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“Finding Forgiveness"

Christina Ryan Claypool
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Christina Ryan Claypool is a Christian speaker, freelance journalist, and the author of several books including Seeds of Hope for Survivors.  Christina has a B. A. in Business Administration from Bluffton University, and an M.A. in Ministry from Mount Vernon Nazarene University, where she served as an adjunct instructor in the Communications department. She has been featured on national television on CBN’s 700 Club and on Joyce Meyer Ministries. Contact her through her website at www.christinaryanclaypool.com.


© 2011.  The Lima News.  All rights reserved.  Reprinted with permission.

A family forever changed by murder struggles to forgive

LIMA — How could a father forgive someone who took the life of his daughter? For 72-year-old Dale Henderson, the issue of forgiving the unforgivable became personal last August.

“We never dreamed of having such a thing happen to our family ... but it did,” said the Lima resident.

Henderson’s family has attended Lima Community Church at Cole Street and Diller Road for most of his life. His 49-year-old daughter, Debra Ann Henderson, was a member of the church, too, until she was beaten to death inside her Woodward Avenue home Aug. 16, 2010.

The victim’s daughter, Maranda Henderson, and friend, Carrie Cox, were living there. At about 3 a.m., the then 17-year-old girls were sleeping upstairs when an intruder broke in. The man, later identified as Hager Church, hit Debra in the head with a hammer and killed her. With the door closed and air conditioner running loudly, the sleeping girls didn’t hear the attack.

The following morning, Maranda and Carrie found Debra’s body. By the next day, Church was being held on suspicion of murder. The Lima man, who was 25 at the time, had grown up with Debra’s son, Maxwell.

“I knew this boy. Our whole family knew this boy,” said Dale Henderson.

An extrovert with a kind heart

For years, Debra Henderson had reached out to help Hager Church, who had been in and out of prison. Sometimes, she clothed and fed him. On occasion, she had even taken him to church.

The kindness she showed Church was also shown to others. Her sister, Jane Glassey of Vincennes, Ind., said she “knew no strangers. Once she met you, you were her friend.”

The extroverted blonde worked at The Pharm, the Mary Ann Brown Residential Facility, Western Sizzlin and Golden Corral.


Dale Henderson believes divine intervention prepared him for his daughter’s death. For almost seven months prior to the murder, he says he felt impressed to pray The Lord’s Prayer each night.

At Church’s sentencing hearing, Dale read the famous prayer to the man convicted of bludgeoning his daughter, then said, “I would always ponder when I prayed, ‘and forgive us our debts (sins), as we forgive our debtors, or those who sin against us.’” As the grieving father read further in his prepared statement, he said, “Wow, I did not know what all this meant. Even murder, murder, even murder.”

After reading more Scriptures about forgiveness from Matthew 6:14-15, the senior Henderson simply said, “Hager Church, I forgive you. I can’t explain how God can forgive me of my sins … or how God makes it possible for me to forgive you, but, He did.”

Dealing with trauma

According to Dr. Thomas Holmes, executive director of Lima’s Covenant Ministry Services, forgiveness is healing.

“The benefit is that you bring some resolution to this. If you’ve been traumatized, you want to get some inner peace that comes with the healing of damaged emotions,” he said. “What occurs in trauma, we tend to reinforce those initial reactions that we had right at the outset.”

Holmes asserts that Christian believers “are called to be a light to the world. We are called to do the unthinkable, to provide grace when there is no grace.”

Holmes knows firsthand what it’s like to extend forgiveness. He was robbed at his West Market Street counseling center years ago, and twice went into the prison to visit the perpetrator. In the end, Holmes felt that he needed to forgive the man.

“I knew if I didn’t make that decision, it would be a cancer to my own soul,” he said.

An earlier attack

Eighteen-year-old Maranda Henderson admits that she is not able to forgive her mother’s killer.

“I’m actually very angry. I’m not sympathetic,” she said. “It’s kind of hard to trust God again and follow that faith.”

Maranda used to go to church with her mother but has not been able to attend services since the murder.

Besides, this is not the first time the young woman has grappled with trusting God. Her father died suddenly from a heart attack when she was 6 years old. And her mother had to endure an earlier attack. In 2004, her mother was beaten and raped in a home invasion by a neighborhood teen, who remains in prison.

The family struggled to put the pieces together after Debra’s first attack, never realizing that a second unrelated assault would take her life. Through her tears, Maranda expressed her desire to be able to forgive one day but believes that forgiveness is a process.

Pastor Mike Huckins is discipleship pastor at Lima Community Church.

“It’s helpful to not try and provide pat answers,” Huckins said. “They don’t need theological answers like, ‘It’s “God’s will,’ There is no easy answer, but they do need to be able to talk and express how they are feeling. It’s about availability and willingness to be there and listen.

