On March 24, the attention of America became riveted on Jonesboro, AR as two young boys, ages 13 and 11, ambushed their middle school classmates. Four students and one teacher were killed and many others were wounded. Shockwaves of horror went through the land as religious and secular people alike began to ask, “Where has our society gone wrong?” We sat down recently with a group of pastors in Jonesboro to talk about preaching in the aftermath of tragedy. The four are: Rodney Reeves, Central Baptist Church, Fred Haustein, First United Methodist Church, Adrian Rogers, Fullness of Joy Church, and Bruce Tippitt, First Baptist Church.
Preaching: You’re pastors who have experienced a terrible tragedy in your community. From the perspective of a pastor, the first question I would ask, is “What have you learned about preaching in the aftermath of this event?
Reeves: People really are looking for words of comfort. It’s hard to overestimate or underestimate the role of preaching in a body of believers or a community of faith. It seems easy to say, “Our words really don’t matter,” or to place too much stock on what we say. I’ve discovered there is a balance. People really do derive much comfort from God’s word presented in a way that addresses where we are.
To me, what’s so miraculous about this word is that He accommodated us by offering an addressive word through His word to those people at that time. The relevance of that word is an amazing thing. In the memorial service, and in other public places, the reading of the Word and an attempt to explain the Word seemed to have a very powerful healing force.
Rogers: I’ve found in funerals and in memorial services and in the things that I’ve been involved in that people don’t necessarily want to talk about the tragedy. They can hear that on the news. They know what happened and they’re looking to the church and to their pastor for hope. They’re looking to us to know that the pain that I feel, I will not feel always. They’re looking to us to say, “No, we don’t have a magic wand. We can’t wave it away but let’s go to the Word and let’s see where in times of tragedy what the answers were. Let’s see what hope was provided.” Let’s see how, like Rodney said, this tragedy has already been provided for in the Word. And let’s go and show you that there is a way out of this. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Tippitt: Fred and I both had already scheduled very important speakers for that Sunday. There was a feeling of relief for me that I didn’t have to preach that Sunday. We were all exhausted from the tasks we faced. What I did learn, though, is that I wasn’t through with it and my people weren’t through with it until I said something. I don’t see myself as the prima donna who has to have the final word but I do know that there is something out there that until the pastor has said the word, it’s not done. It’s both amazing and scary, to know that you have that much power. I don’t know that power’s the right word but it’s a gentle power.
Haustein: Pastors have a presence. You know that long before you get to the pulpit. Bruce and I were in the same place. We were both at the hospital where the families were coming to find out about their loved ones. There was a presence and, I thought, even a power there. We weren’t part of a hospital community but they knew us and they trusted us, even if they weren’t in our church. They had seen us, they knew us. They knew we weren’t going to mislead them, that we were concerned for them and with them and I sensed a great appreciation for that support.
We didn’t have to preach anything there. We were preaching by being there and caring. Although I did not preach that first Sunday either, I had to make a statement. I had to say something.
We had a bishop from Sierra Leone who has been forced out of his home country. They were looking for him to kill him. He told me since 1961 there have been 11 attempts to overthrow the government of his country. As a result, he was able to speak to pain and what resources people of faith bring to the situation similar to ours much better than I ever could. It was providential that he was here.
He spoke to me. I was so caught up in my own pain, my own sense of being dead tired as all of us were. I was thankful that I didn’t have to try to crystallize, on that particular Sunday, the particular word that needed to be said, but he brought it and he ministered to me in a wonderful way.
Preaching: Though on the Sunday after the tragedy you weren’t preaching, you did come to church as one who is informed about preaching looking for something. Could you talk about that?
Tippitt: Our speaker was an evangelist from South Carolina. What was providential in this is he was the pastor of one of the girls who had been murdered at Florida State 2 years ago. I was very comfortable with him when he told me that. From the very day that it happened, he said, “Look. If you don’t want me to come, I don’t need to be there. This is your deal.” I was disarmed by his congeniality.
Preaching: How did you go through the process then of deciding whether to stay with him or say, “No. This is a big event, I need to preach today.”
Tippitt: He was going to do something at Arkansas State University on Monday and Tuesday so he was already going to be here. My church, too, was not associated directly with the Westside community. I talked to staff members and to others.
One staff member said, “No. It needs to be you,” Others said, “No. Let’s let him come so it’s a toss of the coin.” So what I heard from him that day was from Mark 4, how Jesus calms the storms.
