A Witness to Murder


John Bass appealed to Mr. Thomas not to kill the Native American, but Thomas wouldn’t listen. Thomas had already shot him and left him for dead. When he learned that he was still alive, Thomas pursued the Choctaw and killed him.

When I read the 1806 documents detailing what my third great grandfather, John Bass, had witnessed, I thought about his response. He found himself in a very difficult situation because he, too, was a mixed race person – part English and part Native American. The 1810 Louisiana Census lists John Bass as a “Free Person of Color.” The hatred from Thomas could easily have been pointed toward John. The document from which I gleaned this information came from an affidavit he gave after the murder.

I thought long about the incident and decided to create a fictional scene in my book, Twice a Slave, about John’s experience. I portrayed John as fearful, but because of his faith in Jesus, he gained the courage to testify against the murderer.

I based his feelings on a probable emotional response – fear. There’s a story in the Bible with the same kind of emotions attached. Peter witnessed soldiers take Jesus to be crucified. The Son of the living God was then murdered. When Peter was asked about his relationship with Jesus, he denied knowing Him.

Yet, days later, we observe Peter standing with courage and proclaiming Jesus as God’s Son. What changed? Probably the same thing that gave John Bass the courage to tell the truth. When God’s Spirit came to dwell within Peter on the day of Pentecost, he found extraordinary courage and proclaimed the gospel. His eyes were no longer focused on himself, but rather on God and others. Perfect love had cast out fear.

Fear points to self. Love directs us to God and others. Fear is an incredibly strong, negative emotion. Love is a powerful, positive sentiment. Fear is planted in the soil of insecurity. Love grows in the garden of God’s Spirit.

As I considered my third great grandfather’s situation, I was reminded of the source of love. I remembered Paul’s command, “Be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18b). Courage grows in a heart full of God’s Spirit because it’s full of God’s love. Fill me, Lord, with Your Spirit.

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