I forgive you’ are probably three of the most difficult words in the English language to say. To forgive someone who has wronged you isn’t an easy thing to do. As Christians, we know this is what Jesus would have us do, but it can be a very difficult thing. That’s why I was so captivated by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo’s story of forgiveness in The Devil in Pew Number Seven. I’m so glad a friend suggested I read this true story of a family’s persecution in 1970s America.
Before Rebecca was born, her father became the pastor at a small church in Sellerstown, North Carolina. The small, rural community should have been a happy place for a child to grow up, but it turned out to be something quite different. When her father took over the pastorate at the church, he and his wife poured their lives into ministering to the people in the community. Soon the church was growing, and the old ways of doing things were changing. This didn’t set well with Mr. H.J. Watts, a wealthy man in town, who had practically been in control of the church for years even though he wasn’t a member. As he began to lose his power, he became obsessed with his mission to rid the community of the man who had dared defy him.
For the next seven years he orchestrated a campaign of terror and violence against the family that seems unbelievable. It started with anonymous phone calls and warnings and escalated to dynamite explosions of home and property. Gunshots to the house and the car occurred regularly. And always Mr. Watts was nearby watching the aftermath. While Rebecca’s father hung on with determination that God, not the devil, would remove him from his church, he taught his children to forgive. The climax came when an armed man invaded the Nichols’ home one night and wounded Rev. Nichols and murdered his wife in front of Rebecca and her brother. Rebecca’s father passed away a few years later with problems related to his ordeal.
As I read this story, I thought of how I sometimes find it difficult to forgive. Yet when Rebecca received a call from Mr. Watts years later telling her he had repented and wanted her forgiveness, she was able to tell him she had forgiven him long ago. If you are struggling with a wrong someone has inflicted on you, I recommend you read this book. It will remind you of Jesus’s words when He was on the cross—“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”