This is the beauty of it. He affirmed truth without giving absolutes. Absolutes that you can trust God. He affirmed truth without trying to explain or to condemn. He painted with broad strokes which ministered to people.
Interviewer: What has surprised you?
Haustein: I was surprised how much this affected me personally. We’ve all experienced tragedy and death which helps in these kind of situations. But for us to be involved as a community of faith in the schools, with the teachers, with the families, with the students, we were all in and out of there so much and we saw each other. I was amazed at how much it affected me personally. Sometimes we stay too far away from things. I felt I needed some help myself in dealing with this.
Preaching: Talk a little bit then about the whole issue of personal involvement versus “professional distance.”
Reeves: I’m not sure I’m sorting that stuff out in the middle of a crisis. Maybe with hindsight I can go back and try to distinguish when I’m acting like a person and when I’m acting like a professional. In the midst of a crisis, you’re overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed by the tragedy as all of us were — just the inexplicable tragedy. You know: “This cannot be happening. This cannot be happening.”
At the same, as Fred said, you are a part of the community. You can’t step outside of yourself and provide infallible commentary on the social ills of our nation. You can’t do it. It’s your world. It’s your people. It’s your children that go to school. I was surprised at how personally I felt affected by the crisis.
I was also overwhelmed by the presence of God in a variety of ways. The camaraderie that I felt with the other clergy that I had not spent a lot of time with. The automatic solidarity that I felt with the community — I’ve lived here 5 years and all of a sudden it’s like I’ve belonged here all of my life.
I was overwhelmed by the sense of the presence of God in supportive prayer. We can’t explain it, we can’t quantify it, but there’s been a powerful presence of God and it’s confirmed by the hundreds of letters and notes that we’ve received from all over the world that say, “We’re praying for you.” It’s like we’ve been overwhelmed by His grace in the midst of being overwhelmed by the tragedy.
And the bottom line is, we are healers by God’s grace, but we have needed healing and in that dynamic, I have been reminded of the significance of Jesus.
Rogers: When this happened, there was a sense of helplessness. There was also a sense of terror, because it could have just as easily been Fox Meadow School where my son attends or my daughter’s preschool as it was Westside. But after processing that, there was a real sense of helplessness. Even though there were no African-Americans involved I felt as much a part of this as anybody else.
We had a guest speaker that Sunday morning whose message dealt with the spirit of offense. It was awesome how she dealt with how the spirit of offense undelivered, untouched, untapped, leads to the spirit of murder. I was sitting there amazed at the kind of word that the Lord would send.
Haustein: I want to affirm, too, I sense a strong healing in our community — in the different communities of faith. Through the years the competition builds up between churches and different theological stances, and different stands on different issues. Our ministerial community was divided for a long time before most of us even got here. I sense a togetherness and a healing and a commonality that I’ve not experienced at all since I’ve been here. I’m celebrating that — that’s a wonderful gift to us.
Also, we’ve gotten letters from all over. A whole banner that one of the military chaplains in Ft. Monmouth, NJ sent to us. On and on we could go. We sense that kind of healing and caring from people we wouldn’t know if we had seen on the street.
I’ve also been surprised at a third thing. I wouldn’t call it hate mail. I call it letters from very troubled people. People who write strange kinds of letters with complaints and comments and who have caused me to say, “Boy, we live in a troubled world.” This trouble isn’t just here, it’s everywhere. We’ve got a task of trying to be God’s representatives wherever we go.
Rogers: Father Jack told me that he has gotten letters because he talked about forgiveness and people they have just riled him. “They don’t need to be forgiven!”
Preaching: There’s been a lot written in the media not just about the Jonesboro incident, but also the shooting in Paducah. The students said, “Michael, we forgive you” and they came under a lot of criticism by those who said that since they weren’t the ones who had been wronged, it really wasn’t their place to forgive. Perhaps it came too quickly and too easily. Dealing particularly with preaching, but perhaps in a larger context too, How do you deal with that whole issue of forgiveness?
Haustein: There was an article that came out of somewhere in Texas, I believe, criticizing the pastors in Jonesboro for the sermons they preached the Sunday after the event. I don’t know how he could have possibly heard all of us. He was very down and that was the issue he was raising. He happened to be a man from a Jewish perspective which helped me understand where he was coming from.
Reeves: I preached the Sunday morning after. Forgiveness for me was not the issue that came to mind.
