her life. If this girl was okay, then he was a Chinese bamboo salesman.

Celia quickly skipped the subject. “How’s business?”

“Business is great. We got a write-up in one of the local papers. We were one of the 10 best charbroiled chicken restaurants for Millennials. How’s that for a ringing endorsement?”

“Wow, that’s great, Dad,” Celia said with barely detectable sarcasm. She could not understand how her father became a self-made millionaire off of his special organic recipe for charbroiled chicken. She cared little for the chicken herself, but with an average 1.2 million in sales at each of his restaurants around Ontario and in Detroit, there were a lot of customers who begged to differ. Must be all those Millennials.

Not that she was complaining. Once her father struck it rich, he moved the family from a rough neighborhood in Detroit to the tony Forest Hill village of Toronto. That allowed Celia to spend a few months in the splendor of wealth before she eventually hit rock bottom with Justin.

“Thanks, hon,” George replied. “Speaking of Runners Mill, we might be opening up another location there soon.”

“Dad, isn’t that a little far? It’s like a two-hour plane ride.”

“I know, but it’s a great opportunity. Rent is dirt cheap, and a good location right across from a Mickey D’s. But enough about me and my business. Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine, Daddy. Really.”

“You know I’m here if you need anything.”

“I know.”

“Okay, Pookie. Well, we have to hang up now. Me and your mother are going to turn in early. She’s joined a morning prayer group, and they pray at 4 in the morning.” George rolled his eyes at his wife.

Marjorie clicked her teeth at him and said to Celia, “No distractions, no TV, no cell phone. Good time to pray, sweetie.”

“Good time to sleep, too.”

Celia laughed.

Marjorie gave George a playful punch on the shoulder. “Okay, sweetie. Talk to you later.”

“Bye, Mom. Bye, Dad.”

CHAPTER THREE

On the Run

Celia Rayburn

After talking to her parents, Celia enjoyed a bath in the apartment’s Jacuzzi tub, then settled in the bedroom to moisturize with Mānuka honey and shea butter and catch the ten o’clock news. Justin had not yet returned home, and she was thinking this would be another one of his overnighters. It was fine with her, as she had another interview the next morning, and she didn’t need any drama with Justin to affect her focus on getting a job.

Unfortunately, the ten-o clock news had no added information on the Plaza shooting, so she watched another half-hour, then go to bed. She felt strange yet relieved that she didn’t have the typical concerns about where her husband was at this time of night, but it didn’t matter. Including the $218 she had in her checking account, she squirreled away some money every now and then from Justin’s unemployment checks. She hoped to have enough money to hire a divorce attorney. She was determined to do this on her own and not ask for money from her parents.

Celia turned off the TV, checked a few emails on the laptop next to her bed, and slid down under luxurious sheets. Before she closed her eyes, she remembered the glory days. She had met Justin five years ago at a Detroit disco nightclub and bonded with him over Moscow Mules until 1 in the morning. He was in town attending an automotive conference associated with his six-figure job as an automotive engineer in Baltimore. Within days of their meeting, they started dating, which caused Justin to amass huge long-distance phone bills and take weekly flights to Detroit to see her.

Celia’s parents never approved of the relationship. Though they would have never approved of anyone for their baby girl who was not friendly with a Bible and had no pastor on speed-dial, they gave Justin a chance—sort of. Shortly after Celia and Justin’s first official date, George and Marjorie invited Justin over for dinner. Though the Wises promoted the invitation as a get-to-know-you affair, they intended to let him know that he would have no chance of their approval or blessings if he was not “saved, sanctified and filled with the Holy Ghost,” or became that way quickly.

During dinner, Justin would regale them of stories growing up in Baltimore, being the descendant of Scottish immigrants who fled to the ports of Baltimore during the Great Irish famine. He would try to impress them with his strong family ties—his mother and father were office workers in Leesburg, his sister was married with two children and living in Locust Point, his cousins, aunts and uncles were numerous and scattered between Maryland and Virginia; just for good measure, he even threw in a mention of his uncle, who was a pastor in Columbia, Maryland. But with all of Justin’s talk about his family, the Wises heard nothing about a spiritual side—no regular church attendance, no mention of God or Jesus, no prayer or devotional life. Their disapproval had nothing to do with Justin being white, but they sensed this guy did not have the spiritual pedigree to date their youngest daughter. Celia dismissed his parents’ concern as hyper-religious judgment. The type of man that her parents wanted for her was the churchgoing type who couldn’t have a conversation without citing Scriptures every few sentences, and Justin was definitely not that type. However, she was twenty-seven years old and felt she was old enough to make her own decisions without her parents’ intervention.

After a year of dating, Justin and Celia got married in a ceremony that her parents reluctantly paid for, only because it was traditional for them to do so and they didn’t want their daughter estranged from them. But before she moved to Maryland with her husband, her father gave her a piece of advice which she never forgot:

Make sure you have your own. Don’t mix anything of yours with his. Trust me, in this day and age, that’s the best way to go. Keep your own bank account. Get the apartment or house in your name. Never let him have that much control over you. I would say that no matter whom you married. Let him prove himself before you start bringing everything together.

That was the one piece of advice she kept. To her knowledge, Justin had no clue about the checking account, because the statements went to her parents’ house in Toronto. The apartment they shared was in Celia’s name, which was not an issue for Justin since he was so smitten he would do anything she asked.

My, how times had changed.

Celia went to sleep remembering those times and trying to put out of her mind the monster that Justin had suddenly become.

***

She was jerked awake by a crash coming from the living room. At first, Celia thought it was Justin in one of his drunken tirades. But when the walls thumped and shook, and another crash was heard, along with grunts and screams, terror struck Celia’s heart.

She jumped out of bed and ran toward her bedroom door, forgetting she had nothing on but panties and a T-shirt. As she cracked open the bedroom door, she heard another huge thump, then the crashing of dishes and glass. Another groan and a scream rang out, this time from a voice not her husband’s.

Knowing there was some type of fight going on, Celia backed up and grabbed a baseball bat from the corner of her walk-in closet. She hated her husband, but she would not let him get beat up, either. She walked out of the bedroom and turned the corner, the bat poised, ready to strike whomever her husband was fighting.

A tall man, dressed in a white T-shirt, blue jeans, and a ski mask, stood near the living room window, his back to her and about seven yards away. He knelt over Justin with his right boot on his head. He reached behind his back and pulled a pistol from under his shirt. Celia’s heart went cold, and she froze, hoping that she was having only a nightmare.

The tall man aimed. Celia saw a flash and heard a small crack, like a firecracker far away, not loud enough to register much beyond her apartment. Justin’s feet, bloodied from the fight, jerked and then lay limp.

Celia suppressed the urge to scream as adrenaline kicked in. She knew she could not traverse the distance between the bedroom door and the attacker, across broken glass, before he turned the gun on her. Instead, still holding the bat, she made a mad dash for the open front door, just three yards ahead of her, and did not look back. As she ran into the hallway, she heard the crunching of glass behind her, which told her that the gunman was coming after her. She screamed as loud as she could to draw attention and picked up speed running down the hallway. Just as she reached a corner, she heard a loud clang against a fire extinguisher just inches from her and felt the pressurized chemical spray out against her side. She turned the corner just before another bullet thudded into the wall just over her head.

Celia shoved open the fire exit door and ran down a flight of stairs to the ninth floor. She continued to run down the hallway, finding herself quickly running out of breath, as she hadn’t run like this in years. She took another corner, found another fire exit, and then ran back upstairs to the tenth floor. Directly across from the fire exit was the trash chute room. She opened the door and squeezed herself into the narrow room, shut the door, turned off the light, and then plastered herself against the wall so the door could be opened partway without anyone seeing her.

Her heart was beating so fiercely she could literally feel the blood pumping through her head. The brilliance and the stupidity of hiding in this trash room quickly became apparent to her. The gunman, if he were still pursuing her, would likely not think she had returned to the tenth floor. But if he found her, she had no escape. She closed her eyes and tried to pray the fear out of her trembling body, and hoped that the gunman had given up trying to find her.

***

2:30 a.m., Thursday

She hadn’t fallen asleep, but she hadn’t realized that she had been in the trash room for almost two hours. Celia was petrified to take one step out of that room. Twice, she felt bugs crawling on her naked feet, but she didn’t care. What if the gunman was still standing around somewhere, waiting for her to show her face? Whenever she heard footsteps in the hallway, she squeezed her eyes shut and hoped that it was just someone coming home from a late shift.

What had her husband gotten into that someone wanted to kill him? Thanks to her father, who had owned plenty of guns during his time in Detroit, she knew enough about guns to know that the attacker’s was not a typical street model. It was a pricey one, with a suppressor. Professional quality.

But then Celia had a frightening thought. What if the gunman was after her? She had just seen an attempted murder earlier in the day. But how would the assailant have known anything about her, especially to have found her address so fast?

Celia hoped that the police had come by now. The fight in the apartment was loud and likely would have alerted the neighbors enough to call the authorities. But her apartment was down the hall and around the corner from where she was now, so even if they were there, she wouldn’t have heard them. For a murder to have just taken place on her floor, things were eerily quiet.

She still had the bat with her, although it had dubious value against a professional quality handgun. But she couldn’t stay in that trash room forever. Fortunately, no one had to dump any trash in the wee hours of the morning, or they would have felt the business end of a baseball bat from a frightened, half-naked woman.

Pulling her resolve together, she finally peeked in the hallway to see if everything was clear. She had no idea what time it was, or how long she had been in the trash room, but she deduced that a man who had just murdered someone would not be still hanging around on the tenth floor all this time. That logic emboldened her, and she stood, worked the numbness out of her legs, and gently, gradually, opened the door. She poked her head out and looked down both ends of the hallway. No one in sight.

She grabbed the bat and then gently walked out into the hallway, heading toward the corner. Once she turned the corner, her apartment would be ten doors down. She leaned against the wall and poked her head around the corner. She breathed a sigh of relief. Several police officers stood around behind a strip of crime scene tape. She left the bat behind and walked down the hallway toward her apartment. She was only ten feet away when the officers noticed her.

The officers noted that she was barely dressed. One of them said, “Ma’am, are you okay?”

“No. “Celia’s sobs choked the words, and she was barely comprehensible. “I live here. That’s my husband in there.”

***

One officer wrapped his jacket around Celia, while the other went inside to gather clothes, shoes and her purse. The officers would not allow her inside, not only because of the gruesomeness of the scene, but because the medical examiner on site would take no chances that she would inadvertently contaminate the crime scene. She changed into jeans and a pair of flats in the hallway. Because Celia was the shy and silent type, she knew none of her neighbors, but that didn’t keep them from standing in the hallway next to their doors, gawking at her with feigned concern.

On instructions from one of the detectives inside, an officer on site drove Celia five miles away to the County District police station. During the ride, she checked her smartphone and saw it was almost three in the morning. Upon arrival at the station, the officer led her to the reception area, where she waited for 30 minutes. Another officer, this one wearing a navy sport coat, slacks that didn’t quite match the coat, and a button down white shirt with no tie, came out to greet her. She had seen him milling around with the other cops at her apartment

“Hi, I’m Detective Frank Liskey.” His white face was thick and square, his smile muted. His hair was gray, except at the roots and at the temples, where it settled into a grayish-brown. His impeccably groomed full mustache curled beyond the edges of his lips, and blue eyes greeted her. He wanted to be friendly, but he knew that the woman in front of him was probably a wreck.

Celia shook his hand, which was large and rough, but she said nothing, her mind caught in a torrent of thoughts and emotions. She accompanied the detective through a door, on the elevator to another floor, through another secured door, and into a room filled with seemingly brand-new cubicles. Other than the detective, there were only two employees present. They walked into a small conference room. Detective Liskey directed her to a chair at the conference table. He sat diagonally across from her at the end of the table.

“Mrs. Rayburn, I’m going to be working your husband’s case. First of all, I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Celia nodded sullenly, but said nothing. Now that the threat of being killed was not imminent, it had just registered that Justin was gone, and a deep sadness came over her.

