God lives here in Sutherland Springs, Texas. He was inside the walls of First Baptist Church on Sunday, when evil invaded. The outside attack on innocent lives in a sanctuary killed 26 people and wounded 20 others. But all along God was there.
“People don’t understand the true nature of God. He's there. He's literally there all the time,” says La Vernia EMS Chief Paul Brunner. Brunner is one of the first responders who got the call on Sunday November 5th.
“He's there as your resource and you’re support and what I know to be true. I don’t even call it a belief. Because it's what I know to be fact. He's there all the time. He's there. He’s just right there.”
Husband and wife EMTs Mike and Jamie Shaw walked through the doors of First Baptist moments after the gunman fled. They still can’t describe what they saw inside.
“God knows what he's doing. The reasons behind it, we'll never know. Why it happened. But he has a reason. He has a reason for everything,” explained Jamie Shaw.
Jamie and Mike provided life-saving treatment as the dozens of victims who were shot inside the sanctuary.
Even in the midst of a massacre, God was there too. David Brown describes what his mother, Farida, witnessed as she ducked underneath the pews.
"The shooter was making his rounds. He ended up there and started shooting this lady multiple times the lady looked at my mom the whole time and my mom was looking at her telling her, ‘it's okay you're going to go to heaven.’ She knew it was her turn next to be shot she just started praying that God would take her soul to Heaven. "
Farida Brown was shot four times in the leg and survived. Her friend did not.
After it was clear the gunman was gone and the threat was over, a circus began to build outside the church. Suddenly there were more media, investigators and volunteers than actual residents of Sutherland Springs.
Leather clad bikers with patches praising Jesus pray along the side of the road. They left their overnight jobs at 6 A.M. and drove two and a half hours from near Houston to fight.
“The entire world is the battle ground. This is a focal point,” says Mark York from the Christian Motorcyclists Association. “Prayer is the greatest weapon there is. It's the only weapon we have that is effective against the evil attack. That's what this is. It's an attack on evil.”
York delivers a strong message to anyone who questions faith in the wake of this tragedy.
“Those people haven’t read the Bible. I'd say go read the Bible. Don’t start talking about how much you know about the spiritual word until you read the instruction manual.”
Donna Watkins came in from out of town, too. Her brother was murdered 20 years ago, and she feels like she understands what parishioners are going through. Watkins says she made the journey here after getting a sign from God.
“A butterfly flew in and I said, “Okay, Lord, you’ve given me the sign so that inspired me to come here.’”
Pastor Mike Clements of First Baptist in neighboring Floresville will preside over several funerals. As he prepares, he also prays.
“We need to be praying. We need to be engaging God’s word,” Clements says. “Those prayers go somewhere. They ascend to god on his throne. These are petitions where these people are asking God for something.”
Each night-- the people of Sutherland Springs and nearby La Vernia, Floresville, Stockdale and Seguin find fellowship. Everywhere you look, there’s prayer. It can be a somber salute or sounds of praise. But the prayer is always there.
Despite the weight of grief, the healing is already happening.
“There's something there and it's beyond what I’m going to understand this side of life. you just don’t get the answer all the time,” Brunner claims. “It's like eternal optimism.”
It is God who brings them together on Sundays. It is God who will help them heal.
“Even in the deepest, darkest times that hope and love in Christ does not dissipate, it doesn't go away,” says Pastor Matthew Deal.
That’s the heart of this small town. When evil invaded...faith prevails.
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