by Josie Bingham
SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (BP) — “It’s a pretty somber place,” Scottie Stice said of the community left behind after Sunday’s horrific mass shooting at a Southern Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
Stice, disaster relief director for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC), reported teams of Southern Baptist chaplains and other DR volunteers are ministering however they can among those devastated by the “senseless” tragedy.
On Nov. 5, a gunman opened fire on worshipers at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. Among the 26 killed, was Annabelle, the 14-year-old daughter of the church’s pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife Sherri. About half of those who lost their lives were children. There were reportedly 20 wounded; some are still enduring surgeries in nearby hospitals. The victims of Sunday’s shooting reportedly ranged in age from 18 months to 77 years.
It’s only been about a month since Southern Baptist Disaster Relief chaplains responded to the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 58 people dead and nearly 500 others wounded.
‘Hurting church … hurting state’
With chaplains now on the ground in Sutherland Springs, Stice noted “lots of healing needs to take place; it’s a hurting church and a hurting state.”
SBTC’s associate for pastor/church relations, Ted Elmore, was among the first to respond to the tragedy with a team of field ministry strategists.
“When we found out there was an event, we rounded up a team to see how to serve pastors and churches,” Elmore said. “Since Sunday evening after the shooting, we’ve received assistance from disaster relief chaplains and have been reaching out to local churches to better understand what they need to rally around their friends and families.”
In the days ahead, Elmore said, his team will create a strategy to help the community recover.
“Prayer is the main thing people can do right now,” he said. “The chaplains are terrific. They are there to listen to the families and to the community as questions like, ‘Why?’ surface. We are trusting God to lead us well through this so we can serve and minister to everyone.”
The community is “expressing their grief but also locking arms and holding one another up,” Elmore said.
“The people of Sutherland Springs are coming together in this,” he noted. “Many churches are partnering with us. Chaplains, First Baptist Church members, Texas Baptist Men, the North American Mission Board (NAMB), disaster relief volunteers and many other organizations are here to respond. And while there is sadness, we trust and hope in a Father who loves us all so much.”
SBTC staff members are currently helping plan a prayer service for Wednesday evening (Nov. 8). The location has not yet been determined.
Terry Henderson, the state disaster relief director for Texas Baptist Men (TBM), knew one of the victims of the Sutherland Springs shooting. He said members of TBM have continued to invite chaplains to Sutherland Springs where they can occupy the Red Cross’ Family Assistance Center to provide support and comfort to those in need.
“Many have responded to the call and are at either the family center or in the hospitals,” Henderson said. “Many chaplains stayed at the family center when names of the deceased were announced. We are grateful for chaplains from many organizations as they’ve been here to listen.”
Chaplain and retired Maj. Gen. Doug Carver spoke with Southern Baptist Army chaplain Joe Sherwin who is a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) resident at Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
“Joe and two other Southern Baptist chaplains and CPE residents, Doug Yoder (Army) and Kraig Smith (Air Force), have been involved in caring for the eight victims brought to Brooke Army Medical Center,” said Carver, NAMB’s executive director of chaplaincy.
“They report tough times due to the chaos, the age of the victims, their injuries and the loss of life. But they are there to share the Gospel and to provide hope in this terrible situation.”
On behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention, NAMB has offered to cover funeral expenses for all shooting victims in coordination with the SBTC.
Texas Baptist Men operates in cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist General Convention of Texas, one of two Baptist state conventions in the state.