“Are you able to answer some questions for me? I know it’s early in the morning, and you’re probably very tired, but the quicker we get the information we need, the better chance we have of catching your husband’s killer.”

Celia nodded her consent. She doubted she could get any sleep anyway.

“Great.” The detective reached for a pad and pen on a satellite table and poised them in front of him. “Why don’t you tell me what happened?”

The question triggered her memories, awful and graphic. She could only see the tall gunman reach for his pistol and fire into Justin’s head. The memory sickened her, and she felt nausea enveloping her. Even growing up on the rough streets of western Detroit, she had seen no one shot. Yet in the past 24 hours, she had seen two people gunned down. It was too much for her to take, and she stood to her feet.

“Where is your bathroom?” Celia’s face grew pale.

The detective frowned. “Out the door, to your right.”

Celia gathered her purse and hurried out the door. She found the ladies bathroom quickly. She pushed open the door, headed to a stall, slammed the stall door behind her, dropped to her knees, and vomited. When she was finished, she fell back against the stall door and burst into tears. Her own tears surprised her since there were many moments, after Justin had left her black and blue, that she wished he was dead.

A female officer came into the bathroom and knocked on the stall. “Miss, are you okay?”

“Yes.” Celia’s voice cracked. “Just give me a minute, please.”

“Of course.”

Once Celia heard the bathroom door open and close again, she reached into her purse, found tissues, wiped her face, tossed the tissues in the toilet, and retrieved her cell phone. She debated on whether she should call her parents at this hour. Her parents had been worried about her ever since she moved to Silver Spring. A call to them to tell them that Justin had been murdered was just the ticket they needed to board a plane and drag her, kicking and screaming, to Toronto. And that was not an option for Celia. She prided herself on being the most independent sibling of the family. She insisted on making it on her own, even as some of her other siblings clung tightly onto Daddy’s wallet. Not her. Mama may have, Papa may have …..

She put the phone away, sat on the bathroom floor for a few more minutes to gather herself, then she left the bathroom and returned to the conference room, where Detective Liskey and the female officer who had checked on her in the bathroom were waiting.

“I’m sorry.” Celia returned to her seat. “I needed a moment.”

Liskey nodded. “I understand.” He scribbled a quick note, in handwriting even he had trouble understanding. Check to see if Justin had any active life insurance policies.

“So, what happened was this.” Celia recounted her entire day, from the job interview to the moment where she returned to her apartment after Justin was shot. Liskey listened carefully, asking a few questions here and there, clarifying other points. His notes were sparse, and Celia wondered how he would remember it all. Then a quick glance at the camera on a far wall answered her question.

When Celia had finished, Liskey reared back in his chair. “Describe this guy to me.”

“Tall, about six-five. White dude. Wouldn’t say he was skinny, but not exactly muscular. I never saw his face. He had a black ski mask on.”

“What was he wearing?”

“Jeans and a T-shirt.”

“Shoes?”

“Black boots, I believe.”

“And you’re sure you don’t know of anyone who would want to kill your husband?”

Celia shook her head. “No, I don’t.”

“Drug debt, maybe?”

Celia hesitated.

Liskey explained. “We found marijuana on your husband’s person and in the nightstand next to your bed.”

“That was my husband’s. I don’t do drugs, and I have no idea where he got his drugs from.”

Liskey jotted another note. May be a drug hit. Check.

“Anyone else have a key to your apartment?”

Celia thought. “No, not that I know of. Well, there’s my Dad, but he lives in Toronto.”

“Have you spoken to your parents since this happened?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Hmm.” Liskey asked her about twenty more questions before he flipped his note pad shut. “Do you have someplace to stay?”

Celia could think of at least two girlfriends who would take her in, but she just wanted to be alone. “I can just go to a hotel.”

Liskey stood. “Why don’t you do that? Get some rest, and I’ll give you a call when the medical examiner clears your apartment.”

Celia’s face turned sour. “Wait, you don’t expect me to go back to my apartment, do you? I can’t go back there. What if that guy comes back? Don’t you guys have witness protection or something like that?”

Liskey took a seat and gave Celia a serious glare. “Well, I can put you in touch with the States Attorney for assistance. But I wouldn’t count on relocation.”

“Why not?”

“There’s no continuing threat. I know the guy shot at you, but there’s no indication he plans to continue coming after you. He wore a mask, and you can’t identify him, so it’s unlikely he’s gonna pay you another visit.”

Liskey’s eyes went to the side for a few seconds before he looked at Celia again. “I’m gonna share some details about the case that I probably shouldn’t share. You’ll have to promise you’ll keep this confidential.”

Celia’s sighed. “I hope not. But I still don’t feel comfortable going back to my apartment.”

“Well, then you’ll want to get to a hotel,” Liskey said, standing again. “I’ll touch base with patrol and have an officer stationed outside until your apartment is clear. Then, the officer can accompany you to your apartment and get whatever belongings you need. And, if you don’t have any friends or relatives in town you can stay with, it might be a good idea to visit your dad in Canada for a while. I assume if we catch the guy, we can depend on your testimony at trial?”

For Celia, the thought of testifying struck the wrong chord. She was from western Detroit, and in that part of Detroit, you didn’t testify against about anything or about anybody if you wanted to stay alive. But she was not in Detroit. She was in metro D.C., and her husband had just been killed. What type of woman would not do everything possible to bring her husband’s killer to justice, especially since he had also tried to kill her, and would likely try again? She could never sleep again at night with this guy running the streets.

“Yeah, I’ll testify.”

“Great. I’m going to send Officer Fairchild back in, and she’ll have some paperwork for you to fill out, and then she’ll see about getting you a hotel room.” Liskey handed her his card. “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to call anytime.”

“Thank you.” Celia took the card and watched as Liskey left the room. Cops in Montgomery County seemed more relaxed and polite than those in Detroit, she noticed. But then again, Montgomery County didn’t have to deal with over 300 murders per year.

She again looked at her cell phone, debated calling her father, then again decided not to. She would see what options were available to her first. But with only $218 to her name, things didn’t look good.

***

Detective Liskey got Celia a two-day voucher for a hotel in nearby Bethesda, which meant she didn’t have to give her name or use her credit cards. And with a patrol officer situated right outside the hotel, Celia felt safe enough she could at least try to get some sleep.

But sleep came sparingly. Every door closing, every bump in the hallway, every kid who dropped something on the floor below, forced her eyes open. By the time she finally decided to just stay awake, it was ten a.m., and she had awakened about five times during the night, and she knew she would be awakened again when room service came by.

Just after she got up, she peered out her room window and saw that the police cruiser that had driven her to the hotel was still there, parked on the street, near the front door, within shouting distance of her window.

She showered again after still smelling the stink of the trash room on her. She stuffed her old clothes in an overnight bag she had brought with her and changed into a fresh pair of jeans, white sneakers, and a T-shirt. She checked herself in a mirror and ran a brush through her hair. Fortunately, her round face showed no signs she had barely slept.

All dressed up, with nowhere to go, she thought. She didn’t feel comfortable leaving the hotel, at least not yet. Her scheduled 9 a.m. interview was an afterthought, and her car was still at the apartment. At least if she had the car, she could drive somewhere-anywhere-to put things in perspective, clear her head, and figure out her next step.

Turning on the TV didn’t help. She would stare at the screen, but barely pay attention to what was going on. Her mind kept replaying the events of the previous day. Even when she was in Detroit, she had never experienced as much violence in one day. And to see her husband brutally murdered in front of her was something that she knew would haunt her for many days and weeks to come.

Her sympathy for him was almost palpable. She wished she could have stopped it. He was horrible to her, but he didn’t deserve to die in that way. He may have fallen off the rails, but he didn’t seem to be into anything that would get him targeted by a professional killer.

Celia tried to counteract the negative memories with pleasant ones. She remembered when Justin came home early from work one Thursday and surprised her with a weeklong cruise to the British Virgin Islands. He had just received a promotion to a supervisor of an eight-man team of engineers, and he wanted to celebrate. They had been married for a little more than a year, and the trip was like a second honeymoon. She had never been more in love with her husband than during that trip and had never been more convinced that her parents were wrong about him.

For the first two years of the marriage, Justin was a loving, doting husband who never went a day without kissing her, or telling her he loved her or squeezing her tight in his arms, which she loved. He would often send her texts with sweet, off-the-wall comments expressing his affection for her. Evenings were often spent doing the things she loved—shooting pool at the Dave & Busters in the nearby Ellsworth Place mall, watching old sitcoms on TV, or going for cheeseburgers and fries at the Five Guys. Celia was a simple soul who didn’t go for a lot of fancy things, but she was still excited when Justin splurged on her occasionally, such as when he bought her a pair of $900 black Louis Vuitton open toe pumps on her birthday.

Justin even wanted to have a child with her, but Celia urged him to wait until they had bought a house, which they planned to do soon. But the house-buying plans went down the drain when Justin came home one day and announced that he had been laid off.

This was news difficult for Celia to hear, but she did not despair. If Justin was talented enough to get an $81,000 job, he could get another one. She constantly tried to encourage him. But it did not stop Justin from going into a deep depression, which he dealt with by smoking pot and downing occasional shots of vodka. It didn’t take long for Justin to develop an addiction which kept him from getting almost every later job he applied for.

Justin eventually found a job at a mom-and-pop auto mechanic shop in Hyattsville, but his addiction to pot continued, and his drinking worsened.

The first time he hit her was on their third wedding anniversary. Justin had arranged to take Celia out after work to dinner and then to a performance of Annie at the Warner Theatre in downtown D.C. However, Justin never made it home in time, choosing to hang out with co-workers at a bar, and getting so tipsy he forgot the time and didn’t arrive back home until 11 p.m.

When Justin got home, Celia was so angry she snapped at him, and their resulting argument was vicious and loud. When he had run out of words to challenge her, Justin slapped her so hard she spun and hit the floor.

Justin immediately apologized, and Celia, after some sweet talk from Justin, forgave him. After all, maybe her outburst caused him to strike her like he did.

And that was her mentality throughout the next two years. Whenever Justin hit her, it was because she had provoked him to uncontrollable anger. Justin’s abuse was not his fault; it was hers. When Justin lost his auto mechanic job because the boss could no longer tolerate him coming to work high or hungover, she told herself that he was just a little frustrated and would be okay once he worked through all his problems. And she had convinced herself of this until he started to stay out all night. And that was when she realized that her relationship with Justin was quickly expiring.

It is amazing that in this day, a woman can tolerate a relationship with a man that beats her, but not one that cheats on her, she heard someone say on a talk show one day. The description fit her snugly. She was that woman. And even to this day, she struggled to understand why.

Celia reached for her purse and took out her phone. Eventually, she would have to tell her parents about this, and since she literally had nothing to do except stare at the TV all day, now was as good a time as any.

***

The tall man pulled the black SUV to a curbside parking space directly across the street from the hotel. The police car was parked three spaces ahead of him, its engine running. He could see a uniformed officer inside. It made sense. This was definitely the right place.

He rolled up his tinted windows, switched on the air conditioning, and pulled his binoculars and fully loaded Sig Sauer pistol within immediate reach. His eyes, covered with a pair of large sunglasses, alternated between watching the front door, watching the cop car, and examining the computer sitting on the seat next to him, which was tracking Celia’s cell phone signal and had led him directly to this location.

End of First Four Chapters.

To continue reading, visit Dove Christian Publishers.

Addressing Church Shootings: Weapons against Weapons

Addressing the sin problem will reduce church shootings“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21, (NIV).

I have been around evangelical Christians for most of my life. In this community, particularly for those who are marginalized and disenfranchised, God is often viewed as a protector, a champion for the saints in the midst of evil. Scriptures such as 2 Thessalonians 3:3 and Psalm 59:1 underscore that point. To many of us who know and serve God, there is an expectation that God will keep us safe and will not let evil fall nigh our doorsteps. While mass murder was being committed at nightclubs, schools, and concert venues, some pastors and churches likely thought themselves exempt. They figured that a shooting of that type happening in a church was unlikely.

