Taylor Batten

A Muslim extremist shot him and his daughter. Then they forgave him.

Ray Norman, left, with his family in Mauritania in 2000
Ray Norman, left, with his family in Mauritania in 2000

Even as a white American, and even just weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Ray Norman wasn’t nervous when an Arab stranger in a turban covering everything but his eyes approached him that day on an isolated stretch of road in the Muslim country of Mauritania.

Norman had, after all, dedicated his life to working with poor Muslims. As the director of the Christian humanitarian organization World Vision in that African country, Norman had mostly Muslim friends and coworkers. He thought the man was just going to ask for a ride back into town.

Then Norman saw the 9 mm pistol aimed at his chest.

He dove back into his car, his 10-year-old daughter Hannah sitting in the passenger seat. He yelled at Hannah to get down. As he tried to throw the car into gear he saw the the gun pointed at his temple. The man pulled the trigger three times.

The gun misfired. The man hit the gun with his free hand and aimed it at Hannah. In horror and desperation, Norman flung his chest and arms against the window to try to protect his daughter.

The bullet shattered the glass and ripped through Norman’s right arm. He slammed the accelerator as more shots went into his headrest, then more shattered the back window. A couple of minutes later, far from the scene, he stopped to check on Hannah. A pool of blood had gathered in her seat. He thought glass from the window had cut her.

“What I saw was the last thing I expected, and it shook me to the core of my soul,” he writes in his book “Dangerous Love.” “In the center of her chest … was a deep, clean bullet hole, out of which blood was softly flowing.”

“Daddy, have I been shot?” he recalls her saying. “Am I going to die now?”

Norman got her to a clinic. The bullet had gone through Norman’s arm into Hannah’s chest, around her heart and lungs and out her armpit. They both survived. That, though, was only the beginning of their story.

Norman told it to 200-plus dumbstruck people in Charlotte last week at a Christmas breakfast hosted by minister and writer Leighton Ford. Norman’s message of the power of love and forgiveness was especially valuable this Advent season, given the political and religious climate ripping apart much of the world and the United States today.

You’ll have to buy the book to understand this Christian family’s mind-boggling decision to return to Mauritania after being shot because they were Christian and American. And about how a group of Muslim women wrapped their arms and hearts around Norman’s wife, Helene. And how Hannah, then 11, forgave her assailant, Ali, in a dank, dark prison cell.

The stories are compelling and the messages even more so: God so loved the world – the whole world, including Muslims. We must break past the limits of human love and be the vessels of God’s love. And as extremism rips apart some Muslim countries and threatens the West, our response of distrust, even hate, of Muslim people violates the example Jesus set.

Much of the Muslim world is mired in deep poverty. That, Norman said, lends itself to desperation and violence, so we should be working to pull people out of poverty.

That’s a message we in Charlotte can stand to hear right now as much as anyone.

Email: tbatten@charlotteobserver.com