Mission Lab

SBTC focuses prayer and aid to El Paso

August 6th, 2019 / By: Bonnie Pritchett | TEXAN Correspondent / comments

Monday evening, August 5, JC Rico, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in El Paso, prayed with about 300 people for his grief-stricken hometown. The church, just a two-minute walk from the Walmart store where a gunman shot and killed 22 people and injured 24 others two days earlier, hosted one of many prayer vigils across El Paso that night. As local churches work to console their community, the Southern Baptist of Texas Convention is providing resources for the long-term assistance those churches will require.

“Pray that God would provide the necessary resources to meet these needs,” Doug Hixson, SBTC director for missions and church planting, told the TEXAN.

For the third time in less than two years the SBTC has deployed a different kind of disaster relief team – not to towns reeling from the ravages of a natural disaster but from tragedy wrought by evil personified. Ted Elmore served as the convention’s representative to Sutherland Springs, Texas, in the wake of the 2017 shooting that claimed 26 lives.  He will duplicate that role for 31 SBTC churches in El Paso as prayer mobilization and incident preparation and recovery specialist.

Disaster relief chaplains will arrive August 7 and station themselves near the site of the shooting “to pray with folks and let them tell their story,” said SBTC chaplain director Gordon Knight.

But, adding to the pain and frustration of city and church leaders, some politicians used the tragedy to score political points. Bart Barber, pastor of First Baptist Church Farmersville, pleaded for humility. In a Facebook post he called the gunman’s manifesto a “strange blend of angst and polarization” that had fodder for each side of the political divide.

“While every pundit and candidate and campaign manager and lobbyist put the finishing touches tonight on their remarks that will make it clear why this is those other people's fault, maybe it's time for us all to consider whether it's all our fault,” Barber wrote on an Aug. 3 Facebook post. “Maybe instead of this being the time to turn up the heat, we could all consider responding by treating one another like human beings.”

Pastors and El Paso Mayor Dee Margo, a member of a Southern Baptist Church, renounced the actions and rhetoric of accused shooter Patrick Crusius, 21, who drove from Dallas to El Paso to act out his deadly intentions. Before the shooting, he allegedly posted online an ideologically disjointed and racist rant shortly before entering the Walmart.

“Racism, however it is expressed, is a blasphemy against the one true God whose image all women and men bear,” said Jim Richards, SBTC Executive Director, in a prepared statement Monday. “The idea that one race is inherently superior to another, whether it is called white supremacy or some other label, is unbiblical.”

Rico agreed.

“Hatred, evil--that does not belong to any one group,” he said. “It crosses all ethnicities, cultures, and nations. It’s every place. And that’s what we’ll be praying about.”

The damage inflicted by a gunman leaves survivors scarred and in need of resources that can restore their shattered lives. While state leaders and law enforcement agencies will supply some material support, local churches remain long after the investigation ends and the story no longer makes headlines.

“Those who are most deeply affected are numb right now. They haven’t even buried their dead yet,” Elmore told the TEXAN. “What we’ll see is the best counseling will come down the road. Once that cycle is over and things begin to settle down folks are going to start having some bad dreams. They’re going to have anxiety. That’s when our churches and our convention can come around them.”

He noted several SBTC churches with well-established counseling ministries have already begun offering assistance. In addition to establishing a pool of qualified counselors, Elmore is in El Paso to assessing the needs – immediate and long-term – of churches trying to care for their community.

Initial reports indicate no SBTC church members were killed or wounded in the massacre. But one church has four members, two who are Walmart employees, who witnessed the shooting.

The shooting has compounded an already tense atmosphere in the town that shares its southern border with Juarez, Mexico – a point of entry into the U.S. for thousands of Central American immigrants.

“This tragedy has been poured out on a community already overwhelmed by the national spotlight from the immigration crisis,” Hixson said. “Several of our SBTC churches and church plants that have been ministering in El Paso regularly but have stepped up to help meet this new need resulting from the shooting.”

Residents of Juarez held a prayer vigil for their northern neighbors Rico said.

One consoling element of the tragedy is that the killer was not “one of their own” he said. No one in El Paso sought to hurt their neighbor. It was an “outsider.” There are 640 miles between Dallas, where the shooter is from, to El Paso.

“That’s a long drive. But he knew what the purpose was,” Rico said.

There were plenty of opportunities in the 9-10-hour drive for the young man to change his mind, turn around, and go home. But there is no turning from the harm inflicted by the gunman on the people he did not know, yet hated.

“Despite evil, despite hatred,” Rico said, “we have to look up.”

He acknowledged God’s healing is near to the believers but others are left floundering. That should compel the local church to create relationships with those people.

“This gives me the opportunity to say that there is hope and grace in Christ,” Rico said.