In grieving Texas town, faith sustains those left behind

A member of the media walks inside the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs where 26 people were killed one week ago, as the church opens to the public as a memorial to those killed, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 12, 2017.

By Tim Reid

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (Reuters) – Joe Holcombe and his wife, Claryce, lost eight members of their family in the Texas church shooting last Sunday, including their son, grandchildren, a pregnant granddaughter-in-law and a great- granddaughter who was still a toddler. But they are serene.

Chairs and roses mark where worshipers were found dead at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs where 26 people were killed one week ago, as the church opens to the public as a memorial to those killed, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 12, 2017.

Chairs and roses mark where worshipers were found dead at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs where 26 people were killed one week ago, as the church opens to the public as a memorial to those killed, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 12, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

“It’s just not a problem to us,” said Holcombe, 86, adding that he and 84-year-old Claryce believe their dead family members are now alive again in heaven.

“We know exactly where the family is, and it’s not going to be long until we’ll both be there,” he said. “And we’re really sort of looking forward to it.”

Chairs and roses show where Joann and Brooke Ward and others were found dead at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs where 26 people were killed one week ago, as the church opens to the public as a memorial to those killed, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 12, 2017.

Chairs and roses show where Joann and Brooke Ward and others were found dead at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs where 26 people were killed one week ago, as the church opens to the public as a memorial to those killed, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 12, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

The Holcombes were upbeat and full of good humor during a telephone interview, and they are not an exception in this deeply evangelical part of Texas.

What is so striking about relatives and friends of the 26 victims of the church shooting in tiny Sutherland Springs is that they all believe good will come from this act of evil and that their loved ones are now safe for eternity, and breathing again, with God.

Psychologists say such deep faith can help families deal with such a ghastly event. Even so, they warn that leaning too heavily on one’s religious beliefs can stunt the natural grieving period and result in post-traumatic stress later.

A cross with a crown of thorns and a Bible open to the book of Proverbs are seen at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs where 26 people were killed one week ago, as the church opens to the public as a memorial to those killed, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 12, 2017.

A cross with a crown of thorns and a Bible open to the book of Proverbs are seen at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs where 26 people were killed one week ago, as the church opens to the public as a memorial to those killed, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, U.S. November 12, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

“I can see potentially it could be some form of denial, a delayed traumatic reaction, and if you don’t have some kind of negative feelings, it can catch up with you,” said clinical psychologist and trauma expert Bethany Brand.

Gina Hassan, a psychologist in northern California, said Sutherland Spring’s faith was invaluable in the wake of the shooting, “but if it’s relied upon in a rigid way, then it’s going to be a problem down the line and come back to bite you later on.”

Local veterinarian George Hill, a relative of the Holcombes, said an evangelical belief in Christ was the only way to deal with such a tragedy.

“We haven’t lost hope,” he said. “They are not gone. They are just gone ahead. And we know we’ll see them again.”

He expressed faith that evil would not prevail. “It looks like evil won, but it didn’t,” he said. “Good is going to win.”

Pastor Mike Clements of the First Baptist Church in Floresville, a small city 14 miles from Sutherland Springs, is officiating over the funeral services for the extended Holcombe family on Wednesday.

The dead include Bryan Holcombe, Joe and Claryce Holcombe’s son, and his wife Karla. Their son Danny Holcombe was killed as well, along with his 18-month-old daughter, Noah. Crystal Holcombe, who was 18 weeks pregnant, was Bryan and Karla Holcombe’s daughter-in-law.

Also shot and killed were Emily, Megan and Greg Hill, three children from Crystal’s first marriage, which had ended with her husband’s death.

Under Texas law, Crystal’s unborn child is also being counted as a victim, making a death toll of nine for the family.

People in Sutherland Springs are truly grieving, Clements said. But evangelicals accept Christ into their lives in a very real way, and because of that, their faith is incredibly liberating, especially at a time of such great tragedy.

Most fundamentally, he said, they believe people who have accepted Christ will go to heaven.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” Clements said over lunch near his church. “There is nothing better than heaven when you are a believer.”

 

(Editing by Frank McGurty and Lisa Von Ahn)

 

On Good Friday, Pope speaks of shame for Church and humanity

Pope Francis leads the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) procession during Good Friday celebrations in front of the Colosseum in Rome, Italy, April 14, 2017. REUTERS/Max Rossi

By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) – Pope Francis, presiding at a Good Friday service, asked God for forgiveness for scandals in the Catholic Church and for the “shame” of humanity becoming inured to daily scenes of bombed cities and drowning migrants.

Francis presided at a traditional candlelight Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) service at Rome’s Colosseum attended by some 20,000 people and protected by heavy security following recent attacks in European cities.

Francis sat while a large wooden cross was carried in procession, stopping 14 times to mark events in the last hours of Jesus’ life from being sentenced to death to his burial.