My sermon was out of Haggai 2 and all I could think about was the violation of sacred space. That’s what I kept feeling, not just in the violation of that sacred space with violence. You’ve also got children killing children. It is so unthinkable that evil can operate that way. You’d think there would be at least one innocent domain that would be sacred. Now even that domain is gone
But, for me, I felt like that morning I wanted to affirm for them, both from the Hebrew scriptures, the Jewish tradition, Haggai 2, but also the Christian scriptures, the New Testament, the temple is violated and destroyed. The message Haggai was trying to deliver was — “My Spirit’s with you.”
That’s the message we get in the cross even though Jesus said, “My God you’ve forsaken me. God takes the cross and turns it into a crown.
So for me, forgiveness was really not in my mind or my heart. I wasn’t thinking forgiveness. But since all of this, “An article appeared in Reader’s Digest, When Forgiveness is a Sin” (Dennis Prager, March 1998.)
I think he has a point. I really do, to the extent that sometimes the wrong people are forgiven. Forgiveness is a virtue that is divine. I was thinking about Jesus throughout His whole ordeal. He didn’t go to the Sanhedrin saying, “I forgive you,” and then when He’s taken to Herod, he didn’t say, “Oh, by the way, I forgive you.” And then as He’s walking down the streets he doesn’t tell this massive crowd that says, “Crucify Him,” I forgive you. Then when he gets to the cross, he doesn’t turn to the Roman soldiers and say, “Oh by the way, I forgive you.”
His example was, “Father forgive them.” And the reason I think that’s significant is because God is the one who forgives, and He’s the one who gives us the ability to enjoy that forgiveness. That’s the gospel and therefore becomes a source of forgiveness. And the Rabbi in that respect has missed the point. As Fred said, that doesn’t surprise because that is the unique quality of the Christian gospel. Even when He’s being nailed on the cross, He doesn’t tell the people — He prays, “God, Father forgive them, they don’t know what they do.”
I think in our hearts that’s what we’ve been doing. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were even unbelievers around the world who look at 11 and 13 year old boys and said, “Oh, God! How in the world could those boys know what they’ve done? Would you forgive them?”
It’s not making a victim of a crime look at the perpetrator in the face and be compelled or force a contrived forgiveness. That’s not what Jesus was about because He knew forgiveness came from God and forgiveness becomes a gift that we give from God.”
Rogers: At that same time, there are some things that we must do. The Lord left us the example in His model prayer when he said, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” All of us were violated. So for people to say, “Well, who are they to forgive? It didn’t happen to them.” Well, yes it did.
I didn’t allow my 5 year old daughter to play outside for the first few days after this. We need to forgive for how it affected us. I think it’s a shame now that many of our psychiatrists, and people on the talk shows now seem to be advocating hate. “You don’t have to forgive. Who says you ought to forgive: Hate them. They messed with you. Get’em.” That’s the world’s philosophy.
As a community of faith, though, we must explore these things differently. If you took the God that’s in us out of us, most of us would probably go down there and turn the jail out and drag these little boys out. But because of the God that’s in us — because of the Spirit that dwells on the inside — there must be a difference.
Reeves: God knows we need forgiveness. We can’t function with hate as a constant. He knows that. It’s His gift to us. That’s what the cross tells us. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. That’s how God demonstrates His love. At the same time, I can understand why unbelievers would be confused about this dynamic of such a central part of the Christian gospel.
Rogers: We’re not saying, “Get the keys and let them out. Let them run.” To forgive is to say, “I forgive you for how this affected me and I’m going to pray for your rehabilitation that your mind and your heart changes that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.” And we’re not saying, “Let them out, give them some ice cream and send them home.” That’s not the word.
Preaching: You mentioned the community worship service. Preaching takes place in the context of worship. You mentioned the harmony of planning that event. What were some of your aims and goals for that event?
Haustein: I remember there were 3 things. We wanted, of course, to memorialize those that had been taken away from us. We wanted to thank God for the people He used to bring healing — the volunteers, the police — to honor all of those who have ministered to us during this time. A third point was to look to the future.
Reeves: It was well-conceived. It was past — memorialize those who were taken away from us. Two was “Thank You for the present for what You’ve done.” Third, now to the future, “Where do we go from here?”
The words of Fred were, thank God for the resources that God has placed in our community that help us to be a helpful people
I want to emphasize something that Adrian said. We came to that meeting, we’d never met before. There were two ministerial alliances in this town and the rift was over 20 years old.
