This will be a different blog than all the others we have written, less about the Rescue Missions, and more about the cities we have been in who have experienced tragedies or disasters; no “trip quips”, just heartfelt words of what we have seen.
- In Tuscaloosa, Alabama we saw the after-effects of the tornado that devastated the city last year.
- The night we pulled into the Washington, D.C. area, the big storm hit the east that took away power from millions of people, killing several. We were fortunate to have electricity at our house, but not so for the neighbors down the road and thousands of neighborhoods. Washington DC was declared a state of emergency and many found shelter in malls or other places with air-conditioning, because in the midst of this disaster, we were having record heat waves. Walking through the mall, we saw every available outlet in the middle of the floors filled with cell phones, electric razors, computers and other electronic devices. How strange it was to see a man shaving in the middle of the mall.
- In New York City, we stood at the 911 Memorial and looked up at the shining new twin towers rising tall and proud.
- In Biloxi, Mississippi and New Orleans, Louisana, many flooded houses from “Katrina” are still sitting abandoned seven years later.
- We arrived in Pensacola, Florida just two weeks after flash flooding that had swept through the area, causing thousands of dollars worth of damage alone in the mission we were serving at.
- Finally, less than 48 hours before we arrived in Denver, tragedy struck the nearby suburb of Aurora, Colorado, when a gunman came into the Century 16 movie theater , shot and killed 12 people, wounding 58 others.
We stood in the empty field across from the theater in Aurora, where a make-shift memorial had been set up with flowers, candles, stuffed animals, and notes of prayer. Six crosses had been erected, and a man came carrying two more while we were there. He was a carpenter, who actually made the crosses for the victims at Columbine, and does this type of thing all around the country when tragedy strikes. When he finished the final four, he put the names of the 12 people who had died in the theater shooting on the crosses, as his way of honoring them. We stood with tears streaming down our faces, thinking and praying for the families who were grieving at this very moment. We thought of our own sons and daughters who also go to movies on opening night, and who could very well have been a victim in a tragedy like this.
We went to church that morning in Aurora in which the emotional first half of the service consisted of prayer for victims, families, first responders, and the city. After we prayed for each group of people, we sang, “Lord, have mercy on me.” The pastor shared that this was the prayer most used in the Bible, and was spoken by people who were hurting, who needed God’s mercy in their life at that time. Then the pastor preached the message on “Responding to Tragedy and Loss.” He related it to how Jesus responded during a personal tragedy in His own life, and read from the account in John 11 when His good friend, Lazarus, died. His points, and applications for our life, were:
- Jesus WENT - (11:7) even though risky or maybe awkward – we don’t know what to say, just being there means so much. In fact, Jesus name is “Emmanuel” -which means “God with us.”
- Jesus WEPT - (11:35) also in Romans 12:15 – “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
- Jesus WORSHIPPED (11:41-42) we worship in song, prayer and proclaiming who Jesus is – so that in the midst of tragedy, people see God. Jesus’ prayer was - “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
- Jesus WOKE Lazarus (11:43-44) We may not be able to raise the dead, like Jesus did – but the point is that the situation can be reversed – Life can come from death. We can pray for those who God might wake to eternal life in the aftermath of a tragedy – “light from darkness”.
We ended the service holding hands with the strangers around us, singing, crying, and praying together. We realized that whether we knew the victims or not, we are a family caring for one another. In the afternoon, President Obama flew into town on a surprise visit to comfort the families and let them know that America was behind them. Some family members mentioned that he quoted scripture to them during his visit in the hospital. Then later in the evening a prayer vigil was held in support of the victims. At least five different ministers prayed, people sang, dignitaries spoke, and they remembered the victims by reading the names, and having everyone respond “we will not forget you”.
It was an emotional day, but it became evident again that in the midst of tragedies, people are more willing to look to God. And in every city we visited, we have seen the people of America pulling together to help and praying together; stories of heroic acts warming our hearts, as triumph wins out over tragedy. For all of us, let this be an encouragement to follow the “four W’s” above when tragedy strikes around us, and let us bring the light of God into the darkness of evil.