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Las Vegas: Deeper faith urged 1 year after tragedy

LAS VEGAS (BP) — Pastor Brett Capaci likened Oct. 1, 2017 in Las Vegas to a terroristic 9/11 moment that even evoked the tears Jesus shed at Lazarus’ grave in Bethany more than 2000 years earlier.

“Our city in large measure fell into deep sadness, disappointment, disillusionment…. It was a 9/11 moment,” Capaci said of the day Stephen Paddock stood in an upper window of the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino and began firing a gun that could spew hundreds of rounds a minute, killing 58 and injuring about 500 at an outdoor concert.

Instead of questioning Jesus’ presence in the tragedy, as sisters Mary and Martha did in the biblical account of Lazarus’ death, Capaci encouraged Shadow Hills Baptist Church Sept. 30 to draw deeper into their faith.

“Disappointments in life can cause us to press deeper into our faith, not to lose faith and not to isolate our disappointments from our faith,” Capaci said, “but literally to go deeper into Who God is.”

Pastor Vance Pitman believes Jesus is the answer to the lingering questions and pain that many still feel a year after hundreds of wounded concertgoers were transported to Las Vegas hospitals, and perhaps hundreds of first responders were called into action.

“We want to try and be involved in the community so that we can have conversations with people that would lead them to Jesus, because we think that Jesus is the ultimate answer to all of the questions that they have,” Pitman, pastor of Hope Church, told BP on the anniversary of the deadliest mass shooting in the nation’s history. “We think it’s important to serve our city and serve our community, and share the love of Jesus with them, especially in times of crisis like this.”

His Sept. 30 worship service included prayers for first responders who shared the platform, and the presentation of a $25,000 gift to Sunrise Hospital to remodel a lounge that serves emergency personnel to demonstrate the church’s love and support. The money is what remains of a special fund the church created that has already given $25,000 to help community members affected by the shooting.

The church’s grief counseling has led to professions of faith and salvation among a few medical personnel, Pitman told BP. “They’ve come to know the Lord and gotten baptized in our fellowship.”

The shooting personally impacted Hope Church, Pitman said.

“We had some that were shot and wounded. We had some of the police officers that were first on the scene,” he said. “One of the officers that interviewed every victim in the hospital was in our church.”

Shadow Hills and Hope Church were just two congregations across the city who are remembering the shooting. A sunrise remembrance at the Clark County Government Amphitheater included 58 seconds of silence and the release of 58 doves. A City Hall prayer meeting and an evening service at the downtown Community Healing Garden built after the tragedy are also among many community events including a 5K run.

Remembrance is important to healing and looking forward, said Capaci, who addressed the anniversary in all of his four weekend services. He asked members to wear black and gold, the colors of the Las Vegas Golden Knights hockey team, in support of the city. Several Shadow Hills members were affected by the tragedy, both physically and emotionally.

“Remembering and memorializing this tragic event was important in order to bless the community by taking an active role in the healing process of all those directly or indirectly affected,” Capaci said. “Taking time to remember also provides the church an opportunity to honor and show gratitude toward our city’s first responders who constantly serve us on the front lines.”

Pitman believes the tragedy has strengthened the city and made it a more cohesive community.

“October 1 changed Las Vegas,” Pitman said. “Las Vegas went from being a community of transients to a united city of people that have come together as a real vibrant community. The (Twitter) hashtag originally was Vegas Strong. The one that’s going around today is Vegas Stronger.”

In addition to 58 deaths, the Federal Bureau of Investigations put the official number of those wounded by gunshots at 489. Hundreds of others were wounded by trampling as crowds fled the scene.

No motive for the shooting was ever uncovered. Paddock shot and killed himself as police approached his hotel room. His estate of nearly $1.4 million will be given to victims, the Associated Press reported Sept. 29.