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Speakers say random violence strikes multitudes in ‘unimaginable prop

SAN ANTONIO (BP)–Random violence is like flipping a pebble into a pond. The ripples eddy out, reaching farther and farther from the epicenter.
Joe Williams illustrated the reach and depth of random violence by telling of a young man who had been married only a few months when the Oklahoma City federal building was bombed April 19, 1995.
The young man’s father-in-law was one of the victims. He stood beside his new wife as she grieved, and he grieved with her. She finally told him she wanted to move back in with her mother and sister because they “understood” her grief and what she was experiencing and he couldn’t.
He agreed, reluctantly. Soon, she told him she wanted a divorce. Then she moved to the West Coast, as far away as possible from the place of her grief.
Williams quoted the young man as saying: “If it hadn’t been for Tim McVeigh [the convicted bomber], I would still be happily married. Now Debbie [not the woman’s real name] and I will never have the baby we dreamed of having together. All because of him.”
Random violence strikes unexpectedly and with horrible ferocity, speakers said at a recent conference on “The Church and Random Violence.”
Bruce Tippett, pastor of First Baptist Church, Jonesboro, Ark., told how two boys — ages 11 and 13 — shot down four students and a teacher and wounded 11 more at a middle school.
“Random violence leaves you without a rational basis of response,” he said. “It is random — without cause and effect — and it is violence of unimaginable proportions,” he said.
Williams and Tippett were two of the speakers at the conference at First Baptist Church of San Antonio March 29, sponsored jointly by the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ church/minister relations department, the LeaderCare ministry of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention and the San Antonio Baptist Association.
Williams, a Federal Bureau of Investigation chaplain, talked of “compassion fatigue” as he told of ministering for 19 days after the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed.
Tippett told how he, the church of which is pastor and the community where he lives coped with and ministered in the midst of the horror of the Westside Middle School shootings.
Dick Maples, director of the BGCT church ministries department, pulled from his experience of 34 years as a pastor to tell of the abduction, rape and murder of a 10-year-old girl in the church family and community where he served.
Brooks Faulkner, head of LeaderCare, gave suggestions of how ministers, counselors and other caregivers can help victims of violent crime.
Tommy Mitchell, pastor of First Baptist Church, Pearl, Miss., was scheduled to participate but was unable to come because of an injury. He made material available.
On Oct. 1, 1997, a teen with a troubled past walked into Pearl High School and opened fire, killing two teenage girls and wounding seven others. He had killed his mother before coming to school on that fall day.
Mitchell has developed material suggesting ways the church can deal with random violence, which he predicted is “coming to a town near you.”
All of the speakers noted that it is not a matter of “if” random violence will strike, but “when.”
Faulkner offered some guidelines for dealing with random violence:
— Some questions have no answers. (He encouraged caregivers not to give cliche or pat answers to complicated issues.)
— All events and happenings are not connected. (Just because a mother was late getting home was not the cause of her daughter’s abduction and death.)
— A person must not assume blame for bad things. (A parent is not to blame for a murdered child, nor is a grieving spouse guilty of his mate having cancer).
— The real question is, What am I going to do about it?
“Who does suffering serve?” Faulkner asked. “Dorothee Sowelle, the German theologian, speaks of ‘the devil’s martyrs’ and ‘God’s martyrs.’ The ‘devil’s martyrs’ force themselves into despair and disbelief. ‘God’s martyrs’ give illness room to exist, accept accidents as a fact of life and regard human tragedy as inevitable.”
He also offered a series of suggestions as to pastoral care skills needed in dealing with random violence.
“The caregiver must understand his or her own clay feet, stay in touch with their feelings, know when he or she is in over their head, know when to refer and who to refer to,” he said.
A caregiver must develop compassion, not sentimentality, he continued, as well as gain technical skills and learn to express feelings discriminatingly.
If a caregiver “has a ‘seriously shaky’ relationship with spouse or children, Faulkner advised that a caregiver should withdraw from the counseling relationship as gracefully as possible.
“Caregivers with ‘seriously shaky’ relationships will find themselves finding the same faults in the counselee as in his or her immediate family. This is how illicit relationships take place in counseling.”
Mitchell, in the materials he provided, offered suggestions for responses and noted, as did Tippet, that the first response will depend on earlier preparation.
Tippett told participants he had been trained in disaster response at a hospital in another town, and that training clicked into place when the Jonesboro shooting disaster occurred. Similarly, he added, teachers who had undergone earthquake response training reacted as they had been trained, even if the disasters were not similar.
Mitchell suggested three immediate responses:
— Start with the greatest need. (Do we have church members directly involved, as victims, students, faculty, police, EMS, fire or other officials?)
— Evaluate your capacity to render servant ministries. (Can our church be a people center, supply food or drink, provide transportation, do injury notification?)
— “Drop everything else — everyone else already has.
After the immediate tragedy, Mitchell suggested that ministers and others “be careful with the media. Minister to your own people first, then use the media wisely with positive statements. Make your own church a safe place from the media.
“Dealing with the media will provably be the one area in which you feel total frustration. My suggestion is all organizations officially designate a media spokesperson.”
Conference leaders also urged that when a disaster strikes there be a good information channel. “Rumor control is very important,” as Mitchell pointed out.
Mitchell also cited the role of the preacher and noted that churches can have special prayer or informal memorial services, but recommended that pastors “not speak of this event every time they worship. There are appropriate times to speak of them and not to speak of them.”
Creation of a crisis response plan and prior preparations are essential to response, conference leaders said.
The plan should include the organization and budget, development of a media plan, preparation for use of buildings and personnel, relationships with hospital, law enforcement and first responders, according to Mitchell.
All of the leaders urged caregivers to pay special attention to law enforcement personnel.
“Law enforcement and other personnel will respond to the crisis in some fashion. Some will be visibly angry, others shaken, some sick, some very quiet, some will just shrug it off,” Mitchell said.
Williams told of suicides, divorce, depression and drinking/drug problems which have affected caregivers in Oklahoma City.
He also noted that many of the dogs brought into find survivors and bodies have died. Many of the animals experienced depression, picking it up from their handlers.
“Occasionally we would have to bury a live person in the rubble so the dogs could have a success experience,” he said.
All agreed that the effect of random violence — whether it is a bombing, a schoolyard shooting, a rape/murder of a single child — sends ripples out in unexpected directions and with unexpected and unintended consequences, changing the lives of all it touches, even peripherally.

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  • Dan Martin