Last October Tawnya Harris, a member of our Philadelphia Church in Des Moines, called me with terrible and frightening news. With great concern in her voice, she said, “Pastor, I need you to pray for us. My grandson has been shot and is in the ICU.” Her daughter, Breon Merrett, the mother of the victim, is also a faithful member of our church.

This news was so disturbing that I did only what I know to do in these types of situations—pray. Church members joined virtual prayer sessions to plead for the life of Alston Edwards. We knew he was a good young man. Challenges he had experienced led him to make some choices he would regret, but his life was turning around. He had just received his electrical technician certificate and was about to begin a promising new career. He was dedicated to his mother, grandmother and the mother of his unborn child.

After multiple prayer sessions, members of our district were hopeful Alston could survive. We knew the presence of God was with us and He was hearing our prayers.

Unfortunately, later that morning Alston was unable to be sustained by doctors and he passed. Family and friends, along with the church members, were devastated.

But the story goes on.

After Alston’s death when I met with his mother I noticed she had a peace that “surpassed understanding.” She was grieving, but with hope.

I learned that before her son took his last breath he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. As she and Alston’s grandmother retold the story, it hit me: God answered our prayers to save Alston’s life! He didn’t save his physical life on this earth, but God saved him so that he could experience eternal life.

Sister Breon and Sister Tawnya soon began to utilize their loss as a way to glorify God. They called an outdoor community candlelight prayer vigil where friends, family and the neighborhood could pray for unity, and they delivered messages of hope and forgiveness.

The Holy Spirit used the family to present powerful messages to the crowd of nearly 100 people who came to MLK Park to show support. Sister Breon’s message was especially touching. She called out the name of the murder suspect and declared that she forgave him, she loves him, and she wants to see him in heaven.

As we lifted balloons in the air to commemorate Alston’s life there was a sense of hope and celebration—not over his horrific death, but because God had brought triumph out of tragedy. Alston had given his life to Jesus, and his mother’s forgiveness quelled any future attempts at retaliation.

After the funeral multiple people inquired about changing their lifestyle and joining the church. Alston’s death is no doubt a tragedy, but—to God be the glory—Sisters Breon and Tawnya showed our community that God can bring triumph out of tragedy!


Pastor Brian Irby serves the congregations of New Life Christian Ministries in Waterloo and Philadelphia Church in Des Moines, Iowa.