I had gone to both meetings occasionally. I had known some of the guys in the JMA, one group. I had gotten to know some of the brothers in the JME But there we are sitting together and we had nothing — the steering committee, nothing on paper. We talked with all the members of the ministerium that were there. “What do we want to accomplish?”
Preaching: And Adrian, you were chosen to preach at the service.
Rogers: I was. Rodney Reeves, and Father Jack Harris. A Pentecostal guy, a Baptist guy and a Catholic priest. All on the same program to speak.
Interviewer: Since both of you spoke at the service, take me through your process of preparation for that sermon.
Rogers: We decided on a time limit. We borrowed that from the Oklahoma City Memorial. Billy Graham preached 12 minutes. So we figured we’d take 12 and divide it by 3 and that’s how we came up with the 4 minutes each. We made a conscious decision that it would be 4 minutes.
Haustein: Part of that was we wanted to do it for the families with little children. We knew that past 8:30 it was a time for children to be in bed. If we went past that, it would not be a resource, it would be a liability. We purposefully chose to restrict ourselves and I think we made the right decision.
Rogers: All of that was done before anyone was chosen. Nobody said, “You’re a Pentecostal boy, you’re going to talk awhile.” We timed everything. How long it would take to do this, this, and this,.
Preaching: In terms of the content, how did you decide what to say?
Rogers: As far as content, each subject was picked and it was decided that I would speak on faith. We’d already decided what the main scripture would be and it was literally a matter of sitting in my office and praying and saying, “God, it’s four minutes and the people of this city need to be spoken to. Now, what would You have me to say.”
I’m a computer nut so I went to the computer and pulled up every scripture in the Bible on faith and literally read every one of them. And then, the Lord began to speak. We laid them out, I practiced it — something Pentecostals don’t do! I said, “I’m not going to be the one who messes up. They’ll say, “That’s why I don’t go to your church.”
I wanted to offer hope at the end of the message to let them know that it was okay to cry, and “Weeping endures for a night but joy comes in the morning.”
Literally, two hours before the service was when I was reading the paper and the Lord said put this in. Move this and put this here. That’s when this thing began to fall in place. Even when we got back together that night, I was sitting in the room with Father Jack and I said, “Look at this.” That’s the kind of camaraderie that was there.
We got together and prayed before we went out that flesh would be removed. To have to preach in front of that many people to know that everybody’s watching. In a longer message, you could mess up and recoup the thing. But in four minutes, you’re either going to hit the home run or you’re going to strike out. But the relieving point was, “God take the burden of this thing from us because it’s not ours. It’s yours. It’s not Adrian’s show, it’s not Rodney’s, it’s not Jack’s.”
This is something I shared with our church that Wednesday night after the tragedy on Tuesday in Bible Study. This should not have happened, God did not do it. The Bible says, ‘Every good and perfect gift comes from above’ so if it’s not good and it’s not perfect, God didn’t do it. I said the perfect thing that will come out of this is God will get His glory. I think that was a big relief for me, anyway. To know it’s not me. Whatever’s going to get done, God’s going to do it. God’s never going to make Himself look bad.
Reeves: I’ve said this before and it’s surprised people, I guess. On Saturday, I was filled with a holy dread of my Sunday morning service. I knew that was when sheep would gather and they would want to hear what God thinks.
No matter how often we do this, it’s an awesome responsibility to stand before a group of people and tell them what you think God thinks. You read His Word but then you’ve got to say something about what God thinks. I have a caring church. They love me. I love them. They’re willing to give me the benefit of the doubt and their grace and their mercy is wide but Sunday morning was the service I was really focusing on.
Now Tuesday night, like Adrian says, “We’ve got four minutes and like him, I’m thinking, what do you really want to say that would best represent what Jesus would think about this.” The phrase that kept coming over in my head was “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Now I’ve even used that quip occasionally and never really thought through the significance of what Peter may have been saying.
Love covers a multitude of sins. That’s a good definition of the cross. So I figured that I would take that expression, develop it in what God had done through Jesus and then kind of look through that lens again and say, “Okay, how has love covered a multitude of sins? Has love already begun to cover this horrible sin?” Boy, I could see it.
