By Brian Koonce
VILLA RIDGE – One single word can convey hate, fear or prejudice, but it can also inspire a community of believers to rally around one another and pray.
Rose Hill Missionary Baptist Church was thrust into the spotlight June 2 when the “n-word” was found painted onto a SLOW – CHURCH AHEAD sign about 100 yards from the church.
A 116-year-old African-American church, Rose Hill was the site of a community-wide a prayer service in response to the vandalism June 6. The service focused on repentance and healing of the community in general and was built around 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
“It was a very uplifting and positive time,” said Robert Stevenson, Rose Hill’s pastor. “It wasn’t a time to make things worse, it was time for healing.”
The prayer service was full of people from six other churches in Franklin County Baptist Association as well as 14 other local churches. Attendance was evenly split between blacks and whites.
“It was a time to affirm that we are one in Christ, one family, and that we love one another,” said Jim Plymale, director of missions for Franklin County Baptist Association. “The tone was very hopeful and positive overall. Everyone knew what had happened, but it wasn’t a time to get together and bellyache.”
David Tolliver, executive director for the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC), agreed that the prayer service did not focus on the act of vandalism or the actions of the unknown suspect. The focus was not on that the individual be punished but that he or she would get right with God. Tolliver compared the situation to Psalm 51. The Psalm is a prayer of repentance after David’s sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. Despite all the people harmed through his actions, he acknowledges in verse 4 that he has sinned against God: “Against Thee and Thee only have I sinned.”
“Whoever did this vandalism sinned against the people of Rose Hill Baptist Church and sinned against an entire race of people in our human eyes,” Tolliver said. “But the reality is that he sinned against a holy God. The people of Rose Hill were and are looking at this in that way. It is very appropriate.”
Plymale said the spirit of the prayer meeting was such that there is interest in doing them quarterly, even once the graffiti issue has passed. Stevenson said another meeting is being planned for September.
The Franklin County Sherriff’s Office began an investigation June 2, although vandalism is a very hard crime to solve. Stevenson said he’s has not heard anything from them regarding the investigation, but as far as and he and the church is concerned, that isn’t what is important.
“We’re not trying to create any animosity,” he said. “We’re just moving forward.”