Therefore, it is difficult to come to grips with what happened in Sutherland Springs, Texas. On November 5, 2017, an unspeakable act of violence struck the First Baptist Church of Sutherland. In what was billed as the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history and the worst mass shooting at a house of worship in modern American history, a man, wielding a semi-automatic rifle, walked into the First Baptist Church during morning worship and shot 46 people. Twenty-six, including 14 children, were killed. Twenty others were injured.

Just a little more than a month before, a deranged gunman shot and killed 58 people and left 546 injured at a concert in Las Vegas. This shooting eclipsed the death toll of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida. In this shooting, 48 people were killed on June 12, 2016.

When these types of things happen, it is a natural human inclination to want to make sense out of them. Why did they happen? What went wrong? What could we have done to prevent them?

The answers do not come easily, except to ascribe them as pure evil. But that does not make them any easier to come to grips with. The church shooting at Sutherland Springs left many people struggling to understand. This was reminiscent of June 17, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, when nine people were killed in a historically black church.

A recent article by Christianity Today indicates that these are not the only deadly incidents that have occurred in faith institutions in this country. However, these recent church shootings shatter the purported safety net that many of us expect from having faith in God.

So, with such a loss of life as with what happened in Sutherland Springs, it begs the question: does God really protect us? If you cannot be safe inside a church during a worship service, then where can you be safe? Why didn’t God keep his redeemed people from experiencing such a tragedy? And what could possibly be God’s purpose in all of this?

Unfortunately, church shootings feed into the rhetoric of faith naysayers who use them as proof that God does not exist; or, if he exists, that he does not care much about us. Unfortunately, without quick intervention and support, some will fall away from the faith. They will believe that there is no point in worshipping God when you can be shot right in the middle of a worship service just before hearing the word of God.

Any intelligent, thinking Christian will struggle with how to interpret and process these church shootings and other mass shootings. It calls for more than simplistically saying “it’s the devil” and dismissing it from our minds. We do not have the luxury of dismissing the other non-church related events as something that happens in the world outside the church. The church has been stained by these events as well.

As I have thought and prayed about this, I cannot dismiss nor escape the reality. Faithful, God-fearing, innocent people have died at the hands of evil people. It has happened before Sutherland Springs and Charleston. We pray that it does not happen again. But we know that we live in a world in which the saints of God are not exempt from the same types of tragedies that can befall the rest of the world. Do we sit back passively and wait for them to come?  Or do we, knowing that we are subject to church shootings, do everything we can to minimize or prevent encroaching danger?

Certainly, we can better secure our churches, and even go as far as to hire armed guards to patrol our worship services. Some churches have already taken that approach. Whether or not that approach is effective or even Scriptural is a subject for another article. But I believe there is another way that the saints of God can address mass church shootings.

The fact is that we live in a world replete with sin. Sin affects not only the person who commits it, but also others. Unfortunately, even innocent people are affected negatively by the sin of others. The mass shootings, whether in churches or elsewhere, are the result of the sin that has run rampant in this country. It is not more complicated than that. Gun control legislation, while important, will not solve the problem. Mental health treatment, while necessary, will not solve the problem. Having armed guards in our churches, while giving us a sense of security and safety, will not resolve the issue. Until we recognize the root of the problem, sin in the hearts of mankind, we will never gain any headway with reducing or stopping these tragedies.

We ask why God didn’t stop these things from happening without realizing that God has already given us the provisions and the authority to do so. God has given us the resources we need to address this issue, and the solutions are not political nor carnal. 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 (KJV) reminds us that, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds).”

If the saints of God are in any way disgusted, concerned, and angry about the mass shootings that have occurred, we should be prompted to more than surface level responses that do not address the root issue of sin. We should recognize that in the hearts of men such as Devin Patrick Kelley, Stephen Paddock, Omar Mateen, Dylan Roof, and all the other perpetrators of mass murder, lies deep-rooted sin that likely remained unaddressed or inadequately addressed before they committed their crimes. Mark 7:21-22 tells us that it is from the heart that evil intentions come. And that can only be dealt with through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Mind you, I am not speaking of religion, but a relationship. Not a creed, but a culture driven by love for the Lord and obedience to the word of God. Our response should not be to question God’s commitment to us or effectively nullify the Scriptures which relate to God’s protection. We should have a renewed commitment to using the weapons God has given us to deal with the sin problem, not only in others but also in ourselves. Before we start a blame game with God, we should check ourselves with the following questions:

1)      Do we wage intercessory prayer on behalf of the saints of God and for the country at large?

2)      Are we actively involved with sharing the truth of Jesus Christ to those around us who do not know Christ?

3)      Are we engaging and embracing in love those around us who are hurting or suffering?

4)      Are we arming ourselves with Scripture so that we have an answer for all those who inquire about our hope, or for those who seek to understand God?

5)      Are we inviting God’s presence into our lives daily through praise, worship, prayer, and meditation? Are we being bathed daily by the Holy Spirit, repenting of our own sin?

6)     Are we educating and informing ourselves about what happened at Sutherland Springs and at Charleston? Are we ensuring that we understand the issues that cause church shootings (whether they be mental illness, domestic violence, someone with a grudge, etc)? Do we know how to address these issues before they turn tragic?

Even the above is not guaranteed to prevent evil acts from affecting us or others. Ultimately, it is up to the perpetrators to make the decision to draw near to God. But when it happens, we can take comfort in Romans 8:35 (ESV), which reads, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” We can stand firm knowing that whatever befalls us, God has not left us or abandoned us. He is still there, looking after us.

The saints at First Baptist Church in Sutherland are smiling in the face of God, forever resting in His presence. Evil may have taken their bodies, but their souls live on eternally. In this sense, God did protect them from the evil one’s ultimate goal, which is to separate them from God. And separation from God is the evil one’s goal for us, by making a mockery of his word and to cause us to doubt God and cast Him by the wayside.

My experience with God is that He is not only reactive. He is proactive and omniscient.  He knows everything that can happen and has provided us with the tools and resources to counteract it. Saints of God, through the Holy Spirit, have the power to, as 1 John 5:4 asserts, “…overcome the world.” God has placed in us, His beloved saints, a mandate to make a difference in the world. We do this through prayer and action. Anyone can pass a law or start a mental health clinic. The people of God are uniquely positioned, through Christ, to address the sin problem. Sin is the foundation of mass murder, church shootings, terrorism, domestic violence, and all other ills that affect this country. The true terrorism in this country is sin, and we should use every weapon which God has given us to war against it.

I believe the Sutherland and Charleston church shootings should be a wake-up call to Christians everywhere. We shouldn’t be relishing in a state of confusion and indifference about why God didn’t save those people. Instead, we should be asking ourselves, “Why didn’t we?”

Louis N Jones

Excerpt- Christian Romance Novel “The Beauty of Summer”

Cover Photo of The Beauty of Summer, a Christian Romance Novel

This upcoming novel  is a bit different for us.  First of all, it’s our first attempt at a Christian romance novel, as most of our fiction offerings are thrillers and suspense. Secondly, it deals with infidelity and sexual attraction between couples in a realistic manner. Since this is a Christian romance novel, don’t expect Fifty Shades of Grey raw, but the author does not shy away from portraying the reality of urban sexual mores in the context of faith and morality.

The Beauty of Summer is about a beautiful woman who suffers serious setbacks and devastating events after she tries to reclaim the trophy boyfriend who dumped her for another woman. This novel is available now, but you can read an excerpt below.

The Beauty of Summer: A Christian romance novel

By Louis N Jones

Wednesday, 9:01 pm, Richmond, Virginia

“Why can’t we go to your place?”

The girl, fresh out of high school and ready for as much debauchery and rebellion as her five-foot-eight frame could muster, rolled down the passenger side window and flicked the still-smoldering remnant of a joint out onto the road.

Her date, five years her senior, remained silent and kept his eyes on the road. The motel was somewhere on Broad Street, but he wasn’t sure if he was going in the right direction. He had just passed several blocks of government buildings that quickly made way for pricey townhomes.  It didn’t seem like the right neighborhood for a cut-rate motel. He decided to drive only five more blocks before he made a U-turn and head northwest.

“There’s a Holiday Inn. Why don’t we stop there?” the girl urged.

Because the Super 8 is cheaper, the man thought.  But he dared not say that aloud, even though he had long stopped trying to impress her. She was willing to be intimate with him, and that’s all he cared about. “Be cool, Gracie. I’m sure the Super 8 is around here somewhere.”

“Tim, y’know I’d rather go to your place,” Gracie cooed.

“My roommate has the apartment tonight,” Tim lied.  His only roommate was a ten-year old cat, and she was too old to care. He had no intention of allowing Gracie to see where he lived. He was planning for this rendezvous to be short-lived.

He was driving his brother’s car.  He drove it a few more blocks, then gave up and decided to go the other direction. He started to make a U-turn against the posted sign, noticed an RPD cruiser, with two officers inside, sitting across the street, and made a right instead. For some strange reason, the refrains from the Phil Collins/Philip Bailey song Easy Lover began playing in his head.

“You think we can get some snacks before we go to the room?” Gracie said.

“Girl, we just ate,” Tim noted.

“I know. But I’m hungry.”

“Need to stop smokin’ so much of that stuff.”

“Only had two joints today.”

“That’s enough.”

Gracie ignored him.  “There’s got to be a 7-Eleven nearby. They have one every five blocks.” She turned to him and said slyly, “There’re other things in there you might need, too.”

Tim looked at her briefly out the side of his eye before he stopped at a red light. “Don’t worry, girl. I got it covered.”

He made another right turn and then drove a few blocks before the street ended, forcing him to turn right again. He approached the red traffic light at Broad Street and stopped. He turned to Gracie, checked her out, and reached for her. She giggled and playfully slapped his hand away.

“You’re so thirsty,” Gracie said.

“Can’t help it.  I have been waiting for you to turn eighteen for months.”

“The light’s green.”

Tim signaled, then made a left turn and headed northwest up Broad Street. He had driven a few blocks before he tried reaching for her again.

“Tim, watch out!” Gracie’s eyes widened in horror.

Gracie’s shout was preceded only a second by a loud metallic thud. Tim looked up just in time to see a crumpled late model Acura rolling backwards across the intersection in front of him.

He cursed, then tried to slam on the brakes. But he was going 40 miles per hour, so it was much too delayed a reaction. Both he and Gracie shielded their faces as they slammed into the Acura. The force of the impact drove Tim’s car under the Acura, forcing the Acura to flip over on its side and land against the median strip dividing Broad Street. The bumper of Tim’s car curled up, the hood sank, and the windshield shattered, sending crystalline shards bouncing off the deployed air bags. Tim’s car stopped, its nose lodged against the bottom of the Acura, where it was quickly greeted by a spray of leaking transmission fluid. Tim and Gracie lay bloodied and unconscious, each leaning in opposite directions against the center pillars of the car.

Several pedestrians had seen the accident, and a few had started to dial 911 on their cell phones. Some of the men started to approach the vehicles to check on the occupants. The man who approached the Acura could see, through the shattered windshield, a woman, crumpled, bruised and bloodied, lying on a bed of glass against the passenger side door, which was now flat against the sidewalk.

Unsure of the woman was dead or alive, he pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911. Once the dispatcher had told him a unit had already been deployed and on its way, he hung up the phone and looked carefully at the woman inside the car. Despite the blood and glass all around her face, he noticed that she was very beautiful.

He had been a Christian since his early teens, and so he did the only thing he knew how to do at that point. He prayed that if she was alive that the Lord would restore her broken body and lead her on the road to health. And, if she was dying, that she had made her peace with Christ.

But as of that moment, unbeknownst to him, she had not.

***

Six Days before

Xavier’s marriage proposals were getting more ornate as time went on.

