The scene had all the makings of yet another tragedy. Twenty-year-old Michael Hill walked into the Ronald E. McNair Learning Academy in Decatur, Georgia, armed with an AK-47, 500 rounds of ammunition, and, in his words, “nothing to live for.”
Yet events in Decatur didn’t turn into another Newtown, thanks to the grace of God and a remarkable woman armed only with her faith.
That woman was Antoinette Tuff, the school’s bookkeeper. After Hill took her as a hostage, Tuff acted as the go-between for Hill and the authorities. It was Tuff who relayed Hill’s demands that the police stop using their radios and “stop all movement” or else he would start shooting.
But that’s not all that she did. Tuff started talking to her captor. Specifically, she started talking to him out of her own experience and as a Christian. As she told CNN, “I was just praying ... in the inside of myself and saying ‘God, what do I say now? What do I do now?’ I just kept saying that on the inside because I knew that I had no words to say.”
But she found the words. She referred to Hill as “sir,” “sweetie, and “baby.” She told him that “we’re not going to hate you.” She then went one step further and told him that “I just want you to know I love you, though, OK?”
And she didn’t stop there. Understanding that Hill was a troubled soul — he had actually gone off his psychiatric medication — she shared her own struggles and pain. She told him about her divorce, her disabled son and her own thoughts of suicide, adding that “We all go through something in life. You’re gonna be OK, sweetheart.”
She even offered to walk outside with him if he turned himself in to make sure that the police wouldn’t shoot him.
Through a combination of love, empathy and grace she persuaded Hill to surrender, and then told him that she was proud of him.
After the ordeal, she told the 911 dispatcher who heard and recorded her entire conversation with Hill: “I’ve never been so scared in all the days of my life. Oh, Jesus.”
She told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that part of what helped her was a sermon series her pastor had started on the previous Sunday about being “anchored in the Lord.” In fact, the morning before her encounter with Hill she had started studying what the pastor had to say about being “anchored in the Lord.”
As Cooper told her, “That was good timing of that sermon,” to which she replied, “Very good timing.”
I can’t imagine what she was feeling while Hill pointed a gun at her, and I don’t want to imagine what it would be like to be in her shoes. All I want to do is pray that if I’m ever in such a position that I would respond with a fraction of the grace, love, empathy and courage that Antoinette Tuff did.
The word “hero” gets thrown around pretty promiscuously in our culture. We often use it when what we really mean is “reliable” or even just “celebrity.”
But Antoinette Tuff is the real deal. She is a reminder of what Christian courage looks like: She didn’t need a weapon, just her faith and a willingness to love the unlovable and to share her own pain, failures, and struggles, knowing that the rest was in God’s hands.
Oh Jesus, indeed.
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
Publication date: September 5, 2013