By Cheryl Magness
On Aug. 3, a lone gunman walked into an El Paso, Texas, Walmart and began shooting. In moments, 20 people had been killed and two dozen injured. Over the next two days, two more victims died from their injuries.
Early the next morning, on Aug. 4, another gunman began shooting people in the Oregon Historic District of Dayton, Ohio. Ten people died, including the gunman, and 27 others were wounded, 14 of them due to being shot.
No LCMS church members in either El Paso or Dayton are known to have been directly affected by the shootings. But LCMS congregations in both areas have been sharing in their communities’ grief, and in the days since the shootings occurred, coming together to support those affected.
Praying for repentance
Shortly before the shooting in El Paso, the Rev. Stephen Heimer, pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, El Paso, and his father, the Rev. Dr. Karl Heimer, pastor at San Pablo Lutheran Church, El Paso, were preparing to go on the air at El Paso’s Christian talk radio station, KELP. The radio station is just across the street from the Walmart.
“While entering the radio station,” Stephen Heimer said, “my dad heard a gunshot but didn’t believe his ears. I arrived a few minutes later with no clue anything was happening. … After the program, we went outside and saw the helicopters. Border patrol agents were redirecting traffic away from the area, and a message went out to shelter in place.”
Once they realized what had happened, the Heimers checked on their congregations and families, and Stephen Heimer visited the two area hospitals that were treating victims of the shooting. Later that evening, he shared some thoughts about the day on Facebook Live.
“We pray for repentance,” Heimer said. “We pray for change in our world.”
Quoting Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Heimer encouraged those experiencing anxiety, worry, fear and sadness to turn those feelings into prayers: “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:5–7).
Comfort and encouragement
Shortly after both incidents, comfort dogs from Lutheran Church Charities’ K-9 program arrived to bring encouragement and much-needed smiles to the hurting. The dogs and their handlers have been visiting hospitals, government offices and other locations to offer support to medical and service personnel as well as to victims and their families.
On Aug. 6, Zion, El Paso, hosted a prayer service that brought together members of area Lutheran churches and the wider community. The liturgy was led by the Rev. Howard Patten, assistant pastor at Zion and Rio Grande circuit visitor. Music was provided by Mariachi San Pablo, a program of the LCMS Recognized Service Organization Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care that includes members of both Zion and San Pablo Lutheran churches.
During the service, Stephen Heimer told those assembled, “There was no victory on Saturday … the attempt to destroy, to divide, to bring hatred into our community … did not succeed. So, we sing, with gladness, praises to the One who was victorious over death — our Savior Jesus Christ.”
CrossPoint Lutheran Church, El Paso, also has been actively serving those affected by the shooting, with church members writing letters and donating gifts and baked goods for firefighters, hospital personnel, victims and their families. The church also is organizing a blood drive to assist victims.
CrossPoint pastor Rev. Daniel Sattelmeier reported that a childhood friend of one of the church’s members was shot and, at this writing, is still recuperating in the hospital. He added that several of the hospital staff and first responders “were very shaken up by the shooting. Our team was able to pray and share God’s comfort with them.”
In his sermon on Sunday, Aug. 4, the day after the shooting, Sattelmeier quoted Deut. 29:29 (“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever”), assuring worshipers that “what happened yesterday didn’t go unnoticed” by God. “God has a reason and purpose, and one day we will understand, just as we have been fully understood,” he said. “Jesus Christ is Lord, and He is in control.”
‘We offer the Gospel’
One of the people killed in El Paso on Aug. 3 died protecting his wife and 9-year-old granddaughter. Though not members of Zion, his family attended the Aug. 6 prayer service, and Stephen Heimer was able to talk to and pray with them. Heimer said that at times of tragedy, the local church can offer “our presence and prayers to God with those who are grieving and wounded.” But even more important, he said, “We offer the Gospel.” He hopes that the relationships that are being formed as a result of this tragedy will lead more to hear that Gospel comfort.
On Monday, Aug. 12, LCMS Ohio District President Rev. Dr. Kevin Wilson wrote in a district communication that residents of Dayton are “still trying to come to grips” with the shooting. “While I’m thankful to God that our members were spared, it doesn’t dull my grief for those who were directly impacted by such violent sin.” Wilson encouraged prayers for all affected by the shootings in both Dayton and El Paso.
Posted Aug. 12, 2019