By Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)
SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, TEXAS (ANS – Nov. 13, 2017) – The shooting tragedy in Sutherland Springs, Texas is not a gun control issue – it is HEART issue. It is a SPIRITUAL issue, say the organizers of 419 Fund (https://419fund.com) .
“We have some very disillusioned and disturbed 20-somethings in our country who have come to believe that taking their unhappiness and bad circumstances out on others is the way to solve their problems. Christ is the ONLY way to solve these issues,” the organizers said.
On its website, 419 Fund asks: “Can you believe that our Christian brothers and sisters are being persecuted and discriminated against right here in these United States?
“Countless believers have had their funding campaigns shut down by these other popular crowdfunding sites solely because they are asking for help with a faith-based message.”
That ends today, 419 Fund organizers said.
“We here at the 419 Fund have created a safe environment for our fellow believers to help each other out in their time of need.
“If you’ve had your funding campaign ended by one of the other crowdfunding sites because of your faith, you can rest assured that will not happen here. We will accept you with open arms and open hearts. And if you’re here to donate to a funding campaign, you can rest easy knowing you’re giving to fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who desperately needs your help.”
419 Fund has set up a new fund to help the families of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. Included in the 27 deaths were 8 members of one family.
On it site, 419 Fund stated: “There are so many financial needs this week, especially the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, TX. Consider 26 funerals at $7-10,000 each ($182,000 – $260,000), razing the existing building, creating a permanent memorial park and, of course, raising a new church building.”
Fund organizers concluded: “Let’s do our part in helping these dear Christians in their time of grief and financial need; let’s relieve them of one burden – the financial one. This is a time for Christians to come together. 419 Fund has set up a funding opportunity on our website for this Church.”
Please donate any amount today at: https://419fund.com/projects/first-baptist-church-of-sutherland-springs
On Sunday (Nov.13.), Pastor Pomeroy of First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, preached to an overflow crowd of more than 600 people in a white tent just down the road from his church where 27 people, including his 14-year-old daughter Annabelle, and an unborn child, were killed and many others wounded.
The New York Times reported that under heavy clouds and spitting rain, hundreds of people gathered at a baseball field to worship with the survivors of the massacre at the First Baptist Church one week ago.
Pastor Frank Pomeroy fought back tears as he delivered his sermon, which emphasized the power of light to triumph over darkness.
It was the church’s first Sunday service since a masked gunman, Devin P. Kelley, opened fire on parishioners in a methodical shooting that may have lasted as long as seven minutes.
In its report,he New York Times stated the small church on Fourth Street remained closed on Sunday morning, so parishioners and hundreds of guests gathered under a white tent. But in the evening, the church reopened — this time as a memorial.
The walls had a fresh coat of white paint and the pews were gone. Folding chairs stood where the victims were said to have been worshiping at the time of the shooting. Red roses with chiffon ribbons rested on the chairs, where the first names of the victims were painted in gold.
Dozens of people lined up outside. Yolanda Mora, 62, a friend and neighbor of a victim, Joann Ward, recalled seeing Ms. Ward’s children at the bus stop every morning. “It’s senseless,” Ms. Mora said, sobbing after walking through the church. “I could picture their faces sitting there.”
The week since the shooting has been filled with funerals, tearful gatherings and shared grief in this unincorporated community of a few hundred people southeast of San Antonio.
On Sunday morning, congregants sang “Amazing Grace” and said they found strength in Mr. Pomeroy’s message: “Darkness will not win.”
“This past weekend, our country was attacked, our state was attacked, our church was attacked,” Pomeroy said. “Glory to God, our people were attacked.”
Referring to Veterans Day on Saturday, he added, “We celebrate and remember the veterans who fought and died so that we can have freedom in this country.”
“But last weekend men, women and children also fought for the freedom we have here this morning,” Pomeroy continued. “We have the freedom to choose, and rather than choose darkness, as this one young man did that day, I say we choose light.”
In his emotional sermon on Sunday morning, Mr. Pomeroy urged congregants not to despair. “Just because we are wounded doesn’t mean to turn back,” he said. “We should fight back. I say, do not allow the lives that have been lost or changed to be in vain.”
The people under the tent applauded and said, “Amen.”
