PITTSBURGH (BP) — Pastor John Freeman walked into the local Jewish Community Center hours after the Oct. 27 synagogue massacre of 11 and was at once on mission.
Freeman, pastor of the H2O City Church in Squirrel Hill, said the FBI was using the community center as a temporary hub where family members awaited news of victims who attended Tree of Life synagogue.
“I sat in there for a couple of hours, just listening to people, talking to people and comforting people, just being with them as they were waiting,” Freeman told Baptist Press today (Oct. 29).
H20 City Church served hot coffee and provided hundreds of candles for an Oct. 27 evening vigil in Squirrel Hill, held an extended time of prayer in its Oct. 28 service, and has assigned members to pray hourly for the community that is home to three synagogues.
“You can still feel the oppression. You can just still feel the weight walking through the neighborhood,” Freeman said. “We emphasize just being everyday missionaries, and building relationships and running our missional communities. … It’s that everyday missionary work that you do to build relationship that prepares you to be a comforting presence in a time of need like this.”
Ric Worshill, executive director of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship (SBMF), said its 30 member congregations, 300 missionaries and small house churches are praying nationally.
“We’re praying for the families all the time, because where there’s much prayer there’s much power,” Worshill told BP. “My wife and I are also police chaplains, and we happen to know a couple of the police chaplains who are in Pittsburgh. We’re praying for them as well, because they’ve got their hands full.”
Police have charged Robert Bowers with 29 felony counts after the murder of 11 and injury of six during Shabbat at the Tree of Life Synagogue just before 10 a.m. Eastern time Saturday. Among federal charges are 11 counts of murder and 11 counts of obstruction of the exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death, a hate crime, NBC News reported. Bowers also faces state crimes.
“All Jews must die,” Bower yelled as he began shooting, killing worshippers ranging in ages from 54 to 97. Two disabled brothers are among the dead. At least two of the injured, a 70-year-old man and a 55-year-old police officer, were in critical condition today, NBC said.
Anti-Semitism is not new, Worshill said, but is spreading palpably.
“I think that anti-Semitism is growing, from what I have seen, around the world,” he said. “You look in the Middle East, you have this little tiny country called Israel, and it’s about … 85 percent Jewish in background … and everybody who lives around them hates them. And it’s a little tiny place, compared to other huge pieces of property around them.”
Satan drives the hate, Worshill said.
“He wants to destroy God’s remnant, His chosen people,” said Worshill, who became a Messianic believer at age 34. “[God] chose [Jewish people] for a purpose. … He hasn’t finished His plan with the Jewish people.”
Most SBMF members actively worship and partner with synagogues, Worshill said.
“You have to understand, we’re evangelical Christians. It’s not always welcome, but we have some people who are actually attending orthodox synagogues, and worshipping with them,” he said. “Basically we worship the same way. The difference is we’re able to show the Christ. … When we say those prayers when we’re in a Jewish synagogue, we’re able to show the connection to Christ. They haven’t seen it yet.”
Chosen People Ministries (CPM), among Messianic groups the SBMF partners with nationally, has ministries in Pittsburgh.
Jeff Kipp, a pastor licensed with CPM, leads Congregation Yeshua Ben David less than three miles from Tree of Life.
“This event happened while we were in the middle of our Shabbat service Saturday morning,” Kipp said. “It was pretty shocking to all of us. We locked our doors and immediately stopped our service to tell everyone, and went into a place of prayer and intercession.”
Financial help and prayer are practical ways to help, Kipp said. He encourages churches and others to send checks to Tree of Life families through the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, 234 McKee Place, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. Their phone is 412-681-8000.
“We can’t do anything more than just do the best we can to tell Jewish people, ‘We love you, we care about you, we’re going to overcome this with you,'” Kipp told BP. “Love is greater than hate. We’re stronger than hate. … And just try to let Yeshua shine through us.
“We can’t be overtly evangelistic,” he said, “especially at a time like this. But we have to be, very much, wise as serpents and gentle as doves.”
See BP’s Oct. 27 story.