Just two months before, on the 15th, Summer Maldonado came to work, sat at her desk, check her emails, and found a new email from Xavier with a photo attached. The photo was taken of her on a recent romantic trip to the Bahamas. There she was, lying on Paradise Beach in a Caribbean blue one-piece, her perfectly manicured toes dug in the white sand, her natural long black hair pouring gracefully out of a wide-brimmed straw hat, her cinnamon-toned skin glistening in the mid-afternoon sun. The caption on the photo was, “You are the picture of perfection. Will you marry me?”

One month before, also on the 15th, a bouquet of fifteen red roses in a tall crystal vase was waiting on her desk upon her return from lunch. The note on the flowers read, “Will you marry me, and let our relationship blossom like the petals of a rose?” The note gave Summer a mile-wide smile. Her boyfriend was corny but thoughtful and sweet.

Summer would answer his last two proposals the same way she answered the eleven previous ones, all tendered on the 15th of the month. She would never explicitly tell him no, but always, “Ask me again next month.” Xavier would be persistent enough to ask her every month, like clockwork, on the 15th.

It was the fifteenth of the month again, and Xavier Williams had texted her earlier that morning to ask her to join him that evening at the Wild Ginger, an Asian restaurant on the western outskirts of Richmond. It was a Thursday night, but still the Wild Ginger would be almost impossible to get into without a reservation, so Summer knew Xavier had planned several days beforehand.

Thursday was casual day at Visual Notions, one of the leading video production companies in Richmond. But Summer, the marketing manager, had chosen not to dress down that day. She wore a simple purple sheath dress, professional enough for the job, but sexy and form-fitting enough to make sure Xavier’s eyes didn’t stray, which they did from time to time. Just a few minutes after seven, she left the office, which was on the seventh floor of an office building in downtown Richmond. The restaurant was only a fifteen-minute drive away in moderate traffic, so she had plenty of time to get there before the 7:30 reservation.

During the drive, Summer switched on the built-in MP3 player and allowed Stevie Wonder’s Ribbon in the Sky to drown out the faint street sounds that made it inside the tinted windows of her late model Acura. She had to brace herself to turn down yet another one of Xavier’s proposals, and she hoped that the proposal would come at the latter part of the evening, so that it wouldn’t dampen the majority of their date. She knew she would have to say yes to him one day, but right now, her mind was not in that space. Her excuse was that she was not ready to be a wife, and that was true, to an extent. But as loving and doting as her boyfriend was, there were some things about him that bothered her. But she had neither the willpower nor the bravery to tell him the truth about himself. So, month after month, she kept hoping he would change and that somehow the rarest of miracles would alight upon him like a feather on the shoulder, and he would transform into a man that she would be comfortable marrying.  Someone who was NOT like her father. Xavier did not yet seem inclined to come home drunk and beat her like her father beat her mother. But his controlling nature and his frequent drinking made him a likely candidate.

Summer hadn’t seen Nestor Maldonado in thirty years. She assumed he was still somewhere in Brazil; Summer had no clue where, and she didn’t wish to know. But his aura remained with her like a bad odor. He hadn’t always been a drunken looser; he had actually been quite personable, engaging and sober when Susan Wright met him during a vacation to Rio. Enthralled with the idea of living in Brazil, and tired of her hardscrabble life in Atlanta, Susan, an African American janitor, married Nestor a year after meeting him. Summer was born in July a year later. Susan named her after her favorite song, Summertime, from Porgy and Bess, the one sang by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Most people in the states assumed, without asking, that she was named that way because she was born in the summer, not knowing that Brazilian summers began in December.

The marriage went well until Summer was four years old. Several days after her birthday, Nestor lost his job at the soft drink plant as the result of a layoff, and the hard drinks soon followed, with the beatings right on the heels of the drinking. By the time Summer was five years old, she had heard, and in some cases seen, her mother beaten at least twelve times during one of Nestor’s drunken tirades. Finally, Susan got tired of it.

The fateful day of Summer’s introduction to the United States came on September 8, the day after Brazil’s Independence Day, two months and three days after her fifth birthday. Nestor had come home late the night before, his breath reeking of Skol’s, with whatever celebratory spirit he had engaged in long gone by the time he crossed the threshold of his house. Susan met him in the kitchen and accused him of cheating on her, an accusation based purely upon woman’s intuition, but in this case was spot on. But for some reason, she never had the gall to confront him about it until then.

The argument in the bedroom became so loud that the words spilled out onto the streets. Susan’s words were spiced with Southern rage, and a deep Georgia accent that Susan had tried to conceal, but surged forth whenever she was angry.

You need to leave those bitches alone!

If you don’t stop this, I’m gonna take Summer and leave!

A scream. Several crashes. A door slamming. Spewing of obscenities in Portuguese. Another door slam. Then, eerily quiet.

The next day, Summer and her mother were hitch-hiking their way to Galeão International Airport, headed to Atlanta with only two garbage bags of belongings and an open-ended plane ticket purchased months earlier by a cousin in Atlanta who mailed it to Susan to encourage him to leave the son-of-a-bitch.

Xavier had not yet deteriorated as drastically. But Summer could see the signs brewing. The drinking, for one. Xavier could knock them back with the best of them, and it was only Summer’s interventions that prevented him on many occasions from tipping over the edge of drunkenness. Xavier also had a paternalistic bent that bothered Summer. Xavier, like Nestor, didn’t believe in a woman working. It was why Susan quit her $20,000 a year janitorial job and stayed at home to cook his meals and chase dust bunnies. Xavier also believed that the man was the head of the household and that the woman should obey. To Summer, it was elementary math: head of household = man controls woman; woman has no say, no options, no life. And there was no way Summer was going to quit her $95,000 a year job for any man, no matter how much he was paid.

Nonetheless, Summer kept hoping that Xavier’s love for her would lead him to believe that having a strong, capable, independent woman would prove to be his greatest asset. The drinking she could deal with, but there was no way she was going to marry a man who had every intention to relegate her to housewife.

Summer pulled into the shopping center where the restaurant was located. She found a parking spot near a nail salon, with only a two-minute walk to the front door of the restaurant. Summer’s dress was short-sleeved, and it was getting chilly out. She wished she had brought her shawl from the car with her. No worries. She would just send Xavier out to her car to get it.

The restaurant had clean, modern lines, decorated in mauves, grays and browns, with a huge bar in one wing, and a dining area in another, separated by the hostess station and a small waiting area. As she expected, the restaurant was packed, but she had no trouble finding Xavier in the crowd. He was already seated at a small table by himself at the far end of the restaurant, adjacent to a large window with a view of the parking lot. Summer headed to Xavier’s table.  She drew an admiring glance from a gentleman seated in the waiting area.

Xavier stood as she approached. He was six foot one, clean-shaven, with a full head of closely cropped hair and eyeglass frames that would set a full-time minimum wage employee back about two weeks of pay. His fair skin contrasted with his crisply tailored suit, which hung on a thin, not lanky but athletic, build.

Xavier looked just as handsome as the day she met him eighteen months before. Xavier held a plum position as the vice president of media relations at the city’s gas utility. Summer had been trying to get the utility’s video production contract, and her attempts brought her in frequent contact with Xavier. They had several business lunches together before Visual Notions won the contract. After the paperwork had been signed, the business lunches turned into dinners. Eventually, Xavier won Summer’s heart as well, which was not an easy task. Summer had no lack of men who wanted to court her, but it was Xavier’s earthy charisma, his passionate devotion, and his quiet manner that hooked her. He was drawn to her as a person, and not just for her body. And a man who could afford to book the executive suite at the Jefferson Hotel just because certainly was a plus.

Meu Amor,” Summer said to him as they embraced. They exchanged a simple peck on the lips, which, given the posh surroundings, was a great deal more sedate than how they would have kissed in private.

Xavier motioned Summer to the chair directly across from his. That was odd. Usually they sat at 90-degree angles to one another. Summer ignored his directive and parked in a chair directly to Xavier’s right. She then checked him out in his suit. It looked like the one that she had bought him for his 38th birthday a few months ago. As her gaze moved up to his eyes, he was looking off into the distance.

Summer followed his gaze but saw that it led nowhere. “Are you alright?” she asked.

Xavier finally looked at her. “I’m fine.”

“You look nice. Is that the suit I bought you?”

Xavier looked down at himself, seemingly surprised. “Yeah, I guess it is.”

The waiter came over with a wine list. Xavier quickly waved him away. Again, unusual. Summer studied his body language. Xavier seemed tense. His arms were tight against his body; his hands clasped in his lap. His gaze wavered off to nowhere again.

Summer toyed with the white napkin on the table and tried to say something to ease the tension. She was usually the talkative one in the relationship, so she had no problem starting a conversation. “So, how was your day?”

“It was good. Yours?”

“Wonderful. I was excited about meeting you here.”

“Ever been here before?”

“No. First time.” Summer noticed that Xavier’s gaze trailed off again.  It seemed as if he was looking at the front door.

Summer asked a burning question. “Are you expecting someone? I mean, other than me?”

Xavier’s eyes finally returned to her. “I have something I need to tell you.”

Summer swallowed hard. There was no passion, no joy in his voice. She tried to play off the obvious implication in his voice by making jest. “What, you’re breaking up with me?” She said it with a bat of her eyes and a bedroom voice.

Xavier was silent.

Summer waited for a laugh, a smile, an angry denial, anything that would acknowledge the humor in what she had said. Instead, he just sat there, carefully avoiding her eyes. Summer drew back in her chair and said, “X, what’s going on?”

“Summer, this is not easy for me to say.”

Summer felt blood rushing from her face. There were only two reasons people made that statement: if someone had died, or if they were about to end a relationship. And Xavier’s incessant staring at the front door give her a clue as to which one it was.

“X, don’t tell me you’re breaking up with me.”

C’mon, X. Tell me no. Tell me I’m wrong. Stop my heart from beating so fast in my chest.

Finally, he looked at her. And his eyes told her the truth.  Dear Jesus.

Summer drew back in her chair again. “X, please don’t kid around with me.”

“I’m serious.”

Summer looked in his eyes and didn’t see any hint of his normal jovial nature. But something didn’t gel. Why would he invite her to a fancy restaurant just to break up with her before they served the wine? That was too callous for Xavier, so she knew this conversation had to be leading somewhere other than the termination of their fifteen-month relationship. “X, stop kidding with me. Let’s talk real here.”

“This is not a joke, Summer.”

There were two things at that moment that convinced Summer that Xavier was not joking. The first was that he used her real name. Xavier never called her by her real name unless he was angry. Usually it was honey or baby or sweetie or gorgeous or some variation thereof.

But Summer was really convinced when she looked up in response to a shadow darkening their table. The person standing there was not a waiter.

Xavier stood. “Summer, you know Jada.”

Summer looked up at Jada Hardy with the scorn of forty jilted women. Jada Hardy was the assistant to the president of Visual Notions. Her office was just ten paces away from Summer’s. There she stood, fake auburn hair, fake nails, Hershey-bar-dark model-thin body, and enough chest that if someone tapped her gently on the head from behind, she would tip over forward. And for all she knew, that might be fake. Summer quickly dialed back her hard look, realizing that Jada had enough clout to get her fired with a bat of her eyelashes. Summer had liked Jada. Until now.

Jada tried to be cordial in a less than cordial situation. “Hi, Summer.”

Summer looked down at the table. “Jada.”

Jada walked over to Xavier’s side of the table. Summer looked up just in time to see Jada plant a respectable kiss on Xavier’s cheek. She then sat in the chair directly to Xavier’s left. When Xavier sat back down, he looked over at Summer and saw a blaze in her eyes.

“Summer, I wanted to let you know that me and Jada have been seeing each other for a few months now.”

Summer inhaled deeply. Her heart began to palpitate. The shock that statement cut her deeply than anything she would have imagined, rendering her vocal cords inoperative. She focused her eyes on the table, fighting back tears, not wanting to give either of them the pleasure of seeing her cry.

