WAYNESBORO, Ga. - Nine days after his wife found him lying in a pool of blood in his driveway, the Rev. Wayne Dixon stood before his church's members and asked the them to pray for the two men police say stabbed him.
"There are two fellas in the jail house right now, and I know God loves them just as much as he loves me," the preacher said Sunday. "They need to meet the savior we talk about."
Grateful for his life and the prayers he has received during the past week, the Rev. Dixon said he isn't holding any grudges. The two men charged with armed robbery and attempted murder will face consequences for what they did, he said.
"My first prayer in the emergency room was for our folks not to think vengeance but to realize the great need in our community for reconciliation," the Rev. Dixon said. "Don't hate them, but pray they are reconciled to Christ."
Those who filed into Botsford Baptist Church for Sunday morning worship said they were pleasantly surprised to see how quickly their minister had returned.
A little more than a week had passed since two men stabbed him - puncturing his lung - during a robbery attempt as he arrived home from work.
His side and stomach were still sore from the stitches Sunday, so the minister asked his brother David to fill in for him in the pulpit. He hopes to lead the service next week.
The Rev. Dixon slowly made his way through the congregation, stiffly hugging and greeting people he said he thought he would never see again on Earth.
"I've never been so happy in my life to see you people," he said. "It's special to be back in front of a congregation who poured their hearts out to me."
More than 350 people had flooded the preacher's hospital room and home with balloons, flowers and cards and stocked his refrigerator with food.
News of the attack spread rapidly through the small community, shocking residents who say they used to feel comfortable leaving their doors unlocked - especially in the daytime.
"You don't think about something like this happening here. You don't think about it happening to a pastor," said the church's music director, Leroy Thomas. "This really hit close to home."
Church member Katherine Lively said the attack brought their congregation closer together.
"We were all shocked. It was awful," she said. "He's been our wonderful leader for 12 years."
The Rev. Dixon was returning home from work about 5:45 p.m. Jan. 26 when two masked men attacked him after he got out of his truck. When one of them pointed a gun at the preacher's head, he instinctively grabbed it and held it toward the ground, he said. The other man sprayed him with pepper spray.
During the attack, the Rev. Dixon threw his wallet into the yard, and one of the attackers picked it up before running to a car. The other man stabbed the minister in the side before he fled.
"I thought he hit me with his fist at first, but then it hurt worse every time I took a breath," he said. "I felt the blood rushing out and heard a bubbling sound. I knew I was stabbed. I knew it was pretty deep."
The Rev. Dixon said he yelled for his wife to call for help, praying she was alive inside and he was the robbers' only victim. He was rushed to Burke Medical Center and later taken to Medical College of Georgia Hospital. The knife had punctured his lung.
"I woke up and thanked God I was alive," the Rev. Dixon said. "I looked around and saw my family, saw that they were OK and I was OK, and that was all that was important at that moment."
Shortly after he returned home from the hospital Wednesday, Burke County sheriff's officials notified him that Travis Osborne, 20, and Charles Collins, 25, both of Waynesboro, had been arrested in the attack.
"I was relieved more so for my wife. There was a real question in her mind about whether they would come back," the Rev. Dixon said. "It was a sad relief, though. I know that where they are going; they won't come out any better than when they went in."
Mr. Osborne, who authorities say stabbed the pastor, was living in a mobile home park owned by the Rev. Dixon, which was only a mile from his home on Georgia Highway 56.
"You think that when you come home in the afternoon you're safe," said the pastor's wife, Jerrie. "But it's just by God's grace that your safe."
Reach Katie Throne at (803) 279-6895.