If you want to know what the face of forgiveness looks like, just take a glance at the face of Rev. Johannes Christian. Now…be warned: it’s a horribly disfigured face…one that has required approximately 40 reconstructive surgeries in the past decade.
But his is literally the face of forgiveness, nonetheless.
In the summer of 2001, Johannes’ life was really moving in the right direction. He had just completed his doctoral degree, his children were in college, and he was finally able to make ministry his full-time job at the Adoration and Peace Baptist Church that he had founded. But all that bitterly changed on a routine drive home to Columbus, Ohio along Interstate 70.
Standing above the freeway at one of the interstate’s junctions near Springfield was a teenager named Jacob McNary. The boy had a grapefruit-sized rock in his hand and he threw it over the railing at Christian’s passing car. The rock smashed through the windshield and struck Johannes in the face breaking every bone in his head.
In the aftermath of the unprovoked attack, Johannes was left blind in both eyes, horribly disfigured, and in need of dozens of costly surgeries. It was fairly amazing that he even survived the catastrophe.
But even more amazing, still, is what the blinded pastor did for the teenager who so terribly disfigured him. He visited the prison where McNary had been sentenced to 12 years for attempted murder and offered his forgiveness to the young man.
Here is an excerpt from an interview Rev. Christian had with journalist John Campanelli:
I was angry. I vacillated between anger and confusion. No way have I ever been a perfect person, but I’ve strived to be a righteous individual most of my life. I am a Christian. That doesn’t mean I didn’t do anything wrong, so don’t get that impression. But I never did anything that would equate having such a horrific incident happen in my life. I was confused.
I knew Scripture. And so I was quoting the scriptures “by His stripes we are healed.” He could heal the blind and He healed the lepers and He healed the lame, so I’m just going to sit here because He is going to heal me, too. None of that was working…. When the Scripture says, “Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” I knew that God was saying I needed to forgive Jacob.
Forgiveness is not holding malice in my heart against him for his actions. As far as I’m concerned, I have wiped that slate clean. So he’s forgiven. But part of my recovery is that I still have to deal with all of my human emotions. So if I’m shaving and I’m cutting my face up, or my grandchild brings me a paper and says, “Papa, look at this!”…the frustration that’s there has nothing to do with Jacob anymore. I’m not going to be angry with him. People say, “Jacob got only 12 years. Was that enough?” You know, if he had gotten 100, I’d still be blind, so what difference would it make?
I’d written [of my forgiveness] to him in letters. But I thought it was important that I could say it to him and that he could know that I meant it from the depths of my heart. He’s always said he’s not worthy of it, that he’d trade places with me if he could. That’s impossible. So I said, “Jacob, the best thing you can do is to be the best person you can be from this day forward.” I believe he tries to do just that.
[The accident] has been a real blessing…. I’ve been on eight world mission trips, all over the world. I’ve spoken in Africa, South America, Central America, England. I’ve spoken all over this country. What a blessing.
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(Resource categorized by David R Smith)