the shape of leadership

A Fight to Forgive

One man’s journey from trauma to grace

Kevin Ramsby on August 11, 2021

On Aug. 3, 2009, I woke up at 3 a.m. to the sound of breaking glass downstairs. I wasn’t afraid. Many homes in Detroit are vacant, and drug addicts often use them as places to get high. I figured someone just needed to be frightened off our property.

I sprang from my bed, grabbed a tennis racket, and started down the stairs. As an inner-city pastor, I had interacted with plenty of junkies, drug dealers, and gang members over the years. I understood the dangers of living and ministering in this community, but I also knew it was a mission field to which God had called me.

We had just finished a long week of outreach ministry at Revival Tabernacle (Assemblies of God) in nearby Highland Park, and my wife and children had gone to visit family members in another state. It was just the intruder and me.

Turning on the lights and banging the tennis racket against the walls, I yelled, “This is my house! Get out!”

When I reached the bottom of the stairs, a man came around the corner and immediately stabbed me in the abdomen with a 10-inch chef’s knife from my own kitchen. I fell forward off the last step, and the knife jerked upward, creating a seven-inch wound.

For the first time, I locked eyes with the stranger I believed would take my life. His dilated pupils and vacant gaze revealed he was high on crack cocaine.

He plunged the knife into my body again and screamed, “Where are the keys and the money?”

I was unable to speak as the man searched the house and returned to deliver more blows. He stabbed me 37 times before finally losing interest and leaving me to bleed out on the kitchen floor.

Expecting to die at any moment, I began to pray. I pleaded with God to protect my family and not let them become bitter over my murder. I asked Him to be a father to my children as they grew up without me. As I finished praying, I began to lose consciousness.

I woke up a week later in the hospital to the beautiful sounds of friends and family. It was a joyous reunion. Yet my journey toward healing was only beginning.

Confessing my inability to move past the hatred, I invited Jesus to work in my heart.

I wish I could say I awoke from a coma with forgiveness welling up in my heart. In reality, the overwhelming fear and anger I felt as I remembered the attack were as agonizing as my physical wounds.

At some point, I said the words “I forgive” out of a sense of Christian obligation, but I knew it wasn’t sincere. Every day was a reminder of something the stranger had stolen from me: my health, my sense of security, my family’s finances, my children’s innocence, my ministry.

I fantasized about hunting down the man. I contemplated suicide. But amid the turmoil, I sensed the Lord’s beckoning call: “Kevin, you have been forgiven much.”

Confessing my inability to move past the hatred, I invited Jesus to work in my heart.

Three years after the attack, I attended the offender’s sentencing. I was nervous as I stepped into that courtroom, but I was also confident of what God had done in my life. I shocked the court when I refused to share a victim statement.

Instead — inspired by the Old Testament story of Joseph forgiving his brothers and giving glory to God — I chose to share a life statement. I explained that I was now a better man because of the attack. I had become a better husband, father and pastor. The pain had given me an opportunity to become more like Jesus.

The man received a prison sentence of 18 to 40 years. I am free to live my life without the shackles of unforgiveness.

Now I see people differently. I am more aware of the wounds they carry, not just the baggage those wounds create. I’ve traveled the nation sharing my story and helping people understand the forgiveness of Jesus and what it means for them. My mission is to point people to a God who heals and restores.

I once thought I had nothing in common with my attacker. I saw him only as a monster who cost me everything — a worthless addict who thought a substance was more important than my life.

Over the past eight years, we’ve corresponded via prison email. I now see him as a man who moved across the country to reconnect with an estranged daughter, only to face rejection from her. I see a man who had turned back to drugs to deal with a pain he was ill-equipped to face. I even see a man who is not entirely aware of what he’s done to my life and family. And then I hear Jesus saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

And when I let myself hear those words, I see a man in need of a Savior — just like me.

This article appears in the Summer 2021 edition of Influence magazine.

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