“I think we need to give people permission to express their anger and their pain, and doubts toward God,” Huckins said.

Holmes encourages those struggling to replace negative internal messages like, “I can never get through this,” to a more optimistic message. By saying, “I know it’s hard, but through God’s strength I can get through this” individuals will be less “vulnerable to those unconscious trigger events,” he said.

As for learning to trust God again, Huckins encourages folks he counsels, to “trust what you know is true about God, not what you don’t know. God is good. The reason I know He is good, He sent His son to die on the cross.”

Trying to move on

Debra’s sister, Sally Henderson, 47, has sought recovery by attending a grieving course at the church. She said she intends to retake the course again in the near future to further her healing.

Sally and her adult daughter, Ashley, still live in the other half of the duplex where her sister was murdered, although both women were away the night of the crime. The side where Debra once lived remains vacant.

For Sally, forgiveness has been a necessity. She enjoys sewing, and is part of a sewing ministry at her church. Along with Debra, Sally made hundreds of doll blankets for children in the Ukraine. Sally sobbed while sharing that Hager Church had even helped with the project. After the murder, she felt impressed to make her sister’s killer a blanket to portray that the “Lord’s work would not be diminished.”

Yet Sally never trusted Church. Neither did Maranda Henderson, because he “would do a lot of drugs and alcohol,” said Maranda. She assumes that was why her mother was killed, that he wanted money.

Debra’s 26-year-old son Maxwell is frustrated with a system that allowed Hager Church to remain a free man despite his past history of crime.

“If the system would have been stronger, would he have ever been out?” asked the father of three. “How many other times did he need to rob, breaking and entering, drug charges … when is enough, enough?”

Prosecutors originally sought the death penalty, but Church will serve the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole, which the Henderson family agreed to. It “seemed for the whole family the best option,” said Debra’s son.

“I can’t say I have truly forgiven,” Maxwell said. His own son, Conner was born just months after his mother’s death. His mother, feeling his wife’s abdomen, felt Conner kick for the first time just two days before she was killed. He said his mother enjoyed being a grandmother to his children, Ethan, 5, and Alivia, 3.

“I struggle with the whole aspect with God of why it had to be murder?” Max said. “Why couldn’t it have been natural causes? The sadness and feeling of loss would still be there, but it would be easier to overcome those feelings, knowing the kid I ran around in school with murdered my mom.”

Debra’s mother, 72-year-old Nancy Henderson, sat quietly during this interview. She listened intently as her family shared.

When she finally spoke, she said, “The only way I’ve gotten through this is my verse, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, (Proverbs 3:5) because there’s nobody that can really understand. God has a reason.”

Finding a purpose

Holmes believes that we can find purpose in tragedy.

“I open myself up to the possibility that maybe with God’s comfort, I can be a comfort to someone else,” Holmes said.

At a recent Sunday service at their church, Nancy Henderson was surprised to learn that the story of her husband’s courtroom forgiveness has traveled around the world, since missionaries have told the inspiring account overseas.

As the patriarch of his family, Debra’s father, Dale Henderson feels that it is his responsibility to serve as a role model regarding forgiveness. Still he qualifies, “there is a vast difference between ... hatred and someone paying for their crime.”

However, hatred is what Maranda Henderson is struggling to overcome. “I can’t live with this hate in my heart,” said the brokenhearted teen. She is also trying to come to terms with understanding how “someone close to you can turn into such an evil person overnight.” Despite Church’s cruelty, Maranda said she knows her mother would tell her to forgive, “So, one day, I know I will have to.”

Regarding evil actions, “I always get concerned that God not be blamed, because He’s not responsible for these things,” said Huckins. “He created a world that He intended for good, but has went tragically in a different direction.”

“Choice is necessary for there to be love, and that’s what God intended,” the minister said. “But the power of choice means that people can do great good, or they can do great evil.”

Hager Church himself expressed confusion at his heinous actions at his hearing.

“I don’t understand what I did. I don’t understand why I did it,” he said. “She was probably one of the best friends I ever had in my life. I never had a friend.”

Debra’s brother, 54-year-old Rex Henderson of Lima, and sister, Jane Glassey, have both gone through their own process of finding peace in the face of brutality. When the Indiana woman visits Lima, Jane often takes time to decorate her sister’s grave with brightly colored flowers, not wanting Debra to be forgotten. Glassey recently wrote, “Where once she lit up a room with her presence and brought joy, laughter, fun, and happiness, there is silence.”

But like many in her family, Glassey has chosen to cling to her Christian tradition by walking a pathway of forgiveness.

“We’re following the Lord Jesus Christ to the end. Debra’s made her goal. I want to make sure I make the goal that includes forgiving the one who took her from us — and that’s what I have to do.”

Printed August 12, 2011;  The Lima News;  Lima, OH.

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