I could see how love God revealed His love and I tried to relate that and it seems to me that right in with this Scripture that had already been chosen for us. The obvious selection was I Corinthians 13 — we’d already decided that The last portion speaks in such powerful terms of faith, hope, and love and the greatest of these is love. And the expression is the Love of God is a divine gift we use as a weapon against evil. That thought kept coming over and over in my head as I tried to develop this.
Rogers: The awesome thing was that when we got together Monday every message led into the next message. That was mind boggling. I didn’t know about anyone else. I didn’t write mine until Monday. In fact, I got to the meeting right at time because I was finishing it, and they all led into the next. It was like this should be your last sentence and this will get me ready. It all led into the next and we had never ministered together before, we’d never been in each other’s services so nobody knew anybody’s style or anything. But they lined up with one another.
Haustein: There was another temptation that would have been easy for us to take in addition to showboat to build our own churches. When we were aware that CNN was going to carry this world wide, that was another opportunity for us to have a whole realm different from what we were here to do.
We talked some about that but I think we were all firmly agreed that we were here to minister to our folk. If someone in Australia could learn from that, fine. But we were here to care for our folk and to bring the word of grace here into this particular situation into this particular community with our people. We couldn’t care about if it were on TV or if it wasn’t. We had to do what we were called to do and that’s what kept it right.
Rogers: We decided it wouldn’t be a political event. It was limited. It was decided then this would be a local event that the world just happened to be watching.
Haustein: And it would be a worship service.
Rogers: The same three people that we decided would speak were the ones who spoke regardless of whichever dignitaries came.
Preaching: How did you decide which dignitaries to invite?
Haustein: Well, we issued invitations to the President and to the Governor. Everyone else came, and I’m sure they did it out of respect and concern.
We had heard that Attorney General Reno was interested in coming. When it was apparent that the President could not come we thought that it would be appropriate for her to speak and she did a very nice job. In addition to that we had indications from national singers from Alabama and Garth Brooks, to Wynonna Judd.
We decided that was not what we were going to do. We would have loved to have had some of those folks with us but it would have turned it into a media event rather than a worship service. And our concentration was on something else.
Reeves: I think there’s a reason for that. It’s not that we were trying to be provincial. It wasn’t that at all. It’s that you just don’t know what it feels like until you’ve had your sacred space violated and you’re looking for some sense of order in the midst of this. You’re looking for privacy somehow, some way, and I think that’s the reason we all came together with that decision.
We recognized we wanted the leader of our country represented. We wanted the leader of our state represented. And that was it. For a worship that was centered on music and the Word, we felt like we needed sacred space. We needed a place where God could do an unusual work. We would be His temple for a while together. And He invaded that place.
He began a deep work of healing long before that. I think that memorial service, He used as a tool really to continue to bring healing. I could see it in the faces of the family members. I don’t want to betray their confidence or exploit them but I tell you, for all our speaking, when I saw what I thought was a sign of healing was when the music was playing.
I’m telling you, the music was divine. Because even in the atmosphere of the convocation center, it felt like these voices were all around us, like people were swallowed in music and when I saw — I would look occasionally out when we were speaking and while we were singing — but it was when the choirs sang that I saw one picture of a victim who was crying with a smile at the same time and I thought, “Okay, Lord. You are doing something.”
Tippitt: Talk about divine providence. Our youth choir — a week and a half previous to this event — had performed in their spring concert, A Canticle of Hope — a song that was written as a dedication to the victims of Oklahoma City. So they sang that song and the Lord put it together.
Rogers: The United Voices of Faith, an African-American group. Here again, you talk about a town that’s 10% African-American this choir’s chosen. Somebody mentioned in the meeting. And someone else said, “That’ll work!”
Somebody told me and I’ve had several people to confirm it that one of the victims is the one who started the ovation.
To know that kind of healing had taken place and to have people come up to you after the event and say this is the first time I’ve smiled since Tuesday.
I’ve gotten phone calls and cards personally from some of the victims’ parents and to hear the words that were spoken. Even one of the editorials said that this was the best memorial service they had seen. They said it was a shame that we’re getting practice at this thing but at the same time, the way it came together and the fact that it was a family thing was awesome.
Preaching: It seems that the African-American pulpit has experience in dealing with adversity. Could you comment on how that tradition influenced your response to the tragedy.
Rogers: My father was my pastor from the time I was 4 years old until I went into the pastorate. In fact, he still remains my pastor. But his view always on funerals and memorial services was that we were there to celebrate life. That was always his view and some of our most awesome services have been funerals. Some of his greatest messages were at funerals.
