FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Smiles mixed with tears. Life lessons learned, accompanied by unanswered questions, ministry amid sorrow. Grief mixed with joy. 364 days, 15 hours, 1 minute. For some people it had seemed like an eternity. For others it seemed like only yesterday.
A year has passed since Sept. 15, 1999, when Larry Ashbrook killed seven people and wounded seven others at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. To mark the day, to remember the victims and to honor God, people gathered on the campus of nearby Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for a memorial service at 10 a.m. Sept. 15, 2000.
Wedgwood does have joy, “but it is joy with tears in our eyes,” said Wedgwood pastor Al Meredith, who delivered the sermon during the service.
Preaching from Isaiah 43, Meredith drew three lessons: “God says, ‘Fear not,’ not ‘Weep not;’ God by his grace brings his people through tragedy not around it; and when tragedy comes, God often tells his people who, not why.
Meredith reminded people that it is okay to ask why, but often God, as he did with Job, will respond by affirming who he is.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever know why this happened,” Meredith admitted. “It is enough that I know him.”
Meredith concluded his sermon by leading the people at the service in singing “This Is My Father’s World.”
Three of the people killed had attended Southwestern. Sydney Browning, 36, had graduated in 1991, Shawn Brown was in the middle of his degree program, and Kim Jones had just begun her first semester. In addition, Kristi Beckel, 14, was the daughter of Robert Beckel, a 1993 alumnus. Kevin Galey, a graduate and a doctoral student, and Jeff Laster, a graduate and masters student, were among the people most seriously wounded.
Kathy Jo Brown, the widow of Shawn, said that it could have been easy to become bitter this past year, but instead she has seen her relationship with God deepen.
“I have learned to see our times together as dates,” she said. “He takes me out and as I go walking, the flowers that he sends as I go along the way, that he sings over me with love, and he truly is my husband.”
Stephanie Jones, mother of Kim, led the people at the service in repeating a statement from Kim’s journal that has become a motto for Jones.
“Jesus, because of your love for me I want to know you so I can be like you, so I can serve you and tell others about you for your glory,” Jones read.
Jones said that a newly released video tape of her daughter’s life and testimony will allow Kim to fulfill her dream to travel the world and tell people about Jesus and to support missionary work.
Admitting that he wondered why God didn’t protect him and the others injured or killed, Laster said God told him, “Yes, I do protect you physically here on earth, but ultimately my protection came when I allowed my Son to die on the cross. And my protection is not in what happens to you here; it’s the fact that if something does happen to you here, you step over into eternal life with me. And that life started the day you accepted my Son and it doesn’t end.”
After asking people who had been in any way affected by the shooting to stand, Galey told them, “You are the next chapter that is to be written in the story of Wedgwood Baptist Church.
“It’s your chapter that has yet to be written. It’s the chapter of your life that the media needs to come and interview you and talk to you about how this has impacted your life. How has it impacted your life today and for years and years to come. God is going to bless this tragedy like nobody knows.”
The service also included Jay Fannin, Wedgwood youth minister and Southwestern graduate, who gave the opening prayer; Chip Gillette, Wedgwood church member and one of the first Fort Worth police officers on the scene; and Fort Worth Police Chief Ralph Mendoza.
Police, fire fighters and other emergency personnel at the service were asked to come to the front of the auditorium. Dozens did so while other people at the service gathered around them to lay hands on them and pray for them.
Gillette, who offered the prayer, challenged the people to remember the emergency personnel “more than just in a moment,” but whenever they see an emergency vehicle.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at www.sbcbaptistpress.org. Photo title: FANNIN PRAYS and KATHY JO BROWN.