‘Gospel of hope’ marks life of late pastor, deputy Daniel Inabinet

From the editor: As we were preparing to go to press with the November issue of The Courier, we were shocked to hear of the sudden death of Daniel Inabinet on Oct. 11, just one week after we interviewed him for the following story. He died of an apparent heart attack while filling a generator at his home in Marion in anticipation of the arrival of Tropical Storm Michael. He was a deputy with the Florence County Sheriff’s Department and was pastor of Nichols Baptist Church. Our prayers are with his wife, Fonda, and their daughters, Rae and Julian.

Deputy sheriff Daniel Inabinet walked into a holding cell at the Florence County Judicial Center and heard the door close behind him. Almost instantly, he realized he was in a locked room with 15 convicted prisoners, and there was no handle on his side of the door.

Each of the men stood in court that day and were sentenced to prison. Some were found guilty of violent crimes. Inabinet had shackled the men with leg irons and belly chains in preparation for transporting them to correctional institutions in Columbia. One of the older men asked if his chains might be loosened a bit, and that’s why Inabinet went in the cell.

“I was expecting the worst,” he said. “I went to the old man and said, ‘Sir, I’d like to fix your cuffs and make them as comfortable as possible.’” When Inabinet stood up, the other men encircled him.

“The hair on my neck was standing up,” he said. “And then one of the men came toward me and said, ‘We’d like for you to pray with us before you take us to Columbia.’”

So Inabinet stretched out his hand, and the prisoners placed their hands over his, and he prayed for them.

“That experience was God’s way of telling me I was in the place He wanted me,” Inabinet said.

Inabinet wasn’t always a sheriff’s deputy. In fact, for most of his working life, he was a full-time pastor. In 2015, he was serving his eighth year as pastor of Florence First Baptist Church. Because a pastor “is always trying to get people outside the walls of his church,” Inabinet began volunteering his time with the sheriff’s department and became a reserve deputy.

He decided to retire as the church’s pastor, but he wasn’t sure what he would do with his life. “Well, until you figure it out, come here and work with me,” the sheriff said to Inabinet.

He accepted the challenge and trained for 12 weeks at the state’s criminal justice academy. The physical requirements were “beyond me,” said Inabinet, 57, but “every time I needed to push a little harder, somehow God supplied what I needed, and I graduated.”

As a law enforcement officer, he “all of a sudden” had opportunities for relationships with people he would never see in the church, “people who were on the bottom looking up, people who needed to find a better way to deal with life — a spiritual compass,” he said.

“I have been overwhelmed with the mission opportunity that comes at me every day and how God puts people in front of me,” he said. “I have to put out my antennae. I don’t want to miss any appointment He puts in front of me, because it’s just so rich.”

As Inabinet was beginning his new career in law enforcement, the modest-sized congregation of Nichols Baptist Church in Marion County invited him to preach. Their pastor had died, and Inabinet agreed to become the church’s bivocational pastor.

“That sweet little church loves the fact that I’m with the sheriff’s department,” he said. “They’re supportive, and they put up with a lot of absence from me because I’m called to other duties.”

In recent weeks, two tragic events — widespread flooding across the Pee Dee resulting from the slow-motion trek of Hurricane Florence, and a mass shooting in Florence that left one police officer dead and six others injured — have converged to form an intersection of Inabinet’s two places of service. His church, which only recently completed repairs after flooding from Hurricane Matthew in 2016, was underwater again. Almost simultaneously, Inabinet found himself among the first wave of officers responding to the scene Oct. 3 when a gunman in a Florence neighborhood barricaded himself and rained down fire on officers who were caught in what Inabinet described as a “kill zone.” Florence police sergeant Terrence Carraway, a respected 30-year law enforcement veteran, died in the ambush.

In the moments after the shooting, Inabinet drove to nearby hospitals to pray with shooting victims and their families. The next day, he was tasked by the sheriff to represent the department as its chaplain and to oversee counseling services for first responders and to coordinate the influx of aid coming in from agencies around the state.

Inabinet is confident that members of the law enforcement community in the city and county of Florence will bounce back from “this horrendous tragedy.” “There are so many spiritually strong deputies in our department and in the police department,” he said.

“Our gospel is hope,” he added. “Thanks be to Jesus who has defeated death and given us an eternal home with Him. The love of God enables some people to lay down their life for a friend. The greatest love we know can only be born of God.”

As for his church, he knows from past experience that it’s approximately a 12-month process to rip out the waterlogged sheetrock and carpet and put everything back together. However, he has seen the small congregation of Nichols Church (40 or 50 people on a Sunday is a “big day”) rebuild before, and he knows they can do it again.

“If this church were obsolete, God wouldn’t have put it back together [after Hurricane Matthew],” he said. “The rebuilding was bigger than us. It gave our members a sense of vision, knowing that God had put them back together for a purpose.”

“They’ve already started, with no questions about what the future may hold. They want to put this church back together.”

Inabinet’s feet are firmly planted in the seemingly dissimilar worlds of church work and law enforcement, but he sees it as the perfect combination. “God has me in the weirdest place, and every day when the sun comes up, whether I’m with the sheriff’s department or at the church, I’m so excited about what’s going to happen.”

“God throws something at me every day that requires me to be alert and in tune with Him. I’m sure I mess up, and I’m sure I miss opportunities, but I’m doing my best.

“And when I lay my head on the pillow at night, I just thank Him for the day, and I say, ‘If I wake up in the morning, I’m going to walk with you again. We’ll do it again.’”

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