At the funeral of his faithful, 97 year-old Assistant Pastor, my father got up and said, “From now on we will celebrate life.” I played drums and my father said, “Son get on the drums. Crank these guitars up. Let’s have church!”
Whenever I’ve spoken at funerals that’s been my ideal. I’ve got one or two minutes. Let’s leave them with something that they can live with. Not only after today. After the body is committed. Tomorrow when they look for that person and they’re not there. Next week when they open their mouth to call their name and they realize that they’re no longer there. That’s always been my approach.
We’re there to celebrate life. We were there to preach to those who were living. And it’s to offer hope, to offer them a way out. A young lady in our church died in the Lord and my response to them was, “If you want to see her again, you need to be prepared to go just like she was.”
Preaching: Bruce, when I first spoke with you, you mentioned a counseling program that will not come in until six months from now — Talk a little bit about unpacking all of the emotions that come with such a tragedy.
Tippitt: Thursday afternoon, we went down to a retreat center outside of Little Rock. There’s a rustic cabin called Prayer Home. That morning, I read in my Quiet Time, and then I went out and prayed. I’d never been there before.
There’s this prayer walk that you take up through the hills and I started noticing as I began to walk scripture verses in stone next to benches. Across this bridge, I came to a rock with a scripture verse from I Chronicles 28:20. It said, “Be courageous and do not be afraid. Be courageous and act for the Lord your God is with you.” I sat down there and it was just like the cork came out of my soul and I sat down and I cried my heart out and I said, “Oh, Heavenly Father, they were little girls!”
I don’t know how long I stayed there. It wasn’t some overwhelmingly divine moment. I recognized I had just uncorked and until then I really didn’t know what I was feeling myself. When I got back on Friday I tried to write the message that I tried to work on that Thursday morning. I had gotten up at 4:30 and tried to write.
In my quiet time for March 27, I was reading through the One-Year Bible. The Psalm for that day was Psalm 69:4 which says, “I am forced to restore what I did not steal.”
I am an expositional preacher and normally do not do thematic things because I don’t know how to do that well. But this time it came. So what I was able to do was let them as the congregation join with me.
Reeves: I did the same thing. I started picking up mystical writers and reading through some of them. I found myself reading C. S. Lewis’ little work on The Problem of Pain and working through Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. I just was drawn to them in addition, of course, to the Word. It’s remarkable in some respects how the human condition has never changed, the human need is just as great, and God’s grace is just as addressive.
We know that healing takes time. All the experts are telling us, “You don’t know what this is like because this is completely unusual.” Everyone’s telling us, the harder work’s to be done
Even in my own heart, sometimes, the grief will overwhelm me. I remember Fred and I were there when the teachers were being debriefed but I heard some things there that still beckon at my heart — their description; of what happened.
They were in the first steps of healing and I’ve not told anybody what they told me. I’m not prepared yet to reveal that. I can’t imagine going through it. But even at that distance occasionally grief just washes over me and I’m hearing people say that who aren’t even in our town or in our state. I think that’s where God takes something evil and turns it for good. Just as we’re overwhelmed by the awfulness of this thing. I very much sense that God is ready and present to show us that healing can come out of something like this.
Rogers: I spoke with a young lady who was one of the producers for the Fox News Network. She said, “I’ve never been so moved by anything in my life.” She said, “I feel a part of this.” That’s the awesome thing.
I’m very slow to process things. It’s my nature. It just takes time. I lost my mother. I shed tears 20 years later. I just process things a little bit at a time. I’m so concerned with other people. That night I counseled a girl who was with two of the girls who died. They dropped literally right behind her. And then Mrs. Thetford was on the side of her so she was in the middle of all of this. I was counselling her, but what I wanted to do was lay across all of them and just cry.
My wife and I are going to Hot Springs in a few days. I just need that time away. The hurt really won’t stop for some time.
Haustein: We have been called on to be there for folk and we’ve done that to the best of our ability but we’re going to have to care for ourselves. One of the fears I have is that we won’t allow this healing that’s begun to continue. I don’t want this to drop. I want it to keep going. It’s our responsibility to enable that to happen.
Rogers: And I think most of us preachers make a mistake in that we just keep going and going. I’ve preached continually since this thing. I’ve had a couple of revivals and preached continuously. I think at some point, you’ve got to pull away and sit down and be strengthened. You’ve done all the feeding. Well, be fed. And who better to strengthen a pastor than a pastor?
