EDITORS’ NOTE: The following supplements the BP story, “Southwestern remembers with tears and smiles one year after Wedgwood shooting,” dated 9/15/00.
FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–A year to the day after the worst church shooting in American history, some of the people closest to the shooting shared two simple truths that they had learned the past year: God still cares and God does not let his children go through trials alone.
About 1,000 people gathered in Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Truett Auditorium at 10 a.m. to remember the seven people who were killed by Larry Gene Ashbrook at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, Sept. 15, 1999.
“We serve an awesome God. God is so faithful. God is good. God loves us. God does not want us to feel like we’re alone.” said Kevin Galey, a doctoral student at Southwestern and one of those seriously wounded at Wedgwood.
“In the midst of tragedy, when you’re in the midst of the most difficult time in your life,” Galey continued, “you need to remember this: that you are not alone. You don’t suffer by yourself. You don’t go through pain on your own.”
Galey recalled a picture the church received that was drawn by a child in Connecticut, showing God with a tear running down his face.
“When we were weeping and when we were in our deepest sorrow, God was weeping with us,” Galey said. “And amidst that sorrow, he was loving us.”
Jeff Laster, a master’s-degree student at Southwestern and another of those seriously wounded, said he saw God’s care expressed in the many people who came up to him and told him they were praying for him.
“That really is a humbling experience,” he said. “I just don’t know what to say to really express the feelings that I have for people who take the time out to pray for me, because that’s really what has gotten me through this past year.”
Laster also said that though he might not have been physically protected at Wedgwood, he has been reminded that God’s protection came through Christ’s death on the cross, and that God is in control of situations like Wedgwood.
“There has never been an emergency meeting of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” he said. “They’re always aware of what’s going on.”
Stephanie Jones, mother of Kim Jones who was killed during the shooting, reminded the audience, “Life is so fragile. We need to treasure every moment. Since all this has happened, through it all, has there been pain? Yes. Have we felt at our lowest point? Yes. Did our hearts feel like they had been ripped from us? Yes. But, God’s love and strength and hope has been sufficient.”
Wedgwood, she said, has not been “just another tragic event” because lives have been changed and miracles have happened.
God gives power for Christians to live lives that exemplify him, Jones said, adding that is what Kim had done.
“[Kim] had learned to depend on him,” Jones said. “The light that was in her was Jesus.”
Kim had just begun her first semester at Southwestern when she was killed.
God’s goodness was the theme of Kathy Jo Brown’s remarks. The widow of Shawn Brown, a Southwestern student when he was killed, said that if she had been told the morning of the shooting what was going to happen, “I would have thought that was insurmountable. I would have thought that there was no way that could be survived, and that something like that would completely destroy my life.”
But, she continued, “I want you to know this year is an Ebenezer to me,” she said, referring to the Old Testament term which means “stone of help.” “It’s an Ebenezer of how far God has brought us in our own church, and me and my own life, and how he has been faithful every single day. He is so good.”
The events of the past year, she said, have amply proved to her Psalm 34:18, which says, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted.”
“I could never ever understand the magnitude of that verse had it not happened in my own life,” she said. “I am very, very thankful that through prayers and through his grace that we have been able to sense God’s goodness and his faithfulness and his love instead of turning bitter.”
The hope and grace that God has extended to her has helped her get through times of despair when it seemed even the thought of heaven seems insufficient to lift one’s spirits, she added, “because right now and right here is when we miss our loved ones.”
The battle is God’s, Brown said, drawing from 2 Chronicles 20, verses 12 and 15. “It is God’s battle, and he’s fighting it for us daily.”
All that matters in the end, she said, is to know God more and to share his love with other people.
The service was capped with a message brought by Al Meredith, pastor of Wedgwood Baptist. Drawing on Isaiah 43:1-3, Meredith drew three lessons concerning what God’s response is to tragic situations like the shooting.
“This past year I’ve heard a lot of folks come to me with a message ‘straight from God,’ and I’ve wondered. I’ve had people say, ‘If even one soul comes to Christ, it’s worth it all,’ and I’ve thought about that,” Meredith said. “I’ve looked into the ancient patristic fathers, and they had a Greek verb for that kind of thinking — ‘baloney.’ We cannot reduce our grief to a mathematical formula, wave our magic wand and pat one on the head and say, ‘Hey, it’s worth it all.’ [It] doesn’t work that way.”
God spoke to Isaiah about tragedies that the people of Judah were about to face — children torn from their families, violent deaths, exile, Meredith said, noting that it is as important to understand what God does not say as what he does.
“God says, ‘Fear not,’ not ‘Weep not,'” Meredith said. “What God is saying is don’t panic, don’t lose heart, don’t quit. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and of a sound mind. Only the father of lies will whisper in your ear, ‘It’s hopeless; it’s out of control.’ He is the author of the panic attacks.
“God never says, ‘Don’t weep.’ God who created our tear ducts knows we need to use them.”
Meredith said that despite the rebukes of people who would say, “Don’t be a baby; don’t cry,” he finds that every time he steps in the pulpit he starts to cry “and I found out that my tears reach more people than my sermons could ever reach.”
“In fact, the Lord himself says, ‘Blessed are they who mourn, who weep.’ Don’t let anyone tell you not to mourn, not to cry. You’ll get as sick as they are if you do it.”
Christians do grieve, but not as those who have no hope, said Meredith.
“In our tears, in our sorrow and our broken hearts, there’s an underlying hope that only God can give,” he said.
Meredith’s second point was that God takes his people not over times of trouble but through them.
“Through the waters, through the river, through the fire,” Meredith said. “That’s the operative word here. God is not in the business of building for us a bridge over troubled waters so that we can escape the trials and sorrows and griefs of life.
“Some might say that if one gets right with God, all that person’s problems will disappear, that you’ll be healthy, wealthy and wise. Tell that to Joseph. Tell that to Daniel. Tell that to our Savior, who never was anything but right with the Father, and he ends up strung out naked on a cross between time and space.”
Meredith said that some have asked foolishly whether Wedgwood has gotten over the shootings, and his reply was, “We will never get over this, but by God’s grace we will get through it.”
Meredith’s final point was that God tells his people who, not why.
“There’s a natural inclination to ask why,” Meredith said. “Don’t let anybody tell you, ‘A Christian shouldn’t ask why.'”
The Bible is filled with deep questions that often don’t have answers, Meredith noted, citing Ecclesiastes and Job.
“The Bible says little about the why of tragedy,” he continued. “Even when Jesus hung on the cross, the Father did not answer his why. He left him there to die, and thank God he did.”
God didn’t address Job’s questions as to why he was suffering, Meredith added. The Lord instead gave Job a wide-angle view of God’s greatness and power and told him who was in charge, Meredith said.
“God is in control,” Meredith said, “and he loves us, and we trust him. Do you?”