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After mass shooting, how do churches help survivors?

GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP) — Someone walks into the marketplace and starts shooting. Chaos ensues. Lives are lost. How does the church help survivors recover?

“How numbing that has to be on those people?” asserts Ted Elmore, an incident preparation and recovery specialist with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC). “What do you do next? What are your next decisions? … It’s a shock. What do you do?”

The SBTC offers a new resource to Southern Baptists through a manual Elmore authored, “Incident Preparation and Recovery: A Spiritual and Physical Guide for Churches and Their Communities.”

“When we are prepared both spiritually and physically,” Elmore said, “we at least minimize the effect that the enemy intends through these evil acts and these shootings.”

Elmore describes God as a protector and encourages prayer and practicality in preparing to respond to such tragedies.

“The idea for the resource is first of all, that our churches would take serious … the evil in the form of shootings and pray, because God is our ultimate source and supply,” said Elmore, who is also an SBTC prayer strategist. “Through prayer we demonstrate our confidence and trust in Him, and He has said that He would be our protector.

“But we know from biblical-based and extra-biblical history that evil happens even to the people of God,” Elmore told BP. “Knowing that, we are wise to be prepared in case it does happen.”

Among several mass shootings in the U.S. since late July, a young man walked into an El Paso, Texas, Walmart Aug. 3, shot and killed 22 people and injured 26 others. The death toll nearly matched the November 2017 slaughter of 26 and wounding of about 20 worshipers at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards believes the SBTC has learned lessons that can be duplicated in other states.

“Our goal is to use the tragic experiences in Texas to benefit our sister conventions,” Richards told BP. “Since prayer is a key part of the strategy of healing and prevention, we pray the Lord will build a spiritual wall of protection around churches all across the nation as they use this resource.”

Thursday (Aug. 22), Richards and Elmore will be in El Paso for an evening prayer banquet for Southern Baptists of Texas church pastors and their wives at Immanuel Baptist Church, with targeted prayers for different aspects of recovery in El Paso. Elmore is arranging a weekend clinic in El Paso to train pastors in grief counseling, he told BP.

Initially, the SBTC mailed 3,500 copies of the manual in English to its cooperating churches, but will make the manual available as early as September to churches outside the state, with English and Spanish language versions available. A hard copy of the resource may be ordered from the SBTC Resource Store at sbtexas.com.

Elmore described the manual as about 16 pages long. Written specifically with Texas in mind, he said, other state conventions may adapt the manual to benefit from resources available in their individual states.

The manual follows extensive research, Elmore said, and includes a prayer guide encouraging prayer walking in communities targeting schools, churches and public places. It also recommends security training through Teamworks Consulting Inc., a firm in Dallas the SBTC has contracted with; and advises churches to offer certified grief and trauma counselors and to utilize laypersons in such roles as a public information officers and recovery detail personnel, the latter to determine whether all persons are accounted for after a shooting.

“If you can get leaders in place to do all of those things then, God forbid,” Elmore said, “if it happens you’re further down the road than you are if in your grief and your numbness, you have to get those people in place at that time.”