Remembering Stephen Lawrence

Stephen Lawrence was murdered as he waited for a bus in Eltham, south-east London, on 22 April 1993. He was attacked and stabbed by 5 youths because he was black and died from his wounds before reaching hospital. He was just 18 years old. It took 19 years for two of the gang to be convicted of his murder. A judicial enquiry into the police investigation concluded that it was marred by “professional incompetence and institutional racism.” Stephen’s parents, Neville and Doreen Lawrence, have always behaved with great dignity. Both were awarded the OBE in 2003 for their services to community relations. Recently Doreen asked that the investigation into Stephen’s death be closed because there are no fresh leads.

In an interview to mark the 25th anniversary of Stephen’s death, his father, Neville, has spoken about his Christian faith. He said that he forgives his son’s killers and plans to spend the anniversary in church. He said the decision to forgive them was the hardest one he would ever make. He described the profound impact of Stephen’s death on all the family, “The fact that I had to lose my first child has been devastating. I can’t begin to explain the pain and the anguish I and my family have suffered over the past 25 years.” Neville speaks to young people to spell out the dire consequences of carrying a weapon. He said, “Right now with the violence, and the knife crime violence, it is even more urgent that I talk to these youngsters and explain to them the pain and the suffering they inflict on families.”

Neville’s decision to forgive Stephen’s killers, even though they have never expressed any remorse for what they did, is very significant. He has found the strength to do this because of his own experience of God’s forgiveness through Jesus. When he was dying on the cross Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” He also taught his disciples to pray, “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

When we forgive those who have sinned against us, we are set free to move forward and rebuild our lives. As we open ourselves to God, and experience his love and grace in Jesus, he takes away the bitterness that paralyses us. We cannot fully enter into all the sadness and pain Neville and the family have experienced, but we can pray that they will all know the love and comfort of God.

How could I not embrace him?

Tragedy often strikes suddenly and without warning. Late on a Saturday evening in June 2013 Stephen Donnelly, who was 26, and his girlfriend Mandy Gold, who was 21, were driving home to South Yorkshire on the A14 after a family wedding in Kettering when they were involved in a head on collision. They both died instantly. The driver of the other car, William Wilson, was driving the wrong way down a dual carriageway. William, who was 33, was twice over the legal limit for alcohol. He pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving and was sentenced to 8 years in prison.

Both Stephen and Mandy’s parents were devastated at the tragic loss of their children, who were very much in love and planned to marry. Stephen and Mandy were Christians and had met at a church in Sheffield which they both attended. Stephen was a talented musician and had worked for the church for 5 years. Since the loss of Stephen, his parents, Mark and Sue, have said and done some remarkable things.

At the court case, William’s barrister said that William was genuinely remorseful and was struggling with the consequences of his actions. He said, “It’s the first thing he thinks of in the morning and the last thing he thinks of at night. He unequivocally accepts responsibility.” William wrote to both bereaved families. After the court case Mark and Sue said, “We hold no ill-will towards Mr Wilson for killing our son, indeed we are able to forgive him because of the forgiveness we receive through Jesus Christ.”

Recently Mark and Sue met William in Doncaster Prison, for two hours, as part of a restorative justice programme. In a radio interview, Mark said, “There is a son who needs embracing and who sits in jail thinking all day about what he’s done. There is more to life than earning money and bearing ill-will to somebody. How could I not embrace him?” Sue said, “Two young people, Stephen and Mandy, have been lost, but there is someone who doesn’t have to end his life in prison. It’s quite right and proper that there’s a punishment and the punishment must match the crime, but then the punishment’s done and that’s a closed book.” The meeting was a very emotional time as they talked with William about what Stephen meant to them and the impact losing him had had on them and their family. Mark said, “It seemed the right thing to do and I would do it again.”

Lead us not into Temptation

Temptation is a very powerful influence on us all. Every day we are bombarded with temptations to do things we know are wrong. In the recent riots in London a 23 year old student was walking past a supermarket in Brixton which was being looted. He succumbed to temptation and took bottles of water worth £3.50. When he realised a policeman had seen him do it he threw the water away and tried to escape. He was caught and arrested and immediately admitted what he had done. He was of previous good character, pleaded guilty and expressed genuine remorse for what he had done. He and his family were shocked when the District Judge sentenced him to 6 months in prison.

The student’s barrister explained that her client had not been involved with the looters who originally broke into the supermarket. She described how he succumbed to temptation and now deeply regretted it, “My client is incredibly ashamed. It was opportunistic. He was walking past. He saw the store was unsecure and got caught got up in the moment.” On hearing of the sentence one person commented, “A lot of people would take the opportunity to take something if they thought they would get away with it.”

The Bible tells us how Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation in Eden at the beginning of history. God had provided them with an abundance of good things. Every day they enjoyed warm fellowship with God. However, when Satan tempted them to disobey God, and to eat the forbidden fruit, they rebelled against God. They, too, bitterly regretted what they had done. The consequences of their actions have affected every person born into the world. From that moment on all of us share in their fallen nature.

Temptations come suddenly. The student did not set out that night intending to steal but, when the opportunity presented itself, he did steal. In the moment of temptation we give no thought to the consequences of our actions. Giving in to temptation is always destructive, which is why we need help to resist temptation. We can find that help in Jesus Christ, who was tempted in every way as we, but who did not sin. If we ask him, he will give us strength to resist temptation. On the cross he also suffered the punishment our sins deserve so that through him we might find forgiveness and begin a new life.