Thirty-seven stabs. Thirty-seven cuts by a knife. Two to his throat. Six to his spine. Seven to his shoulder. A slice to his abdomen that ripped him open like a fish.
Kevin Ramsby lay on the floor of his Highland Park home, bleeding out, waiting to die. It was 3 a.m., no one else was home, he’d been awakened by the sound of an intruder and had stumbled downstairs, his bulky frame protected only by a tennis racket he had grabbed.
The intruder had a knife.
“I was praying my last prayers for my wife, for my daughter,” he recalls. “I was praying that my son wouldn’t be angry at God for allowing this to happen to me.”
Ramsby was no stranger to prayer. A pastor who came from Rockford, Ill., to work with troubled youths in Detroit, he lived in the poor community where he preached.
Now he was about to die in it.
But in one of those things that seem inexplicable, except perhaps at this time of year, Ramsby says he heard a voice whisper to him. The voice said, “They still need you.”
It stirred him enough to rise from the floor, he says, “holding my insides on the outside” and drag his dying body to his neighbor’s porch.
When police arrived, they could not at first tell whether the victim was male or female. That’s how covered in blood Ramsby was.
“That voice lifted you up?” he is asked.
“It did,” he says, smiling.
Signs of healing
Ramsby, 41, spent five months in the hospital and rehab. His attacker, a man named Wesley McLemore, was arrested in Alabama four months after the attack. His take from the robbery at Ramsby’s house? Three dollars and an old laptop.
McLemore eventually pleaded guilty to attempted murder last year. He was sentenced to 18 to 40 years in prison.
But at the end of the trial, Ramsby refused to give a victim’s statement. Instead, he gave a “life” statement, in which he forgave McLemore and offered to help him in any way — now or in the future.
“I forgave him in my hospital bed,” Ramsby says. “I forgave him when he said he was innocent. When he confessed, I forgave him again.”
Ramsby did so because, he says, he has been forgiven for things in his own life. He felt compelled to pay it forward.
“Working in the community,” he says, “I have seen so many people who are angry, bitter, living in the past. I knew for me it was the key to moving forward.”
To this day, Ramsby writes McLemore in prison. He continues to encourage him. He calls forgiveness a “day-to-day process.”
“He writes me back that everyone in his life has left him,” Ramsay says, “and that I am the only one in contact with him anymore.”
Thirty-seven stabs. One left a noticeable scar on Ramsby’s cheek. You notice it when he smiles, and his jowls pull up on his energetic face.
“It’s a scar, not a wound,” he points out.
“What’s the difference?” he is asked.
“A scar means that the wound is healing.”
No time to quit
We talk a lot about this being “the giving season.” But in many ways, the kindest offering might be what you give up. Letting go of anger, resentment, grudges or bitterness is a gift too big to fit inside a box, too vast to wrap in ribbon.
By letting go of any hate or fear, Ramsby has been able to resume his pastoring duties at Revival Tabernacle Church on Woodward, not very far from where he once lay dying. Highland Park is the poorest city in the Detroit area. But rather than shy away from the community, Ramsby actually has increased his presence and ministry there. He now oversees Hope Village and the Store House, a mile from the church, both of which serve the local residents through food banks, resources, social and educational programs, and endless encouragement.
Today, after church service, Ramsby says his congregation will give away 150 Christmas boxes to children, filled with assorted toys and candy. His own kids will take part — the same ones who prayed for their father to make it through a bloody night four years ago.
“To be honest, not one of our friends said, ‘You should go back,’ ” Ramsby admits. “But this is our community. We love it.”
The house in which the attack took place is now home to four young men whom Ramsby has helped move in there, young men who need a bit of direction, young men who, if steered the right way, can avoid the despair and poverty that may have led his attacker to crash the window that fateful night, looking for money.
“I felt hopelessness,” Ramsby says. “When I was laying there and there was no one to call for help, I felt it. And when someone doesn’t have the ability to change their circumstances, it’s the same hopelessness I faced on that floor.”
A voice raised him up. The voice said, “They still need you.” That, for him, was reason enough to go on. To prove good can come from bad. To one day, he says, welcome Wesley McLemore when he gets out of prison and show him how to look forward, not back.
“I am by far a better husband, a better father, a better friend and a better pastor because of what happened to me,” Ramsby says. “When I forgave my attacker, I knew that God wanted me to do something out of this.”
Thirty-seven stabs. A scar on his face. The man who had to hold his insides from the outside clearly has a heart too big for the average chest. And what he has surrendered may be one of the greatest gifts you’ll hear about this holiday season.