Similar services, known as the Stations of the Cross, were taking place in cities around the world as Christians gathered to commemorate Jesus’ death by crucifixion.

At the end of the two-hour service, Francis read a prayer he wrote that was woven around the theme of shame and hope.

In what appeared to be a reference to the Church’s sexual abuse scandal, he spoke of “shame for all the times that we bishops, priests, brothers and nuns scandalized and wounded your body, the Church.”

The Catholic Church has been struggling for nearly two decades to put the scandal of sexual abuse of children by clergy behind it. Critics say more must be done to punish bishops who covered up abuse or were negligent in preventing it.

Francis also spoke of the shame he said should be felt over “the daily spilling of the innocent blood of women, of children, of immigrants” and for the fate of those who are persecuted because of their race, social status or religious beliefs.

At the end of this month Francis travels to Egypt, which has seen a spate of attacks by Islamists on minority Coptic Christians. Dozens were killed in two attacks last Sunday.

He spoke of “shame for all the scenes of devastation, destruction and drownings that have become ordinary in our lives.”

On the day he spoke, more than 2,000 migrants trying to reach Europe were plucked from the Mediterranean in a series of dramatic rescues and one person was found dead. More than 650 have died or are unaccounted for while trying to cross the sea in rubber dinghies this year.

Francis expressed the hope “that good will triumph despite its apparent defeat.”

Security was stepped up in the area around the Colosseum following recent truck attacks against pedestrians in London and Stockholm. Some 3,000 police guarded the area and checked people as they approached. The Colosseum subway stop was closed.

Francis on Saturday is due to say an Easter vigil Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica and on Easter Sunday, the most important day in the Christian liturgical calendar, he reads his twice-annual “Urbi et Orbi” (“To the City and the World”) message in St. Peter’s Square.

(This version of the story has been refiled correct spelling in final paragraph)

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Bill Trott)

Trapped Ecuador survivors searching for hope

Red Cross members, military and police officers work at a collapsed area after an earthquake struck off the Pacific coast, at Tarqui neighborhood in Manta

By Julia Symmes Cobb

PEDERNALES, Ecuador (Reuters) – During a terrifying five hours trapped in the rubble of her own restaurant, Filerma Rayo almost lost hope.

“I was yelling and yelling and then, at the end, I started to think I would die there,” said Rayo, 33, as she nursed a crushed foot, pinned by a falling piece of cement when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook Ecuador on Saturday.

The Andean nation’s worst quake in a decade killed more than 270 people, injured another 2,000, flattened buildings and tore apart roads along the Pacific coast.

“It was my siblings who saved us, the rescue teams hadn’t arrived yet,” said Rayo, who runs a restaurant on the bottom floor of a now-shattered hotel in the worst-hit town of Pedernales, a rustic beach location on the Pacific coast.

Her three brothers and sisters, also from Pedernales, came looking for Rayo and her husband, who suffered head injuries, after the quake. Guided by her shouts, they managed to remove the rubble and pull her out around midnight, well before emergency crews arrived.

Nearly 100 neighbours in Pedernales were not so lucky.

They died when the earthquake struck, sending pastel top floors crashing to the ground, punching holes in the façade of the church on the main square and obliterating a local hotel, its roof jack-knifed and crumbling.

Many residents, including Rayo and her family, spent a restless Sunday night sleeping outside on mattresses in the muggy tropical night, wary of aftershocks.

CORPSES IN STADIUM

Others, too uneasy to sleep, watched from the sidelines as firefighters continued rescue operations in some buildings, calling for silence so they could listen for cries for help.

More than 600 people were treated for injuries at tents in the town’s still-intact football stadium, or were transported by ambulance or helicopter to regional hospitals.

Most of the corpses recovered were taken to the stadium and laid out under tents. Only four of 91 had not been identified by families. Wakes and burials were being quickly arranged.

Queues for supplies like bottled water, blankets and food snaked along the stadium walls, as government and Red Cross workers rushed with aid supplies to the lush, hilly zone next to Pacific beaches.

Residents complained that a lack of electricity was keeping them from using mobile phones to contact loved ones.

Many lost all their possessions.

“There’s nothing left of the houses and nowhere safe to stay,” said housewife Betty Reyna, 44, who was keeping watch over a dozen members of her family as they slept under a gas station awning early on Monday.

Reyna, her daughter and son had travelled from the capital Quito in search of relatives when they heard about the destruction in her hometown.

They were able to find some family members but Reyna had still not seen her parents or other daughter, though she had made contact with them and knew they were largely unharmed. Her father, however, had suffered head injuries.

“We’re taking everyone back to Quito as soon as we can, at least until things calm down here.”

More than 1,000 policemen, brought in to guarantee calm, patrolled Pedernales’ streets ahead of an expected visit by President Rafael Correa.

Rayo hopes she and her neighbours will get the support they need to rebuild their homes and businesses in the long term, but her immediate request is simple.

