The Story Behind the Pastor In Fayetteville, North Carolina, Who Disarmed a Gunman on New Year’s Eve

Rev. Larry Wright
Rev. Larry Wright

The Rev. Larry Wright doesn’t hold back at the beginning of an interview that will last nearly two hours.

“Man,” he says, “I don’t like this.”

He certainly hasn’t tried to duck the spotlight, though.

Wright, who is 57, has given so many interviews since gently disarming a man who walked into his church during a New Year’s Eve service that he has lost track of them all.

He rattles off a few. Chicago. Philadelphia. Virginia. CNN with Anderson Cooper. Fox News.

Local media. National. International. They have all come calling to Wright’s little corner of the world, a neighborhood so poor that a third of its residents don’t even own a car.

Most people try to avoid the Old Wilmington Road neighborhood because of its poverty and high crime rate. Wright built a church smack dab in the middle of it.

He says he didn’t have much choice. God told him to do it.

Wright’s reluctant to tell this part of his story. He doesn’t want people to think he’s gone loco. But he tells the tale, just the same.

The year was 1999. Wright had started renting the Myers Recreation Center in Savoy Heights for his church. He’d also been attending a reading group every Wednesday. During one of those sessions, a woman let her struggles be known. Through tears, the woman told the group how she had been molested, raped, used and abused.

Wright says the woman’s retelling of her story led him to have an out-of-body experience. He saw himself standing on a cliff, a sea of people in the valley below, a silhouette of God over his right shoulder.

And then, Wright says, God spoke to him: “Go and heal my people. Go and heal the land.”

Not long afterward, Wright went to check on rental property he owned in the Old Wilmington Road neighborhood. While he was there, he discovered property that could provide the opportunity for his church.

That’s when God spoke to Wright again, not in an audible way but in a way that Wright knew could only come from Him. God told him to build the church.

Even so, Wright needed to be convinced. The year was 2002, a time when the Old Wilmington Road neighborhood had the highest crime rate in the city.

How, Wright wondered, could he afford to sustain a church when so many of his parishioners would be so poor?

God wasn’t buying the argument.

“God,” Wright says, “wanted a ministry that will reach the least of these.”

So Wright bought the property that year. Shortly afterward, he erected a big tent on it and held a 14-day revival. He says a neighbor complained about the noise, until he learned that Wright’s preaching had saved his son.

During the revival, Wright says, he met the biggest drug dealer in the neighborhood. The man – who sported a teardrop tattoo at the corner of one eye and a snake tattoo on his neck – was not happy. Wright’s sermons were having an effect in the neighborhood. The dealer was losing money.

Instead of being intimidated, Wright and four of his followers went to work. They laid the studs, added the drywall, framed the windows and doors, installed the baptismal and finished every other detail to turn a large pole barn into a comfortable church.

Heal the Land Outreach Ministries was dedicated in 2007.

It remains a small, poor church, maybe 100 members. For years, Wright says, he never drew a salary, even though parishioners wanted him to. They finally persuaded him to get paid, so Wright says he started drawing $500 a month, plus a monthly love offering.

It’s not much money, but Wright says he gets by on his military pension, his disability income, his wife’s retirement money, a rental property or two, and the salary he receives as a Fayetteville City Council member. He still lives in the same west Fayetteville house he bought after retiring from the Army in 1997 as a sergeant first class.

Wright says he has always allowed himself one luxury, though; he likes to dress for success. On this day, he’s sporting a checkered, light-purple shirt and matching tie over a sport coat. That’s his 2007 black Mercedes parked outside the church.

In November, Wright easily won his second term to the City Council.

Now, he’s contemplating ways to help pull his church neighborhood out of poverty.

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SOURCE: The Fayetteville Observer
Greg Barnes