On the morning of June 18, Marcus Stanley drove into work at New Life Outreach International Church in Richmond, Virgina. Like the rest of America, he was reeling from the news that had come out of Charleston, South Carolina, the night before.
Nine people were gunned down, point blank, during a Wednesday night prayer meeting at a church, of all places, the one institution that many Americans still think of as safe.
“I asked God to help me with the feelings I was experiencing toward Dylann Roof,” he said.
Inside New Life Outreach, where Marcus is minister of music, his co-worker was looking at Dylann’s Facebook page. The blond-haired man with the bowl haircut and baby face stared at him from the computer screen. He looked like a mere kid.
“Are you sure that’s him?” Marcus asked his co-worker. “Has he been captured?”
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The pain that had been in Marcus’ heart since he heard the news the night before was now mingling with a sense of apprehension. Dylann Roof was behind the wheel of a car somewhere, most likely driving at a high rate of speed. He was the most wanted man in America at the moment, so it was only a matter of time before he would be captured. And no telling how that would go down. He could be shot in the process. He could die in his sins, with no hope of salvation, and be cast into hell for eternity.
What can I do in this situation to be a light, or a help? Marcus wondered. He was some 400 miles away. There was no time for an hours-long drive. Perhaps Dylann had his smartphone. Marcus began to type, desperately hoping his Facebook message would pop up on Dylann’s phone before he was captured and before Facebook removed the page.
“I don’t know you, but when I searched for your name from the news outlets it led me here. You’re not captured yet, so there is a chance that you might see this message. I don’t look at you with the eyes of hatred, or judge you by your appearance or race, but I look at you as a human being that made a horrible decision to take the lives of nine living and breathing people. …
“You have accomplished nothing from this killing, but planting seeds of pain that will forever remain in the hearts of the families [of those] that lost their lives. If you’re still out there and you have your phone with you … Give your heart to Jesus and confess your sins with a heart of forgiveness. He is the only one that can save your soul and forgive you for the terrible act that you have done. I love you Dylann … even in the midst of the darkness and pain you’ve caused, but more important, HE loves you.”
Then he wrote a prayer of repentance and asked Dylann to repeat the words.
About two hours later, Dylann was apprehended—peacefully.
Marcus’ post gained national attention, but he can’t be certain that it was actually seen by Dylann.
“I like to think he did see it,” Marcus told Decision. “Sometimes with these situations, when something very violent happens, it ends in a tragic way, usually with someone taking their own life or violently standing off with the authorities.”
Throughout the Charleston ordeal, Marcus’ mind kept replaying a horrific night in April 2004, when he was the victim of gun violence.
Having played piano since he was a young boy, he got his big musical break at age 17 and had been traveling for two years. On that particular night, in Baltimore, he was touring with gospel recording artist Damon Little. After the band checked into a hotel, Marcus headed over to a nearby store to buy some late-night snacks. A group of guys on a street corner surrounded him.
“What are you doing out here?” one of them asked.
“Hey, I’m just chilling,” Marcus said.
The man made a comment about Marcus’ cellphone, then he pulled out a .45 caliber pistol, pointed it at him and said, “You have to roll out. You’ve got to roll out!” Then he pulled the trigger.
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When Marcus fell to the ground, the man stood on top of him and shot him seven more times. Miraculously, Marcus was still conscious. He lay very still and held his breath so the shooter would think he was dead. He could hear the men laughing and joking, then he heard tires screeching as they got in the car and drove away.
Marcus managed to call 911, and the emergency operator kept him on the line and alert until emergency help arrived.
“I kept thinking, I’m going to die. And the whole ride to the hospital, I remember hearing the EMT saying, ‘He’s not going to make it.’”
Marcus was in the hospital for several months. He had to learn to walk and play the piano again. Shortly after he was released from the hospital, his best friend, drummer LyDell Honeyblue, was robbed and killed. Police never captured Marcus’ shooter nor the man who killed Honeyblue.
Marcus became bitter and full of rage. “I used the painkillers that I had been put on in the hospital to cover the pain,” he said, “and then when I couldn’t get the painkillers anymore I eventually went to heroin. I was spending two to three hundred dollars a day shooting up heroin.”
The next six years seemed like one very long, dark night. Marcus continued to travel the country, playing for popular recording artists, but his addiction grew deeper.
“I wanted to kill myself, but I didn’t have the strength to do it, so every time I would shoot up, I would just hope that I wouldn’t wake up.”
Marcus had grown up in church, but he had never had a personal relationship with Christ. Finally, at the suggestion of his mom and a good friend, he enrolled in New Life for Youth, a one-year residential program for drug addicts. He had his life-altering encounter with Christ during chapel service the first night.
“I remember falling to the floor crying my eyes out,” he said. “I remember screaming, ‘Jesus, I need you! Help me! I don’t want to live like this no more. I don’t want to be an addict. I don’t want to count the days until I relapse again. I just want to be free. Help me be free.’”
The chains of addiction fell. And Christ gave Marcus a new zeal that night.
“My passion changed from playing the piano to doing everything I could to show people who Jesus is,” he said. When he graduated from the program in 2011, he didn’t go back on the road to play music. He stayed at New Life for Youth as an intake counselor until 2014. Then he moved to Richmond and became the minister of music for New Life Outreach International Church.
As an intake counselor for New Life for Youth, he had been on the front lines helping rescue other men from the bondage of addiction and showing them that they could have freedom in Christ.
And that’s the message he wanted to communicate to Dylann Roof the day after the Charleston shooting.
“When I reached out to Dylann, it was a result of encountering God’s love. I wouldn’t be capable of doing something like that on my own. Sometimes I think, How in the world did God save me? I was once a drug addict. I was a liar. I was a manipulator. I was jacked up.
“Then I remember Christ’s love, and how His love covers a multitude of sins—even the horrible, terrible ones.”
God can save you, too.