Worth it

His job was his mission field—and the site of a shooting that killed three and injured 14

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Photo: Getty Images
Psalm 5:3 says, “Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly” (NLT).

It was a Sunday morning in December 2015 or January 2016 during our church’s prayer time that I asked for prayer that God would open new doors at my workplace for me to share his love. At the time I worked at Excel Industries, a lawn equipment manufacturing plant in Hesston, Kansas. I wasn’t specific in my request, but my job was my mission field and I wanted to share my faith with others.

I have failed in many ways, and if it weren’t for the forgiveness given to me through Jesus Christ, I would have no hope. Anything good that shines through me is but a reflection of God’s goodness. I have struggled with doubt in many areas, but I have never doubted that God exists. I wanted to share this hope with others.

I grew up in a Christian home. My parents took my two brothers and me to church every Sunday. We learned about God and his love for us. We let it sink in, as much as kids can anyway. My brothers and I accepted Christ at a young age. But as our parents struggled to keep their marriage together, I had my own struggles which included anger, depression and pornography. When our mom finally left, it tore a large hole in our lives. My brothers and I each struggled with our parents’ divorce for many years. I never felt anger toward my mom. Instead, I directed my anger toward myself and others.

I got married soon after high school and our son was born in 2007. I love my son very much, but for some reason his crying (and many other sounds that people make) got to me like nails on a chalkboard. I’m not at all proud of the way I reacted, but I did try to get help through therapy.

At one session, knowing full well what a therapist’s responsibilities are, I told my therapist that I was concerned I might harm my son. That led to court appearances and a permanent scar on my record. Later, my son had a head injury while I was taking care of him, and because of my past, I lost my parental rights for seven years until the State Supreme Court reversed that decision. By the time I could be a real part of his life again, my wife and son had moved to Denver. While my wife always believed that I didn’t hurt our son, our marriage had ended for other reasons.

I remarried in 2013 and it was several years later when I was a supervisor in the Excel weld shop that I made my prayer request.

I worked the second shift and had been at work just a couple hours on Feb. 25, 2016, when I heard someone yell what I heard as “fire.” As I was making sure people were getting out of the building, I came across a coworker, Cedric Ford, who was calmly walking. I yelled at him to get out and turned to point to an exit.

When I looked at Cedric again, he looked confused. He hesitated and then he raised an assault rifle and shot me. I saw the gun flash, and I felt two rounds hit my chest, one hit my arm and another hit my leg. In that moment I instantly knew two things. I knew I was going to be okay, and I knew I had to run.

As I ran, I panicked, thinking of my wife and the baby we just found out a week earlier we were going to have. When I got to the overhead door, I felt peace wash over me. I use the words “wash over me” specifically because it started at the top of my head and the warmth flowed all the way down to my toes.

Although I made it to safety, I learned later that three people were killed. I was one of 14 people Cedric injured in a series of shootings that began in nearby Newton and finished at Excel, where at least 100 people were working at the time. Cedric was killed by a responding police officer.

I was taken to the hospital, and as I was in the ER waiting for a CT scan, I replayed what happened. Why wasn’t I dead? Was there a logical explanation? Maybe when I turned to point to the exit, I didn’t turn back the way I remembered, and the bullets just grazed my chest.

But then a doctor came in and, talking to a nurse, pointed at my chest. This, he said, was where the bullet entered, pointing to the wound closest to my heart and on the left side over my lung. And this (the wound just to the left of that on my side) was the exit. Then he pointed to the wound closest to my heart on the right over my other lung and said it was where the second bullet entered and the wound just to the right of that on my side was where it exited.

That blew me away. There was no way for that to happen! When I asked the doctor how that could be, he said I must have turned. There was not enough time between those shots for me to move both to the right and then the left, I told him. The doctor was convinced I must have turned, but I didn’t accept that. It was a God thing. A coworker caught a glimpse of something near me in the weld shop that I believe was an angel, and my mom had a vision of an angel protecting me.

The fact that I am sharing this story is a miracle. I don’t know how much you know about rounds shot from an AK 47, but I learned that those rounds don’t care what part of your body is in the way; they keep going. The way they hit me should have killed me.

Later in the hospital, as I was being interviewed by a local reporter, I said something that surprised even me. The TV reporter asked how I felt about Cedric. All I could get out, with a huge lump in my throat, was “My heart breaks for him.”

I forgave Cedric. He is not an enemy; he is a casualty. Our enemy is not flesh and blood. With all the wrong that I have done in my life, why would I not extend to Cedric the same forgiveness granted to me?

Even today I have hope for Cedric. Why? Because God knows Cedric’s heart better than anyone. If at one point in his life Cedric accepted Jesus as his Savior, Cedric was in God’s hand when he died. And even though Cedric made all these bad decisions that Thursday, if at some point that day he repented and turned to Jesus, I will see Cedric in heaven.

I have PTSD; sometimes I can still feel the thump of the bullets hitting my chest. While it is likely I will have to deal with these affects for the rest of my life, it has gotten easier as time moves on. I truly believe forgiving Cedric and letting go played a large role in the healing process spiritually, emotionally and physically.

When I returned to work, I moved from the weld shop to assembly, a change I would not have made except for the shooting. Through this move and others that followed at Excel, God opened doors to befriend people I would have never been close to. I have been given a chance to tell others of the forgiveness that is offered freely to each of us because Jesus has already paid the price. If just one person has been saved for Christ, then it is all worth it.

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