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Who’s Your Neighbor?

I walked out of my hotel this morning and immediately saw the message on the sign for the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in Manhattan.  The question begs an answer, especially when considering the sad and tragic events in Charleston this week.
I worry sometimes that we become numb to the repeated senseless murders in our country.  They often seem to incite even more hate as they play out over and over in the media, until the next big news event comes along.  
The nine deaths in the old, historic Emmanuel AME Church, while no less senseless or tragic, have had a different effect on people throughout this country.  The actions of the families, the church, and the Charleston community have inspired people and given us hope.  
Our own community was directly touched by these lives taken too soon.  Part of the family of one those slain gathered at a community prayer vigil at Live Oak A.M.E. Church this past Sunday at 7:30 in the morning.  It was a call to pray for that family, church, Charleston and for the lost soul who was so filled with hate at such an early age.
It was also a call to pray for our own community; that we may be an example to others as well.
The church slowly began to fill up 20 minutes before the start of the service.  Sitting in the second row, I wasn’t aware until the service was over that the sanctuary was full.  
It was filled by black and white citizens, young and old, bound by their common love of Christ and their love of this community.  After all, in a small town like this, we are all neighbors, regardless of our color, our gender, our age, or our social status.  On Judgment Day, we will all stand before the same God, accountable for our actions, just like Dylann Roof will have to do.  
Frankly, watching the families of those killed address the killer directly during the bond hearing and state their forgiveness was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. They asked God to have mercy on the person that had taken their loved ones from them.  I have asked myself several times if I would have it in my heart to do that while the wounds were so raw.   
If you weren’t at the community service, you missed a true blessing.  Good music, song and prayer.  Shaking hands, hugging necks, and reacquainting ourselves with our neighbors.  The common message was that while we may not understand, God is still in control.   
It was a message that through it all we can still have praise in our heart.  We left knowing the truth and comfort given by the words of an old song;” All Day, All Night, Angels Keep Watching Over Me.”  
It is hard to fathom what good can come out of such a horrible event.  All I know, is that on a hot, muggy Sunday morning, with the gnats already in full force, hundreds in this community gathered together.  It gave me hope and comfort.  It made me proud to call this place home.  Perhaps best of all, it made me want to know more about my neighbor.  Who’s your neighbor?
Dan Ponder can be reached at

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