Preaching: One last question, you mentioned the third point of the Memorial service was “where do we go from here?” Where do you go from here?
Reeves: For the short term it was Easter. Easter was very important for us. It is important already but this year especially. People were looking forward to Easter. After that …
Tippitt: I feel dull. Somebody says to me, “Brother Bruce, you look so tired and I say, “Well, yeah, I’m tired.” I don’t think going out to Oasis Renewal center for 24 hours and crying my eyes out and writing in my journal is enough because I think something has been vacated out of us.
Reeves: Maybe that is the answer. Since we are a part of this community we were affected. Oftentimes when I’m preaching, I’m simply trying to reveal my struggles in trying to follow Jesus.
Rogers: For so long, preachers have put on a show. That’s where you draw people in by saying, “I’m hurting too.”
Reeves: As Bruce is working through it, as Fred is working through it. All of us who are ministering the Word. I think that’s a great place to start. To say, “This is where I am right now.” That’s why I was looking forward to Easter. I was so looking forward to Easter and I knew God would do a significant work for our church and He has. And I guess as we deal with the overwhelming reality of this tragedy, we’ve been saying Jonesboro is changed forever and the families of the victims have been changed forever. I’ve been changed forever.
Rogers: Just to be very frank and honest, before this tragedy, a lot of the meetings that are happening among pastors were going on. I just didn’t go. I was in the one ministerial alliance and that was it. As a result of this, by the way, the two alliances are dissolved and they’re forming one. That’s a miracle in itself. The Bible says that judgment begins at the house of God, but so does unity and love.
But as a result of this thing, from my perspective, I recognize more than ever things that are non-essential and that’s where the message is now. I have almost zero tolerance now for stupidity.
I don’t mean impatience but people who want to make much ado about nothing. Life is too short. Let’s get about what’s really important. It’s about winning souls. It’s about life being permanently changed. It’s about witnessing. It’s about being strength for one another. It’s not about whose name got called and whose name didn’t.
It has helped me to concentrate even more on those things that are essential. There’s a prayer breakfast tomorrow that I plan on attending. I don’t know if I would have attended before this thing happened, but now, fellowship among fellow men of God is more important than it has ever been. So is fellowship with the family. Even among us.
Rodney and I have known each other for a good while. We shared on a Promise Keepers event together; our sons go to the same school. There’s a new level of a bond that was not there before. I think that the fellowship among men of God is more important to me now than it has ever been.
Haustein: Without becoming the message, I think just letting our folk see how we’re trying to put a context of faith to this personally may be the best. We don’t become the message but we become the medium and I think they learn and they can say, “It’s okay. I’m not the only one that feels that way.” Somebody else has got those questions I have. I really believe that’s the best we’ve got to share.
Rogers: There’s an old song that says, “Farther Along, we’ll know all aboutit; Farther along we’ll understand why.” We may not have the ans-wer but we’ll begin to process things. We’ll begin to understand some things.
Reeves: I’ll never forget when we first got together and how people looked to us for answers. Media were asking those questions. There were moments in the crisis when we were looking to each other and we were really speaking life to each other. Saying, “We believe. There is hope. We believe.”
I think that’s what needs to continue. Not only from the people looking to hear that from us. We look into the faces of those who God’s given us to minister to and doing the same thing. We still believe and nobody’s going to take that away from us. Among the ministers, we continue to speak life to each other.
And if the enemy can do anything, he can take away our hope. It cost so much for us to have hope and he is not going to take that away from us!
Tippitt: Let me recommend to you in Christianity Today, October 1997, there’s an editorial by Phil Yancey called A Bad Day in Hell. It’s on his perspective after the deaths of Diana and Mother Teresa. His point was where was God when… Well, “Where was Satan?” What confounds the enemy is that only God could have brought good from this horrible, horrible, horrible tragedy. Only God could work through it. It was a bad day in Jonesboro on March 24. It was a bad day in Hell, too. He would have never conceived that this would have confounded him so.
Reeves: You would think that he would learn from his foolishness. That if God can take the cross and turn it to the greatest good of all humanity. You would think that the enemy would learn from his foolishness. That he’s not going to outdo God. Of course that’s why he is the enemy and he’s a fool. In that respect receiving the faith that this community has exhibited, it even talks about how we all agree that we are proud to be a part of this community.
God has gifted. He has resourced us. We acknowledge Him for that.

Share This On: