AFTER TEXAS CHURCH MASSACRE, TOWN TURNS TO PRAYER
November 14, 2017
Offer thanks to the Lord for what He is doing in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a town that is honoring Him and putting their trust in Him. Praise God for this awesome testimony of the value of prayer.
“Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Tim 2:21)
The sprawling white tent was already packed with hundreds of mourners Sunday, some of them spilling outside beneath an overcast sky, by the time Frank Pomeroy, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, took to the stage. He stood in front of a wooden cross wrapped in holiday lights.
At this moment a week earlier, with Pomeroy out of town, Devin Kelley entered the small white church and started shooting members of the pastor’s beloved congregation with an assault-style rifle. Twenty-six of them, including a pregnant woman’s unborn child, would die in the massacre.
In a tent erected on a baseball field a few blocks away, Pomeroy was again preaching, this time to a far larger congregation made up of victims, their family members, locals and outsiders who arrived from around the region to show their support for this tiny, heartbroken town.
“I know everyone who lost their life that day, some of which were my best friends, and my daughter,” Pomeroy said, pausing to hold back tears as the crowd began to applaud and yell encouragement. “I guarantee without any shadow of a doubt they are dancing with Jesus today.”
Pomeroy told the crowd that his church, just days removed from being full of FBI crime scene investigators and the horrors of the largest mass shooting in Texas history, would reopen to the public Sunday as a memorial. It had been cleaned and painted and had audio from previous services playing in the background.
One week after the church shooting in Sutherland, Texas, the community gathers to support one another and remember the victims of the shooting.
“I haven’t seen this done in other catastrophes,” Pomeroy said. “But I want the world to know that that building will be open so that everyone who walks in there will know that the people who died lived for their lord and savior.”
Members of the crowd, most wearing jeans and leather boots, listened to sermons from Pomeroy, Sen. John Cornyn and Mark Collins, a pastor at a nearby church, who spoke about the importance of faith and healing. They sang along to songs and hymns, many hugging and breaking down into tears.
Sutherland Springs, faced with unimaginable loss, has turned to its faith as its most potent coping mechanism. Instead of casting blame or going into hiding or questioning why this tragedy befell them, this town has instead publicly looked to God, believing that there’s a reason for all of this. The victims, many here believe, are in a better place. Sorrow has quickly morphed into courage and resolve….
Many Sutherland Springs residents said they consider prayer a deep and concrete response to the tragedy. The shooting was the result of a deranged individual, they said, not the type of weapon he used. To prevent another mass killing, they argued, society has to start by changing the culture that conditioned the killer. That starts with prayer, they said.
“It’s all we have sometimes,” Gonzales said. “It also begins the process of healing. Without it, you won’t heal, and right now people here are hungry for that.”
More than half of Americans say they pray daily, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center survey. The same survey found that 63 percent of adults in Texas say they pray at least once a day, and 76 percent say they believe in heaven.
In scrappy, small Texas towns such as Sutherland Springs, where prayer occurs before local football games and veterans meetings, at the community center, and before school each morning, expressions of faith are woven into daily life….
Bill Martin, a professor of religion and public policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy and whose family is from Wilson County, says that it’s true that most people believe in an all-knowing, loving God who hears and responds to their prayers. But to dismiss prayer as little more than an appeal to supernatural forces ignores the tangible benefits it offers amid tragedy, he said.
“By expressing their own pain and their concern for the suffering of the survivors and those who have lost friends and family members, they are saying, ‘We care about you and are with you in this, asking God to help you/us get through it,’ ” Martin said. “It’s the first line of defense against meaninglessness.”…
“Anyone who lost their life in that church is part of a legacy that will live on forever,” Gonzales said.
Several days after she survived the First Baptist Church shooting, Rosanne Solis holed up in her dimly lit trailer at the end of a quiet neighborhood street in Sutherland Springs. Recovering from a shoulder wound, Solis is pondering death, as well, namely, how she narrowly avoided it.
The hydrocodone pills have numbed most of the physical pain, but the emotional pain has only just begun. She’s having trouble focusing, she said, her thoughts filled with horrific flashes from Sunday’s violence. Overall, she said, she’s not doing very well.
“I’m still shocked by the fact that all these children died. I knew all of them that were in there,” she said, before nodding toward her boyfriend, Joaquin Ramirez, who was grazed by a bullet inside the church. “I feel guilty because we survived and they didn’t. It’s God’s way, but I don’t understand God at all.”
Between trips to the doctor and to the store, she’s forced to change her bandages at least three times a day, and she’ll have permanent physical reminders of what happened in that church. “The doctors said it will take at least a year to heal,” she said. “The bullet went straight through and left a big, deep hole.”
But with the help of prayer, Solis said, her belief in God is deeper now than it was a week ago.
“We got out of that church for a reason, and that reason is for me to have a closer relationship with God than I did in the past,” Solis said. “I’m a changed person now.” (Excerpts from Peter Holley and Eli Rosenberg’s article in The Washington Post , “After Texas Church Massacre, Tiny Town Turns to Prayer to Begin Healing Process.”)