ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–When a disturbed young gunman appeared in the rear of Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, last September, 450 teens were packed in the auditorium. And although seven people were killed and the lives of the survivors and others associated with the church were changed forever, pastor Al Meredith said it was God’s grace that kept the tragedy from being even worse.
“Folks, we should have had 50 funerals that week,” he told the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference June 12 in a message on “Deliverance from Despair,” based on the prophet Jeremiah’s testimony of God’s faithfulness amid grief in Lamentations 3:21-27.
Meredith noted that while the gunman paced in the back of the auditorium shooting at anyone he saw who moved, many students were huddled on the back row who easily could have been massacred. One girl who shielded another girl with Down’s syndrome was shot in the back, but the bullet was deflected by scar tissue near her spine and she survived. And a pipe bomb that could have been devastating to everyone in the room exploded upward, blasting shrapnel into the balcony rather than into the crowd.
“It’s because of the Lord’s mercies that we were not totally consumed,” Meredith said.
A number of individuals have accepted Christ as a result of the testimonies of the survivors, Meredith noted. The incident has given the church a national voice they otherwise would not have had, he added, including an opportunity to offer an invocation at the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day that he transformed into a personal testimony to the life-changing power of Christ.
“Everywhere I go I find that God is using us,” Meredith said. “I’m getting opportunities to speak that I can’t imagine.”
Meredith led conference participants in a series of songs throughout his message testifying to God’s faithfulness since the shooting: “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” “Jesus Loves Me,” “You Are my Strength When I Am Weak” and “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand.”
The pain the congregation has felt has been slow in fading and will never be gone, Meredith acknowledged. But he told of one instance immediately after the tragedy in which God once again reminded them he was still in control.
The husband of the church secretary — a police officer who had been one of the first on the scene after the shooting — walked through the church sanctuary surveying the horror immediately after investigators allowed members to return.
“He said, ‘Oh God, I know you were here, but I don’t feel it in my heart. Somehow, God, let me know that you were here, that you weren’t on vacation,'” Meredith recounted.
It was then that the man spotted a hymnal that was askew, and he picked it up to find a bullet embedded in it that the investigators somehow had missed.
“He opened the hymnal to where the bullet stopped, and it was on the page that in our hymnal happens to be the ‘Hallelujah Chorus,'” Meredith said. “The bullet was pointing right at the line, ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And He shall reign forever and ever.’
“I’ve come from Fort Worth to tell you tonight, no matter how dark your night, he is still King of Kings and Lord of Lords,” Meredith concluded. “He is on the throne and he shall reign forever and ever.”