SAMSON, Ala. (BP)–Alisha Lewis and her family may live an hour away from Samson, Ala., but the little town nevertheless is home.
Her two kindergarten- and preschool-age daughters go to Samson Baptist Academy where their father, Wade Lewis, is principal and minister of music at Samson’s First Baptist Church. They can walk from class to his office and, from there, to the Big Little store across the street to get a drink. They’ve always done it without thinking.
“People walk the sidewalks without really thinking about it,” Lewis said. “It’s quiet — it’s business as usual. There’s not much going on.”
Until March 10 when everything changed.
Some of the kids had already made trips to the Big Little earlier that day, before 28-year-old Michael McLendon gunned down a woman at the store — victim No. 8 of 10 he killed. Other victims included several of his family members, the wife and child of a local sheriff’s deputy and others who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The Lewis children weren’t among them. Alisha Lewis learned that through the same phone call that informed her of the horrific murders.
But the family was placed in Samson for a reason — of this, she’s certain.
“For this small town to have that type of trauma, it’s devastating and overwhelming for people,” Lewis said. A tragedy like the shooting, she noted, “hits even closer to home when you have a tight-knit community like this.”
She knows this from professional experience — she’s a counselor with Pathways Professional Counseling of the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries (ABCH).
In the hours and days after the shooting, Lewis made herself available to the community, offering counseling time to the local high school where one of the victims was a student. She’s walked from local business to local business handing out her card.
She’s talked with children, teens and adults carrying a lot of grief, a lot of fear and a lot of questions. “Here everybody knows everybody. They are really dealing hard with the killings. There are mixed emotions, anger and tears,” she said.
There’s not a lot of physical evidence from the shootings left at the Big Little or the other parts of town torn apart by the killings, but the emotional scars remain — and will for a long time, Lewis said.
“In terms of counseling, there will be a great need to follow up,” she said. “Other people who are coming in to offer things now, it’s so appreciated, but when they drive away, there will still be a lot of people who need help who are hurting.”
When that happens, Lewis hopes they will pick up her Pathways card, see the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes and think, “I need to call this lady and get help.”
That’s the whole goal of the ministry, said Steve Sellers, ABCH church relations manager. “Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes responds to people in crises, whether that be a child or through Pathways.”
Sellers and ABCH southeastern regional director Kim McGainey also responded after the shootings, assisting First Baptist Church with a prayer service March 11 for the broken community.
“I want to thank you, Lord, that in the coming days that this community walks through that process of healing that there is a God who carries them through that valley,” Sellers prayed during the meeting, according to a report from CNN.
Wade Lewis led the crowd of about 300 in a “very worshipful, very moving song that brought peace to a lot of people,” Sellers said, and when an invitation was given at the end of the service, people flooded the altar, pouring out their hearts to God.
Area pastors — including First Baptist pastor Sam Totten — and counselors were there to minister to and talk with the people and “just did an awesome job,” Sellers said. “First Baptist Church, all the churches in the area and the [Geneva Baptist Association] director of missions responded in a tremendous way.”
Other churches in the area, such as Ino Baptist Church in Kinston held services and sought ways to minister to grieving families.
It’s a group effort that will continue, Lewis said. In the coming days, “We hope to keep helping hurting people to take care of themselves.”
Grace Thornton is assistant editor of The Alabama Baptist (www.thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention.