AUSTIN, Texas (BP) — The spate of bombings in Austin that had everyone in the city on “high alert” may be over after suspect Mark Anthony Conditt killed himself with an explosive Wednesday (March 21).
The latest development left many Christian leaders thankful the situation didn’t become far worse, said David Smith, executive director of Austin Baptist Association.
“Though we grieve for the families, I think the casualty count was as low as it was because of prayer,” said Smith, who noted that Austin’s existing network of pastors had responded quickly to the crisis with unified prayer. “I believe God allowed this guy to make enough mistakes that it kept things from being even more serious than they were.”
The first bomb — a pipe bomb concealed in a package — killed 39-year-old Anthony Stephan House at his home March 2. On March 12, two more package bombs left 17-year old Draylen Mason dead and two others injured. A roadside bomb injured two young men March 18, and a package bomb injured a worker at a FedEx facility March 20. The motive for the bombings is still unknown.
As it became clear that a serial bomber was responsible, Smith said the intensity “really picked up for folks” and affected the way Austin residents viewed everyday life.
“Yesterday we had our pastors’ meeting at a local church, and we had not been there 10 minutes when the FedEx delivery guy showed up with a package,” Smith said.
The men froze for a second, and Smith’s assistant asked what they should do.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this is heavy,'” Smith said of the package that turned out to be a routine delivery. “Through all of this happening over the past few weeks, I didn’t sense panic on people’s part as much as sadness. But it is definitely a heavy duty kind of thing.”
In response to the attacks, pastors had rallied through Austin’s Unceasing Prayer Movement, a network that reaches across denominational and racial lines to mobilize Christians to pray.
“I think that the fact that our city is organized already for prayer and working together puts us in a strong position to respond,” said Kie Bowman, pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church.
Because the “vast majority” of the city is unchurched, Austin has an “extremely strong ministerial alliance” that is committed to working together, Bowman said. “From megachurches to church planters, we fellowship together, work together and pray together. So when things like this happen, we organize extremely quickly.”
Pastors also had planned a citywide prayer night in front of city hall March 26 to pray for law enforcement and a quick end to the serial bombings. But after the suspect ended his life, the event was cancelled.
Bowman said he believed God had heard the prayers of Christians all over the city.
“No matter where those bombings occurred, everyone in the city has felt them,” he said. “I’ve encouraged our people to pray for law enforcement and for the safety of our citizens and to encourage people around them that God has a plan through all of these disasters.”
Several families in Bowman’s church live in neighborhoods near the site of the package bomb explosions, he said. “We’ve tried to comfort and encourage them and also help everyone be ready for anything.”
Danny Forshee, pastor of Great Hills Baptist Church, said he too has seen a lot of fear among his church members in the past few weeks as some of them have known the victims or the victims’ families or had family or friends living in the victims’ neighborhoods.
To help encourage them to cling to Christ for peace, Forshee has penned devotionals that have gone out all over the city.
“The Bible has much to say to us about the powers of darkness and evil,” he wrote March 21. “We should pray for our enemies who, under the power of Satan seek … to work us woe.”
Spiritual realities are definitely at work in the world, and Austin is not immune from that, he said. But as Austin’s Christians have led the city in asking God for help, He has answered mightily, Forshee said.
“A lot of people have been fearful,” he said. “Today there is a lot of relief.”
For more information about Austin’s Unceasing Prayer Movement, visit austinprays.org.