The Devil in Pew Number Seven
By Wendy Griffith
The 700 Club
Rebecca Nichols Alonzo recently shared her story with CBN News Reprter, Wendy Griffith.
“He said, ‘You’re going to have to run for help.’ I am running with everything I’ve got in me, as fast as my little 7 year old legs could take me.”
With her mother lying dead in the next room and her father seriously wounded from a gunshot, Rebecca ran to a neighbor’s house for help.
“I was so scared, I didn’t know what this guy was going to do. I didn’t know if he was going to come out and shoot the rest of us.”
The events of that night were actually the culmination of years of torment at the hands of one man, an elderly neighbor whose jealously eventually turned deadly. Rebecca wrote about it, in her book "The Devil in Pew Number Seven." Mr. Horry Watts was well off and well connected. He was used to calling the shots - that is until Rebecca’s father, Robert Nichols - a young, handsome preacher took over at the Free Welcome Holiness Church in Sellerstown, North Carolina. The congregation loved him and his wife, Ramona and the church flourished. But Mr. Watts - who always sat in pew number 7 did everything he could to drive the Nichols out of town.
"This man was every pastor’s nightmare - he would point at his watch if he thought my Dad had been preaching too long. He would get up and walk out and slam the door. They had the doors replaced so he couldn't slam than anymore which made him even madder."
But this was only the beginning...
“He worked his way up from harassing phone calls and threatening letters to the drive by shootings. Then when he realized all of those things weren't going to work then he began with the dynamite explosions. We had 10 explosions in 2½ years around our church and our home.”
One of the explosions shook the house so hard; her baby brother's life was put in danger.
“That explosion blew out 2 or 3 windows in that room where my brother was sleeping. He was just a little baby, and my mom would read Psalm 91 to me about how God would cover you with his feathers that his angels would watch over us. My brother did not have one piece of glass on him.”
Although the Nichols knew who was terrorizing them, they couldn't prove it, and the police moved painstakingly slow on the case. But instead of taking matters into their own hands, Rebecca watched her parents pray for Mr. Watts; praying for this hard-hearted man to come to Jesus.
“Well, I heard my dad preach about forgiveness in the pulpit on Sunday, Sunday night and Wednesday. We were in church 3 times a week. I prayed with my mother about that same forgiveness. So, I heard it in church and then we lived it at home. Their example to me was just amazing, how they just weren't preaching it; they were living it."
Although there would be breaks from the harassment, even months of relative calm, the fear of the next explosion tormented young Rebecca.
“I had a hard time sleeping at night. I would always try to crawl into my parents’ bed. At night as a little girl, you could look out my window and see him pacing back and forth in front of our home, plotting his next move. He stalked our family.”
After every effort to run the Nichols out of town failed, the unthinkable happened.
Mr. Watts knew that that Nichols were taking care of a woman who was seeking shelter from her abusive husband. He talked the husband, William Harris, into “taking care" of the Nichols.
“My Dad, when he was shot, fell to the floor because one of the bullets went into his hip and he was unable to move. This big guy, my hero, our protector was just slammed to the floor with that bullet.”
Although Rebecca’s father survived the shooting, her mother didn't make it. Rebecca says the years of torment and anxiety and the loss of his beloved wife, took a severe toll on her father; not just physically but mentally as well.
“He and my mom were best friends. They were soul mates. They had done so much ministry together. They were partners in life, and when he lost her, a big part of him died as well.”
Mr. Nichols died a few short years later from a blood clot. He was only 46.
Rebecca struggled to forgive; not only the men who tormented her family and robbed her of a normal childhood, she also struggled to forgive God.
"I got pretty mad at God. I said, ‘Lord, when mother was killed, a man took her life, but when Daddy died, You took Him.’ So, after 2 years of wrestling with God over that I realized I needed God more than I needed to be mad at Him.”
Both men eventually served some jail time for their crimes. Then, out of the blue, when Rebecca was 17, she received a surprise phone call from Mr. Watts.
"He said, ‘I can't live the rest of my life without knowing if you've forgiven me or not.’ I said, ‘Mr. Watts, my brother and I forgave you a long time ago.’ He just sat there and kind of wept. He said, ‘I'm out of prison.’”
“During that 1 year, he found a relationship with God. It was not when he was in church services every week with us. It was when he was in prison, alone, with himself and his sin, that's when he found Jesus. He said, ‘I want you to know that your Dad was a good man and that he didn't deserve what I put him through.’”
Today, Rebecca is married to a preacher herself, and has two beautiful children. She says in writing the book, she had to forgive all over again, but says God is faithful to help you forgive if you let Him.
“We all need forgiveness and that's what I tell people when they say, ‘How did you forgive?’ I say, ‘Well, I watched my parents as a little girl. As I got older, I got the revelation of how Jesus forgave us on the cross. He gave everything so that we could live a life of freedom.’”
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