If Hurricane Harvey taught Houstonians anything, it was that lending a hand makes a world of difference to those who are hurting. Comfort came from across the miles and just around the corner to restore those who suffered loss. How far does God expect us to go to be His hands and feet to the hurting?
A three hours’ drive from The Loop Campus, First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, lost half of their members this past November in what Texas Governor Greg Abbott called “the deadliest mass shooting in the state’s history.” The attack on worshipers from a lone gunman resulted in the death of 26, many of them children, with 20 others being wounded. In spite of the distance between churches, God prompted the hearts of staff and several Houston’s First members to offer comfort and assistance to survivors and townspeople of Sutherland Springs.
The Sunday after the massacre, Pastor Gregg Matte held a special prayer time during the worship service for Sutherland Springs. “What now? How do we help?” were prayers on the lips of Houston’s First members that day. While churches and businesses in the San Antonio area were pitching in to construct a memorial to the victims, a small band of believers at Houston’s First heard God’s call to get involved.
During the corporate prayer time, God spoke to Mimi Patrick’s heart. The wife and mother of three heard clearly: “I want you to go.” Mimi even received specific marching orders. “Get 50 turkeys, knock on doors and offer prayer and support wherever it’s needed,” she said.
Lillian helped out in the food pantry in Sutherland Springs and other family members went door to door asking permission to share a Scripture, pray or simply listen. “We didn’t want to barge into anyone’s grief uninvited,” said Mimi, who ran the idea past church leaders before setting off to Sutherland Springs. “There was never a door slammed in our faces. In fact, many wanted to share personal details about their grief.”
Adam Mason, minister of Counseling Services at the Julianna Poor Memorial Counseling Center at Houston’s First, put together a team of counselors, Stephen Ministers, Pastoral Care and Missions staff to make trips to Sutherland Springs to be available for church members and townspeople who needed to talk.
“God was drawing people to Sutherland Springs,” said Adam. He said those grieving the loss of life, curiosity seekers, and God-seekers were coming from great distances to visit the memorial. He and individual team members made various trips from Houston to Sutherland Springs during November and December to ensure the memorial was being staffed by those who could tackle difficult questions and open the door to faith in Christ for those who were seeking.
When God calls, He has a place specifically for every believer to serve, regardless of credentials. “Those of us who came to help wanted visitors to remember the lives of faith lived by those who died,” said Adam. “Every one of them was a believer. Sharing the hope they had in Christ opened the way to ask the question, ‘Are you a person of faith?’”