“I know everyone who gave their life that day,” he said, pausing to gather himself. “Some of whom were my best friends and my daughter.” He wiped his eyes, then added, “I guarantee they are dancing with Jesus today.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that initially, the church had planned to hold Sunday’s service at an adjacent community center, which can accommodate a few dozen people. But when organizers realized hundreds planned to attend, the service was moved to a large white tent erected on a baseball field.
So many people turned up that the tent’s side flaps had to be opened for an overflow crowd so that those who couldn’t get a seat could see and hear what was going on inside. Mark Collins, a previous pastor at First Baptist, said it was the largest gathering in the church’s 100-year history.
The newspaper said the front three rows were reserved for survivors of the attack and the families of those killed. Many arrived early, as a steady rain fell on the tarp roof, offering hugs to each other and prayers.
Congregants wept during the service and a moving version of “Amazing Grace,” led by three singers and a man on guitar, as the voices of hundreds sang along. Some bowed their heads, others raised their hands and swayed as the music played, and tears streamed down their faces. “Amazing Grace” was also played at halftime at Floresville High School at Friday night’s game, in tribute to the victims.
Later Sunday, the First Baptist Church opened its doors for the first time since the shooting. The inside had been transformed into a memorial with its walls, floor and pulpit painted white.
The newspaper said broken windows and ceiling tiles had been replaced and bullet holes filled. The church’s pews, the carpet and all equipment had been removed. All that filled the space were the 26 white chairs, each with a red rose tied to it except for one that had a pink rose for the unborn baby.
A line of about 85 people snaked from the church entrance and curved around the block, including people who traveled from as far away as the East Coast, said Collins, the church’s former pastor who has returned to help in the tragedy’s aftermath.
Constructing the memorial wasn’t an easy decision, said Collins. Some members have said they never wanted to step foot inside the site, he said, while others have said they needed to see it.
The newspaper reported next Sunday’s service is expected to take place on the grounds of the church, probably in a makeshift structure, Collins said. Church members will have to decide whether to demolish the church, as some have said is likely, he said, but plans are also being discussed to build a new structure nearby.
As the service was ending, mourners lined up to hug Pomeroy while the First Baptist Church choir from Seguin, Texas, sang, “I Surrender, Lord.”
The church has reached out to alleged shooter Devin Kelley’s family and was praying for them, Collins said. “Our hearts and prayers go out to his family,” he added.
For Sunday’s service, people from other churches dropped off handmade prayer cloths and tiny wooden crosses, among other gifts. Mental health organizations provided tissues and brought therapy dogs to the service.
After the service, John Barnhill, 46, a U.P.S. worker who has been delivering packages to residents of Sutherland Springs for seven years, said he was glad to see so many people gathered despite the tragedy that had kept the church doors closed.
“In Texas, we know the Devil can’t beat us,” he said. “You may kick us out. But if we have to do it in the middle of a baseball field, it don’t matter. We’re going to have church.”
The Texas Department of Public Safety said the victims included 10 women, eight children, seven men and the fetus of one victim, Crystal M. Holcombe. (At the memorial, the rose for the unborn fetus was pink.) Eight of the dead belonged to a single family.
Photo captions: 1) Pastor Frank Pomeroy with his wife Sherri. 2) A church service was held on Sunday at a baseball field near the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. (Credit: Drew Anthony Smith for The New York Times). 3) The First Baptist Church sanctuary reopened Sunday (Nov.12) as a memorial to those who died in the shooting spree. (Credit: Drew Anthony Smith for The New York Times). 4) Mourners gathered to sing and pray in front of a memorial to the victims. (Credit: Drew Anthony Smith for The New York Times). 4) Michael Ireland of ASSIST News Service.
About the Writer: Michael Ireland is a volunteer internet journalist serving as Chief Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as an Ordained Minister, and an award-winning local cable-TV program host/producer who has served with ASSIST Ministries and written for ANS since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. You may follow Michael on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MichaelIrelandMediaMissionary.com , and on Twitter at @Michael_ASSIST. Please consider helping Michael cover his expenses in bringing news of the Persecuted Church, by logging-on to: https://actintl.givingfuel.com/ireland-michael
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