‘We can’t fix this on our own. Jesus is our only hope’
September 9th, 2019 / By: Jane Rodgers | TEXAN Correspondent / comments
UPDATED Sept. 9
“This is Odessa. Things like this don’t happen in Odessa.” So people say.
Ted Elmore, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention prayer strategist, heard the statement repeatedly after arriving in Odessa on Sun., Sept. 1. Two SBTC Disaster Relief chaplains, Wayne Barber and Wade Taylor, also came to minister to the West Texas community still reeling from the Aug. 31 shootings which claimed seven lives and resulted in the death of the shooter.
Sunday morning, Sept. 1, Odessa churches were filled with those seeking to understand.
Members of Mission Dorado Baptist Church, within sight of the Cinergy Odessa movie theater where the violent chase ended, were painting classroom walls Saturday afternoon when gunshots erupted nearby. The church went on lockdown for four hours.
Pastor Del Traffanstedt decided to start the Sunday morning service with a moment of prayer.
“This is Odessa, Texas. Things like this don’t happen here. This is small-town Texas,” Traffanstedt told the congregation. “The reality is, things like this happen all over planet Earth all the time.”
The pastor praised first responders: “All the processes worked like they were supposed to,” he said. “So now it’s just soul care.”
At First Baptist Church, Odessa, the church where victim Joe Griffith was active with his family, pastor Byron McWilliams discarded his planned Sunday sermon to speak instead on responding to the tragedy.
“[R]egardless of what took place yesterday, our God is still in control. And we can trust him for that,” McWilliams opened, before praying for the Griffith family, other victims and first responders.
“We can’t fix this on our own. Jesus is our only hope,” McWilliams said as he asked the congregation to turn to Romans 8:18 for a sermon that he said could have been entitled, “When Suffering Comes.”
“We’re a family,” McWilliams said, before addressing from Scripture the two questions prevalent in the face of tragedy: Where is God? What do we do now?
We must look at suffering from God’s perspective, McWilliams said, explaining that Romans 8:18 reminds us that the apostle Paul suffered greatly and that at the tomb of Lazarus, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
“Jesus understood the consequences of fallen mankind better than anyone,” McWilliams said. “He knew the depths of total depravity of man,” something that in Odessa was “on display” during the shooting rampage.
“Jesus knew he was the only solution to redeem that pain,” McWilliams said, summarizing God’s perspective on suffering.
Suffering is also “unavoidable in this life,” the pastor continued. “But God’s got a better plan,” he urged, referencing 1 Cor. 13:12 and emphasizing the need, from Isa. 41:10, to pray for courage.
Finally, “when suffering comes, we must trust that the future God has prepared for us is infinitely beyond our imagination,” McWilliams said, adding that the day of the shootings, though “miserably hard,” was also “Joe Griffith’s best day because he stepped into the presence of almighty God and he is in heaven right now.”
The “ultimate answer to broken humanity” is Jesus, McWilliams continued. “Every single one of [is] a death waiting to happen …. Jesus is the only answer there is. He’s it. He’s the only answer we need.”
Still, Odessa mourns.
More than 1,000 gathered Sunday night, Sept. 1, at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, clad in “PermianBasinStrong” shirts and clutching yellow roses and lilies, news outlets reported.
A makeshift victims’ memorial at Sam Houston and 2ndStreet continues to grow.
While in Odessa, Elmore and the chaplains contacted churches to offer assistance. Elmore also spoke with Red Cross officials. Counseling is ongoing in schools, he said. The SBTC stands ready to help.
Jim Richards, SBTC executive director, came to Odessa on Fri., Sept. 6, where he attended both Griffith’s funeral at First Baptist and a previously scheduled SBTC pastor-church relations event, a pastor-wife “date night” designed to encourage area pastors and spouses and held at Midland’s Alamo Heights Baptist Church.
After the funeral, Richards said of the week’s events, ‘The heartbreaking tragedy that struck Midland-Odessa is already being overcome by the power of Jesus’ resurrection. Even in the face of evil and death, we can have the confidence that we are not victims but ultimately victors because of Jesus.’
Robert Murphy, Alamo Heights pastor, called the spouses event well-attended, timely and “a real blessing,” with Richards’ presence and message, as well as the participation of the SBTC’s Tony Wolfe, Doug Hixson, their wives and other staff.
The topic of the shootings did not dominate the evening, Murphy, who had recently visited El Paso on an SBTC vision tour, told the TEXAN.
People in the sister cities of Midland and Odessa have adopted a “good perspective” on the shootings, recognizing the “stark picture of what evil is,” Murphy said, adding, “We are going to press on.”
“There is grief for sure,” Elmore said, describing the city’s mood as different than the atmospheres of other places such as Sutherland Springs or El Paso. “There’s common grief, grief throughout the community, but a police action that results in a shooting has a different atmosphere than if someone goes in a place and starts shooting.”
Regardless, Elmore called for prayer.
“God does not cause evil,” he said. “Evil is here. God is using these [tragedies] to call the church to prayer. We’ve got to become a praying people. A proactive people,” he said.
The SBTC’s annual meeting in Odessa, Oct. 28-29, will include a special time of prayer for El Paso and Odessa.
—This article also contains reporting from the Dallas Morning News.