At that moment, Summer realized the mistake she had made a few months before. Summer had invited Xavier to her office to have lunch, something she rarely did with her friends. She preferred to separate her business and personal interests as much as possible. After lunch, when Summer was walking Xavier to the door, Jada strolled past. In courtesy, Summer introduced Jada to Xavier, referring to him as “one of Visual Notions’ clients.” Not my boyfriend, or my man, or even my friend, but my client. The last thing you want to do is introduce your man to another gorgeous, buxom, clasping woman as nothing more than a business interest.

The waiter returned to the table, interrupting an awkward silence. Once he had given his welcoming spiel, he asked for their drink orders. Xavier politely sent him away once again, and then focused his attention on the two lovely ladies sitting at his table.

Emboldened now that the worst of his silent confession was over, Xavier said, “Listen, I know the two of you have to work together. I was hoping we could come together, talk it out, and at least be civil to one another.”

Summer knew the hidden meaning behind Xavier’s words: this is my new girl. I’m going to be coming around the office quite a bit nuzzling up to her, and I don’t want you screwing things up.

Summer phased out Jada for a moment and focused her icy glare on Xavier. “You couldn’t even give me the courtesy of breaking up with me without bringing your new girlfriend along, and you expect me to be civil?” Summer threw her hands up. “I don’t even know why you’re doing this.”

“Why I’m doing what?”

“Why you’re breaking up with me.”

“You know why.”

“Because—” Summer stopped, realizing that what she was about to say was too personal for Jada’s ears, and frankly none of her business. She turned to Jada. “Could you excuse us for a moment?”

Jada cut her eyes at Xavier, seeking his permission. Xavier nodded. Jada cut a final glance at Summer before she stood and walked toward the bar on the other side of the restaurant.

Summer leaned in toward Xavier. “You’re breaking up with me because I wouldn’t marry you?”

“You know I’m looking for a relationship that is going somewhere, Summer. I’ve been asking you for your hand for months. I can’t wait any longer.”

Summer sighed. “You know I have issues with marriage—”

“Yeah, I know. And your daddy issues. Although I don’t think you’re against the idea of marriage as much as you are against the idea of marrying me.”

Summer leaned back in her chair. She couldn’t argue. Xavier was a fantastic boyfriend. But not every relationship was made to make the leap to marriage. From her perspective, there was so much that needed to be worked out. Unfortunately, Xavier had lost patience. And with so many women around waiting to throw themselves at a handsome, high-paid stud such as Xavier, he no longer needed to be patient.

When they had started dating, Summer told him that she intended to be celibate until marriage. Her mother had raised her that way, according to her Christian principles. And Summer considered herself a Christian, even though she had not been to church in many months. But Xavier was the type of man who was used to wrinkling a woman’s sheets within one to two weeks of the first date, so challenges greeted his relationship with Summer from the beginning. And Summer went into the relationship fully intending to make a decision about marrying Xavier within a few months. But then, the alcoholism and the controlling issues surfaced, and that was all she needed to hold off any possibility of a deeper relationship. Summer adored her mother, but she didn’t want to become her by marrying a man that was potentially abusive. She saw how much it affected her mother, and she had no intention of following in those footsteps.

But now she sat here, quickly drowning in the hurt and pain of rejection. What worse, he was cheating on her with a co-worker, a woman she respected and trusted. She fast-forwarded through her life and realized she was about to go through life once again without a man, lonely and depressed. Thirty-five years old, and no closer to having a successful relationship than she was at 18. Her entire life had been relationship-deprived, especially since moving to Richmond. The realization of losing the one person who seemed drawn to her was so frightening that her next words were a compromise against facing the ugliness of the next few months, perhaps years, of her life.

“X, I don’t want to lose you. I could look more closely at this marriage thing. Please let’s talk and work this out.”

“Summer, I’ve already proposed to Jada, and she accepted.”

Summer squeezed her eyes shut. This was unbelievable. The evening was just getting worse, and she could feel Xavier slipping out of her grasp. “You haven’t known her that long.”

“But we don’t need to know each other for long to know that we were meant for each other. When you feel that way, there’s no sense waiting.”

“You used to say that about us.”

“What?”

“That we were meant for each other.”

Xavier looked way. “Maybe I was mistaken.”

That stung more than anything that Xavier had said. That their relationship was a sham, a mistake. She wasted fifteen months of her life on a mistake. They were hard, sharp words, but she didn’t want to acknowledge them. She knew that Xavier was the man for her. She knew it now more than ever.

And with those thoughts, she was moving into the same dangerous territory and destructive co-dependent behavior that her mother had exhibited throughout a year of abuse; that sometimes it was better having a man in your life that abused you, than no man at all.

Summer’s next words were abrupt and only half-hearted. “Okay, I’ll marry you.”

Xavier shook his head. “We had our chance, Summer. I’m going to be with Jada now.” He looked toward the bar, hoping that he could meet eyes with Jada and summon her to return to the table.

Summer’s eyes were moist with tears now, and as she blinked, they started to flow down her face. “How can you do this to me?” She made no effort to stop the flow, as they had begun to drip off her chin and onto the tablecloth. A few of the patrons noticed her tears and stole periodic glances, trying to figure out what was going on without appearing nosy.

Jada returned to the table, at which point Summer noticed that several of the patrons had noticed her crying. Flustered, Summer grabbed her purse, got up from the table, and without a word, headed for the door. One of the waiters saw her on the way out and asked if she was okay. She hurried past him without answering.

Then suddenly, just before she reached the front door, anger mingled with her sadness like a suitor cutting in on a dance. This woman, Jada, the one she trusted and respected for years, just stole her man from her. There was no way she was going to do that without her making a bold statement about it.

Summer turned around and headed back into the restaurant. On a table near the door, three wine glasses, half-full with Merlot, were sitting there, left by departing patrons. Summer clutched her purse tighter between her left arm and her side, then grabbed two of the glasses. She marched toward Xavier’s table. Xavier and his new girl-toy Jada were sitting next to each other, nuzzling close while reviewing the wine selection, so they didn’t notice her approach. By the time they did, it was too late.

With the precision of a gunslinger, Summer hurled both the glasses forward, sending the wine out of the glasses and directly into Xavier and Jada’s faces. They jumped up and screamed, and the room fell silent, as all eyes were now on them. Summer dropped the glasses on the table and marched toward the door. The glasses rolled off the table and crashed on the floor, creating the only sound in the room at that moment.

As Summer left, she couldn’t help but notice that a few of the women, understanding her pain, had smiles on their faces.

* * *

End of Excerpt.  For more information on this Christian romance novel, including release date, visit our website at www.dovechristianpublishers.com.

The Word Changers-Youth Fantasy Fiction-Sample Chapter

Cover of The Word Changers, a Christian Fantasy novel

This is an excerpt from the Christian fantasy novel, The Word Changers, by Ashlee Willis. This novel is currently available. Connect with us at Dove Christian Publishers for more information about this publication. You may also visit the author’s blog.

Synopsis:

Posy is devastated.  Her parents’ marriage is falling apart. Posy retreats to an old library, selects a magical book and is drawn into its story, which has been usurped by a cruel king and queen. She battles dangerous monsters and strange creatures, and forms an unlikely alliance with the prince. Will Posy save the story, find truth and romance, and heal her own heartache?

CHAPTER ONE

(A Bewildering Beginning)

            The moment she began to fall, Posy forgot everything except her descent. She even forgot how she had come to be falling in the first place. Everything behind her grew faint and far, and everything in front of her seemed a black void. Gravity worked backward, and her racing speed slowed. Now she floated, like a dry leaf, or a page torn from a book. Gradually she felt nothing at all.

And the entire time she was falling, she could hear voices, hollow and wide-flung, pulling her back from the precipice. Posy lifted a heavy hand to swat awkwardly at her face.

“You’ve come at last, my dear,” said the voice nearest her. “And about time, too.” Posy attempted to open her eyes, only to find it difficult. Was that the brush of a feather on her brow? She groaned in frustration at the weighted feeling she couldn’t shake.

A woman’s voice came faintly from a distance. “Will it work?”

“Well, their looks are quite different, I must say.” Now a man’s deep tones.

“It was what Your Majesty wanted, if I may remind you,” the answer came smoothly. “And after all, it is much too late now to send her back.”

“Let us hope it is only for a short time,” the woman spoke again, with a slight accent of distaste. “But see. The princess begins to wake.”

Why are they speaking so strangely? Posy’s thoughts crawled sluggishly into her head, And it is almost as if they are speaking about meDid someone just say … ‘Princess’?

Only last night—was it only last night?—Posy lay in her own bed, listening to the sounds of unhappiness down the hall. Crying hadn’t stopped her parents from arguing. Praying hadn’t ended their hate for each other. Fists clenched into the pillow she had pulled over her head had done no good either. Of course it hadn’t.

All the same, something deep within her had clamored and quaked for a change. Something inside had whispered that things could not remain as they were. Perhaps this was the answer. But she thought it more likely it was all a horrid mistake.

Solid arms went around her, pulling her to a sitting position. “There we go, my dear,” said a man’s voice next to her ear. “What a scare we had, didn’t we, Valanor? We thought we were going to lose our princess.”

There was no doubt about it now. Someone was calling her princess. Posy’s eyes snapped open at last. What she saw almost convinced her she was dreaming, if everything hadn’t been so real and so unbearably bright. She had not seen a place like this before. What had she been doing before all this happened? Why could she not remember?

Standing around her bed were several individuals. The first one she noticed was a large man, tall and broad, with ruddy cheeks and a full black beard streaked with shots of gray. His must have been the arms that had moved her, as easily as a doll, up on the bed. He was smiling broadly at her through small, intent eyes as he rubbed his hands together with the anticipation of someone a fraction his age. Next to him stood a tall slender woman, breathtakingly—coldly—beautiful. Her white-blond hair fell over her pale shoulders and shimmered like fairy dust down the back of her exquisite gown. Posy blinked at the sight of the gold crown on each of their heads. A group of people—servants from the look of it—surrounded the two of them, all peering curiously at her. Just as the students in biology class all stare at those poor frogs in their glass tanks, Posy thought with a grimace.

“Did …?” she began hesitantly. “Did someone call me—Princess?”

“Indeed! And how are you, my dear?” the man said, who seemed to be the king.

“I—I—am all right, I guess. Although—”

“Ah, good!” he boomed before Posy could say more. His grin widened, his white teeth gleamed. “Nothing to put you down for long, eh, Daughter?”

“Daughter?” Posy murmured in confusion, looking from the king to the queen and back again. She bit back a panicked laugh. A vision of her own mother and father—nothing like these two—swept through her head and was gone. What had happened? she demanded of herself harshly. But she could remember nothing clearly. Nothing but … but … Posy sighed in frustration. The memory was just beyond her grasp.

“Yes, my daughter,” the queen repeated, her rich voice filling the corners of the room. “You had a fever, and we have been worried about you these many days. We even feared for your life. But you have proved the doctors wrong and are on the mend at last.”

“No,” Posy shook her head, “I am not your—”

“You may not remember, Princess,” a smooth voice, neither the king’s nor the queen’s, cut in. “They say a fever can chase many memories away, even keep some away forever. You were on a hunt with your father and mother, the king and queen, and the lords and ladies of the court. It began to rain. You, being the excellent horsewoman you are, decided the rain would not stop the hunt. You pushed on. But alas, that very night when the hunting party returned, you took ill with a delirious fever and have been abed ever since. You have regained consciousness only today.”

Posy heard these words with astonishment as she looked around the room for the person who had spoken them. At last, her eyes alighted on the stone windowsill. On it sat a great gray owl, at least twice the size an owl ought to be, sitting with feathered chest thrust forward, a self-satisfied expression on his face. Surely, she thought to herself … surely the owl didn’t just … . But even as she doubted it, the creature spoke again.

“But now, here you are,” he said soothingly, as if he were calming a distressed child, “and we all rejoice that you are restored to us.”

Posy stared, open-mouthed, but the creature merely gazed back at her placidly from where he perched.

“Yes, yes,” bellowed the king rather impatiently. “So we will leave you to rest, my dear. Come, Valanor.” He took the queen’s hand. “The Kingdom awaits us, you know.” And they swept from the room.

