Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Chris Vest, Guns and Amazing Grace

Chris and his fiancée, Krystl Miller

"But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;"-Matthew 5:44

How do you define grace? How would you explain it to someone who has no concept of the word? The number of different answers to this question may very well be dependent only on the number of different people you ask. However, like anything else, the concept of grace is perhaps best understood when an example is first given.

Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary defines Grace as "a disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency". While other definitions are given, this is perhaps the most understood concept of the word. Grace can be a hard thing to learn. Often times we expect grace for ourselves from others, yet we're not so quick to give it. We tend to wait a very long time before it is given to others, if we even give it at all.

However, that wasn't the case for Chris Vest the night of March 17th, 2011. You may know Chris best as the drummer for one of my favorite bands Framing Hanley. Recently, Chris and his fellow band mates played a show in Poughkeepsie, New York as part of the American leg of their tour promoting their new album. They had just wrapped up the show and Chris went to grab some takeout from a restaurant near the venue when the unthinkable happened. Chris found himself, along with his tour manager, being chased by a man who tried to rob them.

Remember when I said that Chris displayed grace during the incident? What happened during this understandably terrifying event was when Chris' grace kicked in. He was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions about this incident.

(KEY: MS-Mike Swims, CV-Chris Vest)

MS: "Whether the threat of violence was real or not, you were recently a victim of a crime where violence was threatened against you. How did this go down?"

CV: "I went to get some food after playing a show. The place was a block or two away from the venue in Poughkeepsie,NY. When I walked into the restaurant I started getting hasseled by a guy to give him money. Not like your typical street lurker though, very forceful and telling me to give him money. I knew that I was going to be hassled as soon as I left. I got on the phone with the my tour manager (Amir) as I left so I could call for help if it was needed. As I walked out I gave the guy the rest of my change and as I put it in his hand he tried to grab my food out of my hand. I let my tour manager know what was going on and he came running to help. The guy let go knowing that help was on the way and I walked away as quick as possible. I kept checking back to make sure that he wasn't following me. My tour manager caught up with me and we walked back to the venue as I was telling him what happened. As I was talking to him the same guy rides by on a bike and tries to snatch my food out of my hand again. Amir kicked his bike as he went by and the guy stopped in the middle of the road and acted like he was reaching for a gun. We both immediately ran for cover and Amir called the cops. The guy continued to chase after us while reaching for a gun. Once we got into a crowded area with more people around he took off. The cops showed up shortly after and began a search for him. They found him within a few minutes but after searching him he had no weapon on him. He may have been bluffing the entire time or he may have gotten rid of what he had. Either way, because he had nothing on him at the time there was nothing that the cops could really hold him on."

MS: "Many people believe that God allows us challenges to overcome in order to better prepare us for difficult times we will face in the future. You had a similar incident happen before. Do you believe that the first incident was used to prepare you to recognize this potentially deadly situation, and help you react appropriately?"

CV: "Yes, In some ways I do. The incident I went through before was much more severe. I actually had a gun put to the back of my head and trapped in a place where no one could see me or come for help. I didn't have quite as strong of a faith then as I do now. The first time all that went through my head was "I'm about to die" and how much it was going to hurt my family. There is no doubt that God was watching over me and protecting me. Without him I certainly wouldn't be alive right now. This time I instantly felt something wrong and began praying to God for His protection. I knew that he was the only thing I needed to get through the situation and he delivered me from it."

MS: "Wow! Your first robbery made the second seem like day camp! What was the first thing that went through your mind when it actually happened?"

CV: "I went through a bunch of emotional swings that completely wrecked me at the time. At first I was scared, then shocked, then angry, then I was thankful. I just couldn't really get my emotions under control. I kept switching back and forth from one feeling to another after it happened. It brought up a lot of my feelings from the last incident and really made me do a lot of thinking."

MS: "You’re engaged to get married, and she was shopping for her wedding dress the day you were mugged. How did you break the news to her about what happened? It seems there is no good way to make that call."

