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Summit provides support for those in law enforcement

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Mike Rolls felt his heart pounding in his chest. He and his partner crouched poised to rip the door from its hinges and rush into the unknown. SWAT raids go smoother when there is an element of surprise.

There was none this time.

As the door crashed to the floor, the drug dealer they’d come to apprehend greeted them with a flood of gunfire. Rolls, holding a shield, realized his exposed partner was in the line of fire and jumped to protect him. He paid the price for his friend.

The bullets cut Rolls down at the knees. A year later and approaching his third surgery, Rolls shrugs it off. “Instead of kneecaps, now I just have scar tissue,” he said. He remains in constant pain but said, “Oh, I can live with the pain.”

Rolls’ boss, Marion County (Ocala, Fla.) Sheriff Ed Dean, said, “Rolls is a walking miracle. No one thought he’d ever walk again after the injuries.”

Rolls gives the credit to God.

“God healed me in 90 days,” he said. “It’s all to His glory that I’m walking. Sheriff Dean and his wife have become my friends through this. They never stopped praying for me.”

Rolls a hero? Certainly, but he doesn’t see himself as one. He’d define a hero as someone — regardless of appearance — who has an attitude of sacrifice and service.

More than 120 heroes gathered Sept. 30-Oct. 2 at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, N.C., for the second Law Enforcement Summit sponsored by Ridgecrest. LifeWay Ridgecrest is owned and operated by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Christian men and women representing state police, local police departments, county sheriff’s departments, local fire departments, various branches of the armed forces and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, spent three days relaxing and spiritually renewing in the Blue Ridge Mountains with believers in a similar profession. Law enforcement-related conference leaders taught classes on money management, stress relief, servant leadership and marriage and family relationships.

Tim Hawsey, retired sheriff of the Escambia County Sheriff’s Department in Alabama, served as the summit’s emcee.

“This job we do goes back and forth between absolute boredom and absolute terror,” he told the officers. “Never once did I put on that uniform or pin on that badge without knowing that God was in my heart.”

Tracy Cunningham of Jacksonville, Fla., is a special agent for the FBI working in counter-terrorism, with special training as a SWAT team member. He’s a trained sniper as well as a biological and chemical weapons expert. He and his wife, Lori, the parents of four daughters, attended the summit for the second year.

“Last year and this year, this conference lets you know you aren’t alone out there as a Christian,” Cunningham said. “There aren’t a lot of men and women in law enforcement who are vocal about their Christianity.”

The Cunninghams are members of Coastal Baptist Church in Jacksonville. “It’s a small, growing church,” Cunningham said. “It’s a great source of support for our family.”

Mike Mitchell of Meridian, Miss., is chief deputy sheriff for Lauderdale County. Mitchell was one of the first officers to respond when a man entered the Lockheed-Martin industrial plant in Meridian in July with an arsenal of weapons and began firing at employees.

“Your faith gets tested everyday,” said Mitchell, a member of Central Baptist Church in Meridian. “That day, at the shooting, I had to decide whether to send in a new deputy and risk his life or go in myself. I went in. People in the plant were terrified. As soon as I went in, I passed one man down and saw he was dead. I passed a woman who was holding another woman in her arms. She was crying. She just shook her head, telling me her friend was dead too.”

Poplar Grove Baptist Church in Meridian sponsored Mitchell and his wife for the summit.

“I’d love to see more churches and associations sponsor their law enforcement personnel to come to this,” Mitchell said. “It’s just such a great conference. It’s so encouraging to see these other Christian officers excited about their faith.”

Paul Phillips, volunteer coordinator of the event, agreed.
“We have several churches and individuals who have served as sponsors for their officers and wives to come to the summit,” he said. “It’s a wonderful way for churches to say thank-you to these men and women who give so much.”

Phillips said he was especially glad to see so many law enforcement administrators attending the summit this year.

“When the captains and sheriffs support the value of the summit, the younger patrolmen and deputies will buy into it too,” he said.

Officers can receive continuing education training credit for the conference through the North Carolina Justice Academy.

The 2004 Ridgecrest Law Enforcement Summit will be Oct. 5-7. For more information about next year’s event, contact Ron Pratt at [email protected] or call him at (615) 251-2065.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: WILLING TO SACRIFICE and MORE THAN A JOB.

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  • Polly House