The Kingdom awaits us? Posy snorted under her breath. Had the man really just spoken those words? They seemed theatrical—like those you’d hear in a fairytale, or read in a … Posy froze.

“In a book,” she said aloud, though the room was now empty.

Memory flooded her then. Once again, she could hear her parents down the hall, just as she had countless times before. Their voices rose and fell in anger, traveling through the house and into her room like an endless, waking nightmare. She remembered the heavy tread of her own feet as she launched from her bed, heard the jarring of her parents’ bedroom door as she ripped it open. And she had screamed at them—screamed to stop them shouting at one another, screamed to quiet the fear and anger that reared up inside of her. But she had seen their faces turning toward her, and their expressions had gone from shock to anger and then a disappointed sadness that was worst of all.

“How dare they?” Posy turned sideways and whispered into her pillow. “How dare they get angry. They were the ones hurting me. And hurting Lily, too.”

Posy felt a thrill of sorrow, thinking of her little sister. Lily was only eleven. To Posy’ 15-year-old mind that was much too young to be subjected to the bitter misery of what their parents’ marriage was doing to their family. She had hoped Lily had heard nothing of the wild interchange of that night, when her parents shouted cruel words at one another, and she shouted cruel words to them in turn.

Tears pricked behind her eyes. Yes, she remembered now. Anger and tears had etched such deep grooves into her young heart that she hated the very thought of them. Anger and tears were what drove her out of the house and straight down the street to the library. Peace, and silence, and books. Posy clung to these things.

And that was where she had discovered the book. She had found it innocently enough, she supposed. The library was an old one, to be sure, but she had thought she knew all its dusty corners and sagging shelves by now. But somehow, yesterday, she had found herself in an unfamiliar place. And down the dimly-lit aisle she had chosen a strange, musty book, with a scrolling, antique font. Posy had chosen it for the lettering. It had reminded her of the covers of the fairytales she had read as a child—the ones that made her feel like a character in a kingdom far away from any troubles she knew in her own world. And she had certainly needed such an escape.

Her fingers could still feel the grooves of the book’s title, her hands the heaviness of its spine. She had opened it, and … and …

 

* * *

 

 

Christian Suspense Novel-Adverse Possession (Sample Chapter)

Adverse Possession, a Christian Suspense novelThe following excerpt is from a Christian suspense novel entitled Adverse Possession, an eBook released on October 1, 2013.  A family comes home from an overseas trip only to find that someone has taken over their beloved home. The police can do nothing about it, and the possession actually appears to be legal. Their struggle to get their home back tests their faith, their marriage, and puts them in more danger than they ever would have imagined.

***

Her birth name was Lieselotte Koch, but most people in the neighborhood called her Lottie K. That was to differentiate her from Miss Lottie Morris, who lived farther down the road, near the cul-de-sac abutting Kent Gardens Park with its skyscraping white pines and cedars. Lottie K did not have a problem with the shortening of her name. After all, these darned Americans wanted everything so simple. The only time she heard her full name was when her relatives came to visit from her native Dresden. Even her American husband, who passed five years ago, simply called her “Lot.”

It was a Wednesday morning in February. The residents of McLean, Virginia awoke to clear blue skies and weather chilly enough to whiten the dew that had fallen overnight on cars and lawns. Lottie’s normal routine would go unchanged. At 7:00 a.m., she awakened and immediately switched on the TV to watch Charlie Rose. The TV was a 25-inch flat screen her daughter gave her last year for her 65th birthday, and it allowed her to spend time with Charlie in lifelike high definition. She delighted telling friends she had such a crush on him. At her age, calling it a crush was hardly apropos. Nonetheless, it made her feel more youthful and alive to try to cling to some trappings of her childhood, though most of them had long passed on.

By 7:30 a.m., she was downstairs switching off the burglar alarm near the front door. A woman her age living alone could not be too careful, she thought, though FairfaxCounty police had not answered a burglary call on Bynum Drive in ten years. It did not bother her that her alarm code was the same as her ATM code, which was the same as her daughter’s gate code at her home in Sterling, which was the same as the month and day of her daughter’s birthday. The fewer numbers she had to remember, the better.

Sometime between 7:30 and 7:45, she slipped on her Cole Haan down coat, a rare extravagant purchase from the Nordstrom at nearby TysonsCornerCenter mall. She stepped outside just in time to greet a few of the neighborhood kids as they dipped in the rear of their parents’ BMWs and Lexus’ and headed off to school. The moment they saw Lottie, with her flaxen hair tied back into a bun and her supermodel complexion, they yelled, “Hi, Miss K!”, further shortening her name. She always would respond with a wave or, if they were close enough, she would say, “Morning. Have a good day at school.”

Lottie could tell that the kid who delivered the Sun Gazette this morning was the lazy rascal who rarely got out of his car, but tossed the paper from his driver’s side window. Because her house, like most of the houses in the neighborhood, had front lawns about the length of a basketball court, the paper usually landed somewhere in the middle of the driveway, or on the top of her car. When this happened, Lottie had to walk down the driveway to retrieve the paper. However, this morning, the paper landed in the middle of the yard, which meant it would be damp from the dew. Lottie grunted as she walked in the yard to retrieve her paper, the icy dew crunching under her slippers. She really preferred the kid who would walk up the driveway and place the paper neatly inside the mailbox, which was on the wall just to the left of her front door.

Over the past two months, Lottie K had added one slight thing to her routine. She glanced quickly at the five-bedroom split-level ranch-styled house directly across from hers on Bynum Drive to make sure everything was okay. She had grown quite fond of the owners, a young couple who had bought the house just over a year ago for $950,000. Shortly after moving in, Jesse and Jennifer Kane saw Lottie in her front yard pruning the wild hydrangeas framing the eastern edge of her driveway, and they came over and talked with her. They talked frequently in the coming days and weeks, and their talks sometimes lasted for more than an hour. Whenever Lottie’s ten-year-old granddaughter, Kaitlyn, came to visit her from Sterling, the Kane’s two children, eight-year-old Ashley and seven-year-old Aiden, would entertain her in their spacious basement, play the latest video games, and enjoy marathon couch potato sessions with Adventures in Odyssey. The Kanes had even invited Lottie to their church a few times, although Lottie was Catholic, and the Kanes’ worship style was the loud hallelujah, lifting of the hands, falling prostrate on the floor, twirling in the aisles kind. Lottie couldn’t really get into their worship style, but found the Kanes to be genuine and loving people, and connected with them based on their mutual admiration for each other.

Consequently, Lottie agreed to keep an eye on the Kanes’ home while they were away on a missionary trip to Haiti. In a neighborhood as quiet and uneventful as Bynum Drive, the responsibility amounted to nothing more than making sure the UPS man hadn’t placed any unexpected packages on their front doorstep. She did not need to worry about mail, because the Kanes had their mail temporarily held at the post office. The Kanes had left Lottie with the key to the house in case there were any emergencies, and in the past two months, she only needed to use it once. Two weeks ago, during heavy rain, she went to check the basement to make sure the rain did not flood it, as the sump pump was renowned for being lazy and finicky.

This morning, Lottie’s quick glance at 6609 Bynum Drive found nothing out of order, so she went back inside her home to prepare for work. Today was a work day, so she could not salivate over Charlie Rose another hour. Instead, she had to shower and get dressed for her part-time fill-in receptionist job at Woodmore Associates, PC. Attorney Neil Woodmore had allowed his regular receptionist to attend morning classes at NorthernVirginiaCommunity College on Wednesdays, so Lottie K earned a few extra bucks, besides her social security checks, by filling in. After a quick bowl of muesli, Lottie reemerged from her home, climbed into her green Nissan Sentra, and headed off to work.

Unbeknownst to Lottie, someone was watching her every move. From the moment she emerged from her house, to the moment two minutes later when she started her car and pulled out of her driveway, eyes were focused on her.

Eyes watching through the window from inside the master bedroom of 6609 Bynum Drive.

Jesse and Jennifer Kane disembarked their flight at FortLauderdale-HollywoodInternationalAirport at 9:17 a.m. Jesse could not stand planes, and could only tolerate one flight per day. Once they cleared customs, they picked up a Lincoln Navigator at the Avis car rental booth, loaded seven bags of luggage into it, and began the twelve-hour trip up I-75 toward Knoxville, Tennessee. They had been in Haiti for more than two months, and were anxious to get to Jennifer’s parents’ house to reunite with their kids.

“Slow down a bit, honey,” Jennifer said to her husband, watching as the roadside palm trees whizzed by so fast, she could barely count them.

“Sorry,” Jesse said, braking gently until the vehicle speed gauge read seventy. His voice was deep and smooth, like a balm. “I’m trying to get there before it gets too late. I don’t want the kids waiting up.”

“Well, they ain’t seen their Ma and Pa since Thanksgiving, so what’s the harm in them staying up a little longer to see us?” Jennifer’s southern twang was proud and prominent. “They ain’t gon’ be able to sleep anyway.”

“I’m more concerned about your parents. By the time the weather girl shows up on the ten o’clock news, they’re passed out. It’s like clockwork. I don’t want the kids keeping them up.”

“Well, I think all parties concerned would be better off if we got there safely, or at least without being pulled over by a FloridaState trooper.”

That was Jennifer, always the voice of reason. It was one reason Jesse married her. The others were her compassion, her soft-spokenness relative to his own, and her passionate faith in God. Jesse cited these reasons whenever Jennifer asked him the question, Why did you marry me? The question came occasionally, usually when Jennifer suffered one of her frequent bouts of insecurity. Why would Jesse, a preacher’s kid and eventual heir to the throne of one of the East Coast’s biggest Pentecostal churches, be interested in Jennifer, the daughter of a manufacturing plant worker and a stock clerk at Hackney’s? With Jesse’s pedigree, he could have married someone worldlier and more sophisticated than Jennifer. Despite Jesse’s frequent displays of love for her, Jennifer felt that he was too good for her.

They met ten years ago, during a Christian financial development conference led by Jesse’s father, Rodereck Kane. The small church that held the conference was booked to capacity within days of the conference being announced on WKCR radio. Jennifer Trudeau was lucky to be able to get three tickets before the closing of registration. She had frequently listened to Rodereck Kane’s national broadcasts, particularly his signature message of living in prosperity. His message resonated with her because she wanted that type of life for herself. Growing up with her parents in Knoxville, they were never quite poor, but were always a paycheck or two from being there. Her dad usually started work the same time her mother got home from work, so she saw her parents together only on weekends. Her parents barely earned enough to pay the mortgage on their three-bedroom rambler on Pelham Park Road. When they paid for groceries and other necessities, there was nothing left over for luxuries such as shopping or a night out at the movies. It was a hardscrabble life that Jennifer had no interest in emulating.

Yet Jennifer so loved her parents that any opportunity she could find to get them out of the house for a night on the town, she would. Since the conference tickets were free, she invited her parents to attend with her. Neither of her parents had been to church much since the days her grandparents dragged them off to church on selected Sundays, and they had little interest in déjà vu. However, since their daughter went through the trouble to obtain the tickets, they agree to attend.

The day of the conference, Jennifer and her parents arrived early and found seats near the front of the auditorium. The conference began with fiery worship and praise for about thirty minutes, then moved to a heartfelt greeting and welcome from the host pastors. About forty-five minutes after the start of the program, Rodereck Kane took the stage. Tall and thin, but not skinny, he led the congregation in an exuberant praise to God. His hands were lifted, his eyes blue and earnest, his crow’s feet barely visible under his makeup, his almost impossibly well-coifed jet-black hair glimmering in the glow of the overhead lights. His voice was strong, with just the right measure of bass to give it a commanding, authoritative vibe. When he launched into his presentation, talking about the spiritual aspects of money, the Trudeaus paid rapt attention.

Midway through his talk, he brought another minister to the stage. Jesse Kane was almost the mirror image of his father, but more muscular and chiseled, revealing he had spent more time in the gym than his father. Jesse Kane gave a testimony about how following his father’s financial principles got him through bankruptcy in his early twenties and needing to give up his first home. During his talk, he looked around the audience and made eye contact with several people, as his father had taught him to do to connect with his audience. When he made eye contact with Jennifer, he no longer looked at anyone else.

