The pastor of a church in East Texas has credited the grace and mercy of God with giving him the ability to diffuse a potentially deadly situation after an armed Islamic man entered his church with the intent to kill Christians.
The Tyler Morning Telegraph reports that on Sunday morning, Corinth Missionary Baptist Church pastor, Rev. John D. Johnson III was confronted by an armed Islamic man who told him Allah had authorized him to take lives.
The man, identified as Rasheed Abdul Aziz, 40, reportedly arrived at the church wearing camouflaged pants, a helmet, combat boots, a black T-shirt, and a tactical vest. A canteen hung from the 782 gear.
Aziz asked a church deacon who greeted him outside the church if he could see the pastor for prayer. After meeting Aziz, Johnson said he immediately sensed something was wrong: "Every hair on my neck just stood up," Johnson told the Morning Telegraph on Monday. "It was almost like you could just like feel the presence of just negative energy."
Before the pastor could greet him, Aziz launched into a rant, talking about being a "man of Islam" and having demons chasing him. He explained that Allah had ordered him to take lives, and said it was permissible to kill any "infidels" - Christian or Jew - who conflicted with what Islam said.
After asking Aziz to calm down and have a seat, Johnson noticed the imposter was carrying a pistol and saw the outline of the gun in his pocket.
Besides being the pastor of Corinth Missionary Baptist, Johnson works full-time with troubled youth as a student services intervention specialist at a nearby school. He's also a former parole officer and has been trained in crisis prevention, verbal de-escalation and working with mentally ill offenders.
The minute he sensed something was amiss with Aziz, Johnson said his training kicked in "just like clockwork."
"I never gave him the power of feeling that he was in control, that I was frightened. I just continued to engage, but I was very cautious not to raise my voice or make any quick moves," Johnson explained.
After listening to Aziz for a few moments, Johnson told the gunman he needed to check on the children. He then stepped into the hallway and signaled his wife and another member to get everyone out of the church.
"It was as if we had trained, but we hadn't," Johnson told the news outlet. As the people began to leave, Johnson left the room as well.
He revealed that a short time later, Aziz came out and watched the church members leaving and then flashed a "peace sign" before jumping in his car and fleeing the scene.
Later in the day, the gunman returned to the church, this time leaving a lengthy note thanking the church and pastor for their kindness. The note read, in part, "You helped me at a time of need, this house is blessed by God and all faiths."
"That note was in stark contradiction to what he did in deed and statement," Johnson said.
Police found Aziz later on Sunday, still wearing the same clothes and carried the pistol in a shoulder holster, local station KSLA reports.
A background check by law enforcement revealed Aziz to be a felon, previously convicted for marijuana possession and aggravated robbery. The deputies arrested him for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Corinth Missionary Baptist has already changed the visitor protocol and will purchase security cameras in the event of a future incident.
"Do not get caught thinking that this only happens in other places, in big places," Johnson warned other pastors.
Johnson said he is thankful for the compassion displayed by his church and God's protective hand over the situation.
"It is a community of great pride and great strength, but unbelievable compassion," said Johnson, who is entering his sixth year as pastor. "If any place can handle this and grow from it and be an example to others, it certainly is our church."
"I just think it's by the grace and mercy of God that we are not on the other side of history," he continued, "the other side of tragedy."