Pastor Larry Wright was in the middle of a New Year’s Eve sermon about “senseless deaths” in his community, when a man with a rifle walked into his church in eastern North Carolina, as reported by CNN.
A gunman in his late 20s entered Heal the Land Outreach Ministries with a rifle in one hand and a loaded ammunition clip in the other. The pastor, a former Army staff sergeant, thought the gun was a fake until he noticed the glint of the bullets in the clip.
“I’m the first person to see him and when I saw him, I thought it was a dummy gun, but then I saw the bullet clip in his hand and the bullets were shining.”
The pastor then walked through the church to meet the gunman halfway. Wright, who is 6-foot-2 and weighs 270-pounds, indicated that he had planned to take the man down if things were to get violent.
When the pastor reached the gunman, he only asked, “Can I help you?” Instead of getting violent, the gunman asked Wright if he would pray for him.
The pastor immediately took the rifle and handed it to a deacon. Then, four deacons embraced the gunman to make him feel welcome.
“And then I began to minister to him and pray to him and talk with him.”
After that, the pastor decided that he wanted to finish the service and do an altar call. He brought the gunman to the front of the church and sat him down.
“I finished the message, I did the altar call and he stood right up, came up to the altar, and gave his life to Christ. I came down and prayed with him and we embraced. It was like a father embracing a son.”
At one point during the service, the police were called and arrived on the scene. The pastor asked that they wait outside so that he could finish his sermon.
“I didn’t want to interrupt the service.”
The Fayetteville Observerreports that out of the 60 people in attendance, only one person, a pregnant woman, left the church during the incident.
When the service ended, the pastor whispered to the gunman that police were waiting for him in the vestibule of the church. The gunman then asked if he could speak to the startled congregation.
He started out by apologizing to the congregation, then said that he had planned to something bad that night. The man said that before he did, however, the Lord spoke to him and told him to go to church.
A 67-year-old deacon, Sylvester Loving, said that the pastor was speaking of gun violence in other churches when the gunman walked in.
“I think that night the spirit of God was definitely in the place.”
The pastor confirmed that the rest of the congregation was in high spirits after the incident.
“It’s so hard to describe, to explain the excitement and love of God in the room. This man came in to do harm and he has given his life to Christ.”
Reportedly, the gunman was seen pacing and acting anxious in front of the church before walking in at 11:40 p.m.
Police took the gunman, who has not yet been identified, to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center. Lt. David McLaurin said he had been taken to the center at his request as a voluntary commitment.
The pastor indicated that he never received the man’s full name, but he intended to keep in contact with him to make sure he’s doing okay.
The pastor said the gunman had recently been released from prison, and had recently married.
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