SANTEE, Calif. (BP)–The Southern Baptists in Santee, Calif., a bedroom community outside San Diego, are a small, but faithful band of believers. They gather in small, non-descript buildings and storefronts with congregations numbering in the low hundreds. But in the days following the shootings at Santana High School, Southern Baptists from across San Diego County have united to reach out to an unchurched community, providing spiritual solutions to the area’s woes.
“The response from the Southern Baptist community has been remarkable,” said Terrell Eldreth, pastor of the Carlton Hills Southern Baptist Church in Santee. “Three of our churches here provided crisis counseling not only in churches but even at our Santee Youth Center.”
Everyone in his small congregation has been touched by the tragedy at Santana High School — even the senior adults, Eldreth said. On March 7, a group of senior adults filled a pew at Carlton Hills during a youth worship and prayer service for the victims of the tragedy.
“I think it sends a powerful statement to our young people when the seniors are coming out to show their support for teenagers,” Eldreth said. “But they were also coming for themselves. Many of them wonder what has happened in our society that would allow a teenager to murder his classmates.”
Eldreth’s son, Tim, a sophomore at Santana High School, wonders, too. A sophomore, the 16-year-old boy is a center on the school’s football team. He is also a strong believer in Christ.
“As soon as I heard the gunfire, I immediately thought about Columbine High School and that girl [Cassie Bernall],” the younger Eldreth recalled. “At the time, none of us knew why the guy was shooting and I wondered if maybe he was targeting Christians.”
And that gave Eldreth time to think.
“I was sitting in that classroom wondering if I would be able to stand up and say I was a believer,” he said. “It sure drew a whole lot of respect for her [Bernall].”
The younger Eldreth said he sees his responsibility as a Christian in a new light. “This is a time to witness,” he said. “I think this has made me stronger. And I think the Christian community here will get stronger, too.”
Dave Brock, the youth pastor at Carlton Hills, said he believes the shooting at Santana will lead to a spiritual awakening in the community.
“My desire is to see all of San Diego come together and like a wildfire it would spread,” said the 22-year-old minister. “I’m excited in the spirit knowing that God will be glorified through this.”
Phil Herrington, pastor of the nearby Pathways Community Church, said he found strength during the crisis among his Southern Baptist brothers and the local association of Baptist churches.
“Some of the first calls I got were from the association (San Diego Baptist Association) wanting to know what they could do to help,” Herrington told Baptist Press. “Our association spent Wednesday night delivering materials to our churches to help us.
“To me, being a Southern Baptist means there is some foundational support we can go to during crisis,” he said. “We have the autonomy of the local church, yet cooperation is really true. It works.”