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The 700 Club

Forgiveness for Hit and Run Offense

Randy Rudder - 700 Club Producer

“She had come over for my daughter's birthday party. Before she left, I told her I loved her and she said, ‘You should come see me more often,’” Kenny Cummings recalls of his mother’s last visit. 

Susan Cummings was a loving mother to her children, a cherished sister, and an important member of her community.  

“She had a heart to serve,” her brother, Tom Rea, says. “She was a nurse. She loved to help people. She made it a point to be at our parties and graduation parties and birthday parties even in her ‘superhero costume,’ I liked to call it, which was her scrubs.”

In the early morning hours of August 8, 2015, Susan rode in a charity bike ride to raise money for water wells in Kenya. Her son Kenny learned there had been an accident involving his mom. 

“I was actually preparing for a business trip,” Kenny says. “I was going to get up early and head to the airport when I got a call. And so I answered the phone and it was my mom’s best friend Nancy. She goes, ‘Kenny, your mom's been in a car accident.’ I go, ‘Is she okay?’ She goes, ‘No. She died. She’s dead. And I’m so sorry.’ I couldn’t believe it. I was in total shock.”

“When you get word like that, it's just like a punch in the gut,” Tom says. 

Kenny says, “When it set in and what had happened – the details of what had happened - that she was actually struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver, I was furious, that someone would take, not only a human life, but would take my mother from me and leave her there to die as if she was worthless. So I was angry, very angry.” 

Soon after, a man named Ronnie Jo Clafflin turned himself in. 

“When Ronnie ultimately came forward, I was relieved to finally have a scapegoat for all the anger and frustration that I was dealing with, and hurt,” Kenny says. "To be able to put it on someone. To be able to finally look at that person and really judge them for what they had done, in my mind.” 

Tom, a pastor, says he knew almost immediately he would have to forgive his sister’s killer.  

“The reason I was able to choose to forgive is, when I was 16, I was jumped by five or six black guys that stomped me and broke my nose and stole my bike and just left me there basically for dead,” says Tom. "And in that moment, I had a feeling of racism that entered in my heart. And It wasn't until I saw, I believe it was Rodney King, getting beat down on national television, that the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, ‘It's not the color of a man's skin, but the spirit that drives him.’ And so in that moment, before the television, I just said, ‘God, I'm sorry. Forgive me.’”

The family would eventually learn that Ronnie had been using inhalants the day of the accident. Ronnie’s trial and sentencing was almost a year later. It would be the family’s first interaction with the man who had killed Susan. Then, shortly before the trial, something unusual happened.

“Ronnie had chosen to plead guilty and wanted to meet with us behind closed doors, which by the way, never happens,” Tom says. “A lot of emotions were in the room that day. But before we began that meeting with Ronnie, before he entered that room, we prayed. And we invited the Holy Spirit there and then Ronnie and the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney walked in through the door and Ronnie was already tearful, already remorseful and there was a lot of crying in the room, as you can imagine. We were finally seeing this man for the first time. I asked Ronnie, I said, ‘Ronnie, are you sorry for what you did?’ And of course, at that moment Ronnie said, ‘I do. I'm sorry.’ But each of my family members, including Susan’s boyfriend Roddy, all said ‘I forgive you.’”

At the trial, most of the family members were there and shared their forgiveness publicly. “We all prepared a statement of mercy,” Kenny says. “We all read through and confirmed to the court and to the judge that we had forgiven Ronnie and that we sought mercy for him on his behalf.”

“Grace showed up in that courtroom,” Tom says. “Even the Judge said, ‘In all my 20 years, I have never seen this happen in my courtroom.’ In 2016, contributions poured in for the Kenyan water well project that she had given her life for." 

“I was invited to go to Kenya to dedicate a water well in Susan's honor. It was so overwhelming to go to a place on the other side of the globe and hear my sister being herald as a hero. I just can't begin to put into words what I was experiencing. And we were hearing them singing joys about my sister."

Tom says he hopes the grace their family showed to Ronnie will help others see the power of forgiveness. 

“Jesus tells us to forgive,” Tom says. He said, ‘If you forgive, then I'll forgive. If you don't forgive, then I won't forgive. It's so powerful to think that Jesus, while hanging on the cross, He looked down at them and said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ We think we're holding our offender in prison, but it's actually us. We are holding ourselves hostage. But when we say, ‘I choose. I choose. I choose to forgive.’ And we choose to forgive, we again, ‘faith it until we make it.’ We begin to say, ‘I forgive’ until that feeling becomes a reality.”

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