Jesse would describe it as divine providence that Jennifer Trudeau caught his eye. After all, she was cute, but not remarkably gorgeous. The ends of her blond hair brushed her shoulders, and a slight run of barely noticeable freckles ran from cheek to cheek. Her bangs hung like a valance above her dark brown eyes, and she wore no jewelry or makeup–not even lipstick. She was model slender, but not skinny, and she wore a simple cream-colored blouse and blue jeans. She bore a striking contrast to a few of the other women seated in the first two rows. These women were dressed to the nines, complete with short three-figure skirts, legs crossed and heels dangling from well-manicured feet, décolletages slightly restrained and respectable for church but still prominently on display. These women were on the prowl for financially secure single ministers who were lonely and looking for love, and Jesse seemed to fit the bill. Jesse was financially secure, was the director of evangelism and missions at his father’s church, Harvest of Righteousness Fellowship of Manassas, Virginia. He was not lonely, but he was looking for love. That day, during the final leg of his several minute testimony, he could not keep his eyes off Jennifer, though she was the plainest looking woman at the front of the church.

The only thing Jennifer wondered in her mind was, “Why is he looking at me so much?”

She would find out when, after the service was over, Jesse scrambled his way past several well-wishers to catch up with Jennifer, who was about to leave with her parents. They would only chat for a couple of minutes, while her mother stood by watching, and while dad went to get the car. It was enough time for him to tell her that he wanted to get to know her a little better. She would say, nonchalantly, “I’m not interested.” Nevertheless, it was okay. Jesse would not press. After all, if God had meant for the two of them to be together, God would make it happen.

Divine providence came again when Jennifer’s mother, under the guise of having forgotten her cell phone, returned to the church, found Jesse greeting other guests, and gently interrupted him. Sammie Trudeau gave Jesse a piece of paper with Jennifer’s cell number written on it, and said only, “Call her. She’s a little shy, but she’ll warm up to you.” Then she left as abruptly as she arrived. Sammie was not normally in the business of playing matchmaker, but she knew a good catch when she saw one. At the time, she had been married to her husband for twenty-two years, and they were married a year after Jennifer was born. Their marriage had their fluctuations, but she knew that Harlan Trudeau was a good man, and she would not trade him for all the tea in China.

As Sammie suggested, Jesse called Jennifer, and Jennifer immediately bucked. Fifty things went through her mind. Why would this proper gentleman be interested in me? On what level can I relate to him? What do we have in common? She hoped he was not one of those rich men who liked to slum it in the ghetto, searching out chicks with no profile, pedigree, or connections, have their way with them, and then slip them a few bucks to keep quiet. That was something those rich men could not do to rich socialites, not without Wendy Williams talking about it on TV the next day.

Jennifer decided she would humor him. After all, once he got to know the real Jennifer, he would hightail it in the other direction. She would tell him about her life growing up right next to a trailer park. She would tell him about the time she smoked a joint in Bobby Simons’ rusty Mustang in the Shoney’s parking lot. She would mention that during a two-year period in her life after she graduated from AustinEastHigh School, more guys spent the night on top of her than a Sealy Posturepedic. She fully expected that he would lose her number, like so many other “good” men that had approached her.

Nevertheless, Jesse would not budge. He continued to call her, night after night. Rather than focus on all the negative aspects of her life, he preferred to focus on her life since she accepted Christ. He wanted to talk about her goals, and her aspirations and what God was doing with her. He spent many hours listening to her talk about her parents, her grandparents, her aunts, her uncles, her cousins. He wanted to talk about her life growing up as an only child, since she he was also one. He even confessed a few sins of his own as a teenager growing up in suburban Virginia, including the time he passed out after winning a drinking game at a college party, and several occasions of lying. He also spoke candidly about his father’s divorcing his mom when he was eighteen years of age. The confessions removed his “golden boy” sheen, but humanized him in Jennifer’s eyes.

After two years of dating, they were married in a small Baptist church in downtown Knoxville. It was a wedding attended mostly by the relatives of the bride and groom, along with a few select friends. Rodereck Kane officiated over the wedding, mostly to keep up appearances. Still, deep inside, he loathed his son’s choice of a wife. He would have preferred Jesse to marry one of the bourgeois “well-bred” single women at his church. He did not care if Jesse married pretty or ugly, black or white, thin or fat, if she had a pedigree that was in keeping with a successful minister. With Jennifer’s past involving drug use and promiscuity, she did not have a dog in that fight. Rodereck was glad that at least Jesse insisted that Jennifer get a blood test before they married.

They were riding past Valdosta, Georgia when Jesse’s cell chirped out “Amazing Grace” at twice the normal beat. Jennifer grabbed his phone from the armrest compartment and checked the caller ID.

“Who is it?” Jesse asked, his attention never wavering from the road.

“Says unknown number,” Jennifer replied. She pushed the answer button and held the phone to her ear. “Hello?”

She heard about five seconds of silence before she heard a click. She again looked at the phone display and, confirming the call was disconnected, placed the phone on the seat beside her. “Probably one of your girlfriends callin’ you,” she said.

Jesse scoffed, knowing that Jennifer was only joking. He also knew that she had never completely let go of a slight belief that he was receiving clandestine telephone calls from other women. Nonetheless, he had to reassure her.

“Honey, I would never cheat on you. You know that,” Jesse told her.

“Really?” Jennifer’s voice was challenging. “How do I know that? How do you know that? Everyone that’s ever cheated on their spouse at one time said, ‘I will never cheat on you.’ How do I know that statement is valid?”

“Would you feel better if I told you that, statistically, there’s an 80 percent chance that I will cheat on you?” Jesse said, quoting a statistic that he read in some blog.

“No, but at least I know you were living in reality.”

“And what is that reality? Believe that one day I will cheat on you?” Jesse said. “No. I don’t like impure thoughts like that. I prefer to focus my mind on what I need to do, and that’s be completely faithful to you, no matter what stats say.”

“Well, I thought that since you’re a chip off the old block . . .”

That statement angered Jesse so much that he pulled off to the side of the road in front of a shopping mall. He firmly placed the car in park and looked at Jennifer intently.

“Jennifer, we’ve been around about this for years now.” Jesse’s glare was angry yet reassuring. “I adore my father, but I am not him. He made a choice. I don’t have to make the same choice. There’s no cheating DNA running around in my body. If anything, the way my pop hurt my mom, I would rather do anything than subject you to that kind of experience.”

Jennifer stared straight ahead. The vroom of cars whizzing by punctuated the silence.

“Jen?”

She turned to him, searching his eyes.

“I love you. I wish you would believe that.”

“I do believe that,” Jennifer said. “Growing up hard makes you skeptical, I guess.” She grabbed the phone from her seat and placed in back into the armrest compartment. “I should never have answered your phone. I need to trust you.”

“I don’t mind you answering my phone.” Jesse put the car in drive and edged back onto I-75. “That’s only because I have nothing to hide.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” Jennifer leaned toward him and gently stroked his forearm. “Let me make it up to you. There’s a Hampton Inn we just passed. Let’s turn around.”

Jesse smiled. “What about the kids?”

“I’ll call ma and tell her we’re gonna stop at a hotel, and we’ll be at their house tomorrow morning. We ain’t have much time to spend together in Haiti, so this may be the last hurrah before we get the kids and head back home.”

“Yeah.” Jesse took the next exit so he could cloverleaf to the other side of the highway. “But I, for one, cannot wait to get back home. I look forward to sleeping in my own bed.”

***

Connect with us at Dove Christian Publishers for more information about this publication.

Getting beyond “church as usual”

Getting beyond "Church as "Usual"

Many Protestant churches in D.C. follow the same mode: gather on Sundays for clergy-led worship, stay about two to three hours, and then go home.  For most of the worshipers, church is finished for the week. Their religious obligation is complete. Back to their regular lives.

Rinse. Repeat.

However, I know of at least two congregations in the D.C. area that have taken enormous leaps and bounds away from the traditional, institutional church model (I may, with their permission, profile one of these congregations in a future blog). To the casual observer, these churches may appear to be strange, even heretical. In fact, they are far from heretical (although I admit they are strange, in the sense that they are unusual expressions of the church in the D.C. area), and are wholly committed to preaching the gospel of Jesus and affecting lives in the city.

These congregations gather for worship as a corporate body on Sundays, usually late in the afternoon. They own no building, and are likely not interested in owning one. They meet in rented school buildings or office buildings. Their services are usually short, between an hour and two. In addition, unlike many congregations in D.C., one would be hard-pressed to find anyone wearing a suit or a fancy church hat (a casual shirt and jeans are more commonplace).

What is most striking is that, for them, church does not end there. In fact, it is just the beginning. An essential part of their worship is community groups that gather weekly in various homes around the D.C. area. These gatherings are the continuation of worship that occurs on Sundays.  In these meetings, they pray, they praise God, they sing, they eat, they study the Bible, they might even play a game or discuss an impactful movie or TV show. But they do not exist just to have meetings. Each group has a mission, unique depending on the neighborhood, to impact the community and the culture through the gospel. These meetings are the personification of fellowship and community, and closely mirror the model of church presented in the Acts of the Apostles.

No doubt, these congregations have broken from tradition and are hewing more closely to the New Testament model of church. And just what is that model? Pastor J. Todd Kingrea, in his new book, “Carrying on the Mission of Jesus: Rediscovering the mission, identity and purpose of the church,” takes the reader through a series of devotionals that cover the entire book of Acts. His premise is that the modern day church has been largely operating on the wrong model for 1,800 years and that God is calling the church back to the model and purpose of the New Testament church.

“I decided to write this book because I have seen too many churches merely existing for their own sake,” says Kingrea, an elder in the United Methodist Church. “They have lost their identity.  The only mission they seem to have is institutional maintenance and the status quo.  Churches are rapidly dying because they are not fulfilling their biblical mandate.  I want to cause people to stop and think–seriously–about their own church when compared to what we see in Acts.”

Certainly Kingrea’s book is not the first-and likely not the last-book to challenge the modern-day church to excellence. But Kingrea has a unique message to share with readers in the United Methodist Church. “They have lost their identity.  The only mission they seem to have is institutional maintenance and the status quo.  Churches are rapidly dying because they are not fulfilling their biblical mandate.  I want to cause people to stop and think–seriously–about their own church when compared to what we see in Acts.”

Cover of Carrying on the Mission of Jesus: Rediscovering the mission, identity and purpose of the church
Carrying on the Mission of Jesus, available on Amazon.com and B&N.

“I hope my readers will be challenged to evaluate their own church life and practice,” he says. “I would like to see more churches begin moving away from a social or cultural expression of Christianity, and reclaim the essence and biblical principles of the church in Acts.  It’s time today’s church stopped being little more than a social gather with some religion sprinkled on top of it.”

The book and its message have been getting rave reviews from congregations Kingrea is connected to, as well as glowing reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, including one who proclaims the book as “one of the best Christian books I have read.” Although Kingrea has no direct connection with the churches mentioned above, his book is proof positive that God is calling churches to think deeply about their operations. It is poised to start a movement of churches who reject tradition and return to doing “church” the way God intended. As Kingrea points out in his book, he prays, “this book will enhance your spiritual growth, and that God will begin a revitalization movement within your church…that you may transform the world outside your doors, and bring glory to God the Father!”

Purchase Carrying on the Mission of Jesus

The Key to Happiness for Introverts

The Key to Happiness for IntrovertsI recently ran across two articles that discuss the traits of introverts as opposed to extroverts. As an introvert and the author of a book about introversion in the church, I was very interested in these articles. However, upon reading them, it became clear to me that the first article (How an Introvert Can Be Happier), presented a very misinformed view of introverts, while the second (The Church Lady blog. Can Introverts Handle an Extroverted Church Service?) expresses what I believe is God’s heart toward the introvert.