“We need everything,” she said. “I couldn’t even get pain medication at the medical tent.”

(Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Bernadette Baum)

Joel Richardson Shares Message of Hope in Evening Service

Those who attended the special service Tuesday evening, June 30th were given a message of hope from bestselling author and internationally recognized teacher on the middle east, muslims and the islamic culture, Joel Richardson.

“ “The day is coming…after the storms…we’ll be raised up…and we will see Him…and embrace Him!  That is reality. We will see Jesus with our own eyes, sitting on the throne in Jerusalem.  It will be as real as we are right NOW. ”  Richardson went on to say  “Let us encourage each other in these days.  If our hope is fixed on saving our country we will miss saving the world.  We have to encourage one another!”

Mr. Richardson spoke of a great revival in Egypt and of how the Lord is working in both Iran and Iraq.  Mosques are emptying and thousands are coming to Christ.   “My heart is encouraged that people are waking up across the earth.  My hope is the encouragement tonight will be at the foundation of everything we do.  As we approach the days to come, we remember to prepare out of faith and not out of fear.  We have confidence in our God and we have confidence of what IS coming!”

We All Need Hope and Encouragement

Lori and I and our Master’s Media group recently attended a Master’s Commission conference in Dallas where we met so many wonderful people!  While we were there, over 100 kids wanted information for the Master’s Media training here at Morningside.

In Dallas, we met a Master’s Commission group from North Pole, Alaska that just knocked our socks off.  There was an immediate connection – hearts to hearts – and we invited them to come to Missouri to visit us on the set to get a feel for what we do here in our Master’s Media training.

So, our friends from North Pole came to see us this week, and there was instant magic in our midst!  While they may have come to receive information about our media training, they also brought us an invaluable gift.  They encouraged us greatly!

The gift of exhortation always brings hope – not false hope, but hope based on the promises of God.  The world is longing for such a message.  While we try every day to bring a message of hope and encouragement to our viewers, we also need to receive hope and encouragement now and then!

I’m convinced that as we draw closer to our Lord’s return, this world is going to experience many upheavals.  As we have said before, everything that can be shaken will be shaken, including many people’s faith.  If ever there was a time when we needed the ministry of encouragement, it is now.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25 NASB)

What day is the author of Hebrews talking about?  The day when Jesus returns!  Between now and that day, we need to be encouraging each other as never before.  Whether you have a ministry of encouragement or not, we can all stimulate each other to love each other more, to help each other by doing simple, good deeds, and by gathering together to worship and praise the Lord as we see the day of the Lord approaching.

Love,

Jim

Becoming a Hope Craftswoman (Pt. 3)

That afternoon at the Dream Center, I looked out at the women and saw brown faces, black faces, and white faces.  The color of their skin varied, but the pain in their eyes was the same.  Hard living had aged many of them beyond their years:  a girl grows up way too fast in the ghetto.  They were listening intently, and I knew they understood my sorrow when I admitted that my bad choices far from ended with my decision to marry Jesse.

As I shared even more of my life story with the women at the Dream Center, I could tell that many of them related to the deep personal pain that stemmed from my bad choices.  Some of them were sobbing openly; many had tears in their eyes.  The joy is that I was able to share not just the pain and brokenness but the fact that God had loved me back to wholeness.

“God can only heal what you are willing to reveal,” I told the audience.  When I gave an invitation to come forward for prayer, the response was overwhelming.  Most of these women had already committed their lives to Christ, but there were still so many deep hurts that needed healing.  One woman who wanted prayer shared with me that she had had five abortions.  She was praying and sobbing to the point of having dry heaves.  Some of the other ladies were afraid she was going to throw up and wanted to help her, but I asked them to leave her alone.  It doesn’t happen that often, but sometimes a woman’s grief can be so intense that she gets physically sick.  In that case, it’s actually best to let her get that out.

As I had sensed in my spirit, God did something powerful that day for these women.  I was honored that He would use me as his chosen vessel.

Over the years, God has presented the opportunity over and over again to share my story with hurting women.  While His healing power has worked in my life to restore me to wholeness, there are many still suffering.

I share my story because it makes Jesus real to others who are hurting.

My story isn’t pretty – it isn’t easy to hear.  I am not proud of it – but it’s my TESTIMONY and it is holy unto God.

What I brag about today is not the past – but the future in Christ that I now have and others can have through the loving, forgiving, healing, covering Blood of Jesus!

HE took my sin to that Cross at Calvary so long ago.

HE will take yours too!  Receive Christ today as your Savior!

Love,

~ Lori

Becoming a Hope Craftswoman – Part 1
Becoming a Hope Craftswoman – Part 2

Becoming a Hope Craftswoman (Pt. 2)

About eighty women attended the meeting that Friday afternoon.  It was a treat to have my “girls” there—not only Kelli, Morgan, and Nicks, but Nina Atuatasi, my Samoan “daughter,” who showed up just before the meeting.