CV: "No, there was absolutely no good way to break that to her. We were just beginning to date when the first occurrence happened and it was already hard on her then so I knew it was going to be extremely hard this time. She knows me better than anyone in the world and she could instantly tell that something was wrong when I initially got on the phone with her. I was already having a hard time keeping it together but when I heard her tears I completely broke down. At that point I was not only feeling the pain from what I was dealing with but what she was going through as well. She had actually been sending me text messages with different wedding ideas as the event was taking place. I just couldn't imagine someone having to call her and tell her that I would be coming home to her in a casket. Just the thought of that ripped my heart out. She is an incredibly strong woman though and she was able to eventually shake it off and even help me pull out of it. I really don't know what I would do without her love and strength. It was yet again more proof as to why I am marrying her."

MS: "That sounds like a great girl. You're a lucky man. The fact that you immediately prayed to God for His protection speaks volumes for your faith. Where did you get faith like that? Is it something you gained on your own, or like the disciple Timothy, gained through a faithful family?"

CV: "I can't really say that it is something that I have gained on my own but more like something that God has instilled in me. I haven't always been so strong in the past but God has really taken my faith to all new places. Sometimes it seems like your faith grows stronger each time it is tested. My faith has been tested quite a bit over the past year and every time that God's word holds strong and true my faith is only magnified. My [preacher] has repeated Proverbs 18:10 time and time again. As I stood in the restaurant I instantly heard in my head "The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe." I began praying for God's protection and as always he delivered."

MS: "The Lord works in mysterious ways (Romans 11:33,34). How has this affected your spiritual life? Has there been any impact?"

CV: "It has only made my faith stronger. Day after day I ask God for His will to be done and for Him to provide me with a way of magnifying His name. As scary as this situation was I know that there was a purpose for it. Maybe it was for me to be reassured that His word will always remain true or maybe it was so my events could inspire someone that is in a bad place in their life right now and need some help. There has been countless times in my life when I don't understand what God is trying to do but He eventually shows you. It may be days later or it may be years later but I truly believe that God has a plan for every single one of us and His will is good."

MS: "You said in your story that you pray to God that He help the man who mugged you. How do you possibly pray for a guy who just tried to hurt you?"

CV: "It was very hard to contain my emotions in the beginning. At first I was very angry and just wanted the guy to get what he deserved. Then it hit me that this is not what God wants for us. If Jesus forgave the same men that beat him and left him to die on the cross then I can surly forgive someone who tried to rob me over a few pieces of chicken. My fiance's father was also a very big motivator for me. He was shot several times a few years ago and he was hanging on to life by a thread. After he fully recovered he forgave the man who had shot him. He not only forgave him but began working in a prisoner ministry program at the exact same prison that the man who shot him was in. His courage, strength, and faith have always been such and inspiration to me, especially through these times."

Chris' example has not been lost on me, and it is the reason I wanted to share it with you. All too often grace and forgiveness is the one thing we lack, not for ourselves, but for others. Often we expect it immediately on our behalf for our faults, but we're not so quick to reciprocate to those who would ask of it from us. Chris was put in a most precarious situation, one that would cause me personally to understand if he had carried a resentment for his attacker. Yet, because of someone else's example, Chris found the wisdom to rise above simple human emotion, and give the thing God Himself gives: 


Wonderfully powerful,  amazing... Grace (Romans 3:22-24).

However, the example didn't start with Krystl's dad. Like everything else, there's a much bigger story behind all of this, and it starts 2,000 years ago with Jesus, who was nailed to the cross. As he hung there, he used His dying breath to pray for those who put Him there (Luke 23:34). Again, God's grace prevailed for those who were undeserving. Still, I wonder what the parents of yesteryear, the ones who said rock and roll was the devil's music, would think of Chris Vest and the example he gives to so many? I'd imagine that regardless of their opinion, it wouldn't matter. Chris would probably pray for them, too. 

After all, that's what Christ asks of us (Matt. 5:44).

1 comment:

  1. Oh how I love Framing Hanley and Chris has always had a soft spot for me! What an amazing testimony from him. I have really enjoyed seeing them in concert and following them all on twitter and I constantly pray for Chris because I know he is within a spiritual battle daily when on the road. I cannot imagine. Teaching 8th graders is my daily battle, but I am lucky to be surrounded by amazing Christian co workers and students to support me. Thanks for an amazing post and for highlighting Chris and Krystl's faith walk. Hopefully this will be the piece that someone reads that gets their feet on the right path!

    God bless