The reason I believe the WSJ article is misinformed is because it vaguely suggests that extroverts have a lock on happiness, and that introverts need to get with the extroversion program in order to be happy. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, many introverts, including myself, were confused and miserable trying to act like extroverts in order to fit in to an extroverted society. When I realized who I was and the mold in which God created me, I ceased striving to be something that I wasn’t. My impression is that the root of unhappiness springs from the desire to be someone other than who God created us to be.  We become unhappy trying to achieve a destiny other than that which God prescribes.

Not surprisingly, the WSJ article promotes a worldly view of what it takes to be happy. Follow the status quo. Do whatever is popular and successful. That is why so many people, especially young people, imitate and emulate popular athletes and entertainers. After all, don’t famous entertainers always appear to be happy and successful, even though it isn’t necessarily so?

The eight beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12 prescribes to the Christian the recipe for happiness. According to Wikipedia, the term beatitude comes from the Latin adjective beātitūdō which means happy, fortunate, or blissful. True happiness does not come from emulating others at the expense of ourselves, but it comes to those who are poor in spirit; those who mourn; those who are meek; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; those who are merciful; those who are pure in heart; those who are peacemakers; and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. These are qualities which are exclusive neither to the introvert nor to the extrovert, but to those who love God and obey his word.

Introverts, as well as extroverts, are fearfully and wonderfully made. The key to happiness is to realize that we are His, and that we are nothing unless we are adhering to His plan for our lives. And that plan involves recognizing whose we are, as well as who we are.

Louis N. Jones
Author of Wallflowers in the Kingdom: A Vindication of Introverts in the Body of Christ
www.louisnjones.com

Tragedies in America – Understanding God when we don’t understand

Struggling with tragedies as a ChristianOnce again, tragedy has struck America.

On May 20, a category EF5 tornado ripped through Moore, Oklahoma, a town with a population of just over 55,000 people. The tornado killed at least 24 people, including 10 children, and injured more than 353 others. This happen just over a month after the bombings of the Boston marathon, and a little more than five months after the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

As a Christian, I struggle with these tragedies. Like many others around the country, I watched with dismay the news coverage of these events. I witnessed the indescribable grief suffered by the families of those killed, and I prayed for them. But I also struggled to understand.

With the Boston Marathon bombings and the Sandy Hook shootings, there were people to blame. Human beings were directly responsible. Hatred, pity, disgust, and in some cases, prayers could be directed to them. We could reconcile these tragedies by attributing them to “crazy people.” We could, if we chose to do so, redirect our anger to the creation of more effective gun laws, or more accessible mental health treatment, or better security at schools and public events.

But who do we blame for a tornado tragedy? What legislation will satiate the effects of a natural disaster?

Many will blame God.  Even I, as a devout, experienced Christian, found myself struggling to understand why God would allow the taking of so many lives, especially ten innocent children or, in the case of Sandy Hook, twenty innocent children. What justice or goodness could be achieved by allowing such disasters?

These questions represent a crossroads for many of us. At this point, some Christian believers, unable to reconcile their belief in a good and loving God with such horrible events, will move down the path toward agnosticism and atheism.  If they continue to “believe” in Jesus, there is an overarching hostility toward Him, and a blatant refusal to acknowledge Him in devotion and worship. This is the point where our faith in God can be strenuously tested.

As I write this, I do not know why God allowed such events to happen. Maybe it is not for me to know. Mankind often has such an insatiable quest of knowledge that it discomforts us to realize that we cannot and do not know everything. Only God is omniscient. And my faith in Him demands that though I may not know or understand everything that God does, I still have to trust Him and believe that He has our best interest at heart. God has a purpose and a plan for us. Sometimes that is hard to swallow in the wake of such terrible events. We want to know. We want to understand. We want to make sense out of something that is senseless. But Romans 11:33 reminds us, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” In the spiritual realm is wisdom and purpose far beyond our limited and finite understanding.

I pray for the families of the victims of the tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, and for the families of all the tragedies that have occurred in this country over the past year. I don’t know the purpose behind which they grieve. Some will say that God is trying to get America’s attention. Others will say that it is the sign of the last days. But whatever it is, my faith is still undeterred. God is still in control. He is still a good and loving God. Even when it seems like He isn’t.

Louis N. Jones, Author and Publisher
Dove Christian Publishers
www.dovechristianpublishers.com

Is it appropriate to refer to church abuse and spiritual abuse as rape?

Church abuse guide, "I've Been Raped by a Church."I have received some interesting and controversial comments about one of the new books that Conquest Publishers recently released. The book is entitled, “I’ve Been Raped by a Church: A Christian Recovery Guide for the Wounded.” The book chronicles author Vicky Lynch’s experiences with church pastoral abuse and gives biblical how-to advice to the reader about dealing with it.

The comments focused mostly on the title of the book (one person commented without even reading the book). The gist of the comments is that the use of the word “rape” in the title is troubling, especially since the book is not discussing sexual rape that takes place in church.

It is true that the commonly accepted meaning of the word “rape” is forcible sexual assault, an act that is violent, unwarranted, illegal, and causes physical and psychological harm. However, the spiritual and psychological damage that can occur with pastoral and church abuse is just as devastating as sexual rape, and gives credence to the use of the word “rape” as a metaphor for church abuse.

In some churches, the pastor or bishop is purported to be the representative of God in the life of that local assembly. The pastor may be just as vital to the local church as the pope is to the Catholic church. Church members often greatly honor, highly respect, and unequivocally trust their pastor. The pastor becomes heavily invested in the lives of his or her members, and vice versa. On matters of spiritual significance, the pastor becomes the final authority. The pastor becomes like a parent to them, and they like sons and daughters to the pastor. The pastor may not be God, but to local church members, he or she is about as close as you can get.

There are many church pastors who have this level of influence over their flock, and they use it with humility, govern in love, and seek only to bring their members into the potential that God has for them. But there are others who, unwittingly or not, use this influence to abuse and misuse their members. And because of the spiritual and psychological connection that exists between the pastor and church members, such abuse can —and often is—just as damaging as the spiritual and mental effects of sexual rape.

One can argue that an abused church member can always voluntarily leave the church, and thus avoid the abuse, while a rape victim does not have that choice. But abused church members often find it difficult to leave. Members that are heavily connected to their pastors often believe that God is speaking through them, and if they leave, they are dishonoring the pastor, and consequentially, dishonoring God. So, they will subject themselves to this dysfunctional relationship, believing that God will punish them if they sever the bond. For devout Christians who live each day to love and serve God, leaving the church and God’s representative is not an option. It is as if the pastor is holding a figurative gun to their heads and demanding that they stay, or else.

Therefore, as shocking and pointed as the word “rape” is, I believe the word is appropriate to describe the experience of a church member who has been subject to an unloving and abusive pastor and those who support that pastor. What do you think?

Louis N Jones
louisnjones.com

Are Christian Online Dating Sites the Will of God?

Are Christian dating sites the will of God?Recently I saw a TV commercial for a popular online dating site that is geared toward Christian singles. When I pulled up the site on the Internet, the home page included a Scripture quotation and makes an appeal to the viewer to “Find God’s Match for you.” A further examination of this site reveals that it is owned by a company that has several niche dating sites, including one for Jewish singles, and others for black singles and military singles. The Christian site includes a statement of faith, presumably for those who sign up, and tips for Christian dating.

There’s no denying the success of the site.  It claims to have more than 2,000,000 registered members and growing.  The site and its TV commercials include testimonials from those who have found their ideal mates through use of the site. And it includes endorsements from several pastors and ministers from around the country.

Obviously the site has gone through great lengths to present itself as a legitimate resource for online Christian socializing and dating.  The question is, are these online sites Biblical? Can God really use an online dating site to help a Christian man or woman find their mate for life? Can the will of God be realized through internet personals?

Critics of online dating sites say that using them reflects a lack of faith in God.  If you use an online dating site (also called online personals) to filter through a waiting pool of potential mates, are you truly trusting and believing in God?

There appear to be two extreme points of view when it comes to dating and marriage.  One is that all you need to do is trust in and believe in God, and seek to please Him, and do not worry about finding a wife, and one day it will happen. Maybe you will run into your future spouse in a supermarket, totally by accident. The scripture in Matthew 6:25-34 seems to support this view.

Conversely, there are those who believe that a high level of effort and searching are necessary to find a spouse. After all, doesn’t the scripture say, “He who finds a wife, finds a good thing” (Proverbs 18:22)?

Godly wisdom suggests the need to find a middle ground between these two extremes. Yes, it is necessary to trust and believe in God for your mate, but you may have to apply a certain degree of effort and searching in order to be successful at finding a mate.

Going as far back as Abraham’s effort to find his son Isaac a mate in Genesis 24, and continuing to this day, God has been very involved with mate selection, so finding one must always be done in a Godly manner and in accordance with faith and trust in Him. You must use Holy Spirit discernment as to the “where” and “how” you search for a mate. In Genesis 24, Abraham gave his servant direction as to where to search for a wife for his son Isaac. He told him not to look in the land of Canaanites, whom Noah previously placed a curse upon, but in Abraham’s own land and among his own relatives (v. 4). When Abraham’s servant had arrived near the spring in the town of Nahor, he prayed that the Lord would reveal to him the woman whom He had chosen for Isaac (vv.12-14). God led the steps of Abraham’s servant directly to the place, at the proper time, for him to meet the woman whom God had already set aside for Isaac. But it would have never happened if Abraham did not take the initiative to find a wife for his son.  And Isaac might never have met Rebekah if Abraham’s servant did not obey his master and go to the place where God had the blessing awaiting.

In modern times, Christian singles meet and date through church, at social events, in the marketplace, through friends and relatives, and at work. Online dating sites provide a meeting place for single Christians who may be too busy or too introverted to meet people through traditional means. However, just as a Christian must use spiritual discernment (Galatians 5:16) to determine which social events to attend, whom to socialize with at work, and which church to attend, the same discernment must be applied with online dating sites. While these sites are not sinful in and of themselves, they can be harmful for those who are functioning outside of God’s guidance. These sites can present a “quick fix” for immature Christians who have become impatient waiting on God’s blessing, and want to take the matter into their own hands.  They provide a way for lonely Christians to quickly and, with minimal effort, become linked with someone who is interested in them, even if God is not ready for them to take on a mate just yet.

On the other hand, sites like this may be perfect for introverts who do not get out much and may have trouble meeting people of the opposite sex. For those who are busy and have minimal opportunities to socialize, online dating sites may provide a means for them to meet people who could potentially become mates. But before you access any online dating site, make sure you consider the following:

Make sure you are spiritually, mentally, and financially ready for dating. Many people want mates. Unfortunately, not everyone is ready for them. Dating and marriage carry responsibilities that not everyone is prepared for. A person that is not fortified in the Lord may be subject to sexual temptation, financial temptation and other harmful vices. Just because a person is a Christian does not mean that the person has the attributes and character of an ideal mate. A person may use an online dating site to circumvent God’s redemptive work at getting the person ready for the mate of his or her choosing.

Bathe the matter in much prayer, and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Even if you decide that online dating is God’s will for you, make sure you use Godly discernment throughout the process.

Make sure you are not doing this with purely selfish motives. Do not bow to impatience, loneliness, lust, low self-esteem, the belief that you will never find a mate, or the “ticking of the biological clock,” all of which often leads people to these sites.

As with many things in life, online dating sites can be a blessing to those who were meant to use them and use them properly, but can be destructive to others. Unless you are absolutely certain you are being led by God to connect with someone through online personals sites, stay clear of them and focus on your own relationship with God. Fellowship with other believers. Be diligent and watchful, and God will bless you with a mate in due time. Believe Proverbs 3:5-6, which reads, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.” Your circumstances are no reason to step outside of God’s will for your life. God is not limited by your circumstances. In the middle of your busy-ness, God can send you a mate. Even if you are not the life of the party, God can cause you to be a shining gem in the eyes of a future spouse.

In time, God will lead you to your prince or princess charming.

Louis N. Jones
www.dovechristianpublishers.com