It was supposed to be a day of prayer for the world’s persecuted church. No one in a sleepy Texas town could have ever dreamed the persecuted would be them. But that’s the harrowing reality for everyone in Sutherland Springs, who never saw yesterday’s shooting coming.
Like most of the tiny community that morning, they were in church — a place 26 of them will never visit again. For reasons law enforcement is still trying to piece together, a young gunman, firing before he even walked through the door, stepped into the church and changed the lives of almost everyone in Sutherland Springs forever. Just as the associate pastor was getting up to lead worship, people there to seek God began crying out to Him as their loved ones fell — one right after another. It was a horrific scene, one that no one — least of all a peaceful group of Sunday faithful — should have to endure.
More than two dozen people lost their lives that morning, from an unborn baby in the womb to a 77 year-old grandparent. By the grace of God, a nearby neighbor and local Sutherland Springs man chased down the gunman, Devon Patrick Kelley, and pinned him down until police arrived. But for the people inside that small sanctuary, nothing — not even the killer’s death — can bring back the families they loved. The church’s regular pastor, Frank Pomeroy, who was out of town, rushed home to find their 14-year-old daughter among the victims.
Few can comprehend the horror of the Holcombe family, who are mourning eight loved ones spanning three generations. Their heartbreaking story has stirred deep sympathy across the country as Americans try to imagine losing children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren in a single morning. For Joe and Claryce Holcombe, it was an unspeakable tragedy. Their son, pregnant daughter-in-law, three of that couple’s five children and their unborn baby, another infant granddaughter, and another son all lost at the hands of an evil man.
But, like so many of the grieving people of that small town in Texas, the Holcombes are drawing on the same faith that brought the family to church on Sunday morning. With absolute conviction, Joe reflected soberly, “It’s of course going to be difficult.” But, he said, “We are Christians; we have read the book. We know the ending, and it’s good.” Leaning on the Lord’s strength, he said — as much to the families of Sutherland Springs as to the Washington Post — “God will see us through.”
What a powerful testimony to everyone in our nation who’s hurting. Just a month removed from Las Vegas and even closer to the tragedy in New York, the heartbroken town from the fifth worst shooting in America have a message for the rest of the world: evil never triumphs. With most of their church family gone and their sanctuary beyond repair, the people of Sutherland Springs are not shaken. Led by the families suffering most, the world is not seeing violence, but a picture of the One who overcame it. “This is a small, Christian town, a very small community,” said one of the women at yesterday’s vigil. “Everybody’s united. Everybody’s so close to everybody.”
The evidence of our brokenness is everywhere — on a bike path, at a concert, in church. But God is still on His throne. Joe and Claryce Holcombe, in an agony no parents should have to face, said resolutely, “We’ll all be together soon.” Until then, we join so many millions of Americans in the prayer that God will bring comfort to this church and community. As 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 tells us, it’s who He is.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.”
Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.