Mission Lab 2018

Southern Baptists of Texas serve Sutherland Springs families through prayer gathering

November 9th, 2017 / By: Tammi Ledbetter, Jane Rodgers, and Bill Bumpas / comments

FLORESVILLE, Tx.—“We take care of our own,” stated former Texas preacher Frank Page, who stepped into the background Nov. 8, along with Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines and his wife, Donna, for three days to serve the hurting and grieved families distraught over the Nov. 5 massacre of half of the congregation of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs.

From the most well-known Southern Baptist leader, SBC President Steve Gaines of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn. who arrived Tuesday, to the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Field Ministry Strategist Mitch Kolenovsky who was on the scene Sunday, the extended Southern Baptist family demonstrated servanthood by visiting the injured congregants and praying for area folks affected by the tragedy.

In the hours following the Sunday morning shooting by a deranged atheist from New Braunfels who eventually took his own life, local ministers accepted the offer of the SBTC to host a community-wide prayer meeting at Eschenburg Field in Floresville, setting local pastors free to minister to the flock of the targeted church and their extended family of God. SBTC’s Ted Elmore who serves as prayer coordinator and associate in Pastor/Church Relations coordinated the event at the request of local Southern Baptist pastors.

A reported shooting incident at a nursing home a half mile away, chilly temperatures and the threat of rain did not deter an estimated 2,500 or more area residents and over 100 media representatives from attending the community prayer event Wednesday evening at the outdoor facility of Floresville Independent School District where two of slain children attended school.

Political dignitaries in attendance at the community prayer meeting included Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Vice President Mike Pence, Sen. Ted Cruz, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Congressman Henry Cuellar and Congressman Will Hurd.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott extended sympathy to the families of the victims, calling the Sutherland Springs tragedy inexplicable, yet confirming that “there is only one source that has the answers, and that is God almighty.”

The Vice President thanked Abbott for his inspiring words and leadership, adding that he and his wife, Karen, were “deeply humbled” to be here in the company of not only Abbott, but “the lieutenant governor, our attorney general, Senator Cruz, Congressman Cuellar and Congressman Hurd,” saving his highest praise for the victims and families: “you honor us with your presence.”

“Words fail when saints and heroes fall,” he added, offering personal condolences, and the sympathies of the nation, acknowledging the contributions of community members and faith leaders.

“Your testimony of Christian love is inspiring the nation,” Pence said, adding a message of support from President Trump:  “The American people are with you.”

Pence insisted, “Whatever animated the evil that descended on that church Sunday, if the attacker’s desire was to silence the testimony of faith, he failed. The voice of faith, the witness of faith, in that small church in that small town now echoes across the world.”

Asking God to help the grieving community to remember Jesus’ command to “let the little children come unto me,” Karen Pence prayed they would cling to the image of all of “all of these beautiful children in your arms today,” adding “for all of the victims are children of God.”

Before departing with her husband and other political leaders, she asked God to hold the community in his hands. “Help these precious believers know how wide and long and deep is the love of Christ who conquered death.”

Page, who serves as the president of the SBC Executive Committee, quoted from John 10:10, telling the crowd, “Three days ago you saw the work of the evil one to steal and to kill and to destroy, but in a moment you’re going to hear about life,” referring to the gospel invitation offered by SBC President Steve Gaines of Memphis.

“As the nation is watching, may they hear words of life and life abundant,” Page prayed. “We know it is found through Jesus Christ.”

He encouraged families who lost loved ones by sharing, “Southern Baptists are going to pay for the funerals of those in the church because we want to take care of our own.”  The North American Mission Board in coordination with the SBTC has offered to cover that cost using funds pledged by an anonymous donor.

When his time came to deliver a message about that abundant life alluded to by Page, Memphis area pastor Steve Gaines spoke on behalf of nearly 50,000 Southern Baptist churches scattered across America, telling the audience, “If you live long enough you will go through a storm, sickness, tragedy or losing a loved one. Looking over to the Pomeroys seated next to his wife, Gaines said the only explanation for the horrendous shooting is in recognizing the world is filled with sin.

He preached extemporaneously from the Sermon on the Mount which tells of “the greatest man who ever lived” delivering “the greatest sermon ever preached.”

Gaines said, “Jesus was telling these precious people he dearly loved that storms are going to come, the rain is going to fall. Storms come. Winds blow. They slam against your life,” he said, adding, “That’s exactly what happened at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs—a storm slammed against their church. They lost half of their congregation of 50 people worshipping the Lord when all of a sudden from the outside bullets were flying at just the right level as people were falling.”

Having spent three hours hearing that storm described by the Pomeroys, Gaines described them as “the salt of the earth, some of the godliest people I have ever met. Thank God for this shepherd who loves his sheep.”

Looking over to the several dozen grieving relatives of the victims, Gaines quietly said, “But out of this storm, Jesus Christ will work in all of the lives of the family members.”

Offering further comfort, he added, “I don’t know what last thing those people saw, but I do know the moment their spirit and soul left their body they saw the face of the Lord Jesus Christ. They won’t be able to come back to us, but you can go to them,” he said, urging the entire crowd to build their lives upon the rock of Jesus Christ and his truth found in Scripture.

“How can this tragedy in any way lead to anything good?” Gaines asked. “What if you gave your heart to Jesus Christ? Offering a gospel invitation, the Tennessee pastor told the audience that “Christianity is not a religion by which you work your way up to God.”

He thanked God “that for the last forty years I’ve not preached of a dead man. He came out of the grave! Jesus Christ is alive right here in Sutherland Springs and where we are tonight.”

SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards quoted Romans 8:31-39 to describe how God conquered death. He prayed specifically for Frank and Sherri Pomeroy, asking God to use their close friends to minister and bless them and a support group of pastors “to help them through this valley.”

“May all believers be emboldened to share the gospel—the only thing with the power to end this type of violence—and give God the glory. 

Six local church and school leaders led listeners through scriptural principles drawn from Hebrews and I Peter to inspire their prayers.

Jim Helmke of Floresville, a Lutheran layman and retired businessman, thanked God for the lives of those who were slain, citing Heb. 11:4.

Sherri Bays, superintendent of Floresville Independent School District, had in mind the many young students who are struggling to make sense of this tragedy, reflecting on Heb. 11:17-19.

“Help us to remember that during the saddest and troublesome times of our lives that you are here to carry us through,” prayed Bays. “Be with us Lord to feel your presence. Help us not to succumb to doubt, but help us to have faith that your will be done.”

Scott Jones, pastor of First Baptist Church in Stockdale, appealed for strength for those who remain “to run the race set before us,” in praying Heb. 12:1.

River Oaks Baptist Church Pastor Paul Buford of Sutherland Springs sought the Holy Spirit’s help in looking to Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith” described in Heb. 12:2.

 “We need you to guide us on the path that we take from here,” asked Buford.  “And we know what has happened can’t be erased and won’t be forgotten but we will look to you and our faith will not be shaken.”

Josh Walters of First Baptist Church in LaVernia prayed the prayer of the apostle Peter recorded in I Peter 5:7, to seek God’s strength for the families to cast their cares upon God, “knowing he cares for you.”

Scott Pomeroy, student pastor at Oak Hills Community Church in Floresville and brother of the Sutherland Springs pastor, asked the Holy Spirit to “comfort all of us in need,” drawing from I Peter 5:10-11.

Following the service, Frank Pomeroy told the TEXAN that the 26 parishioners killed did not die in vain because their testimonies are shining the light to a dark world in need of Christ.

“Some of them—I can guarantee you—they would say if one person, anywhere in the world would come to know Christ by this it was worth it so I would say if you haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, that’s what you need to do and one soul coming to Christ makes this all worthwhile.” 

For more information on the prayer gathering see related article on further remarks of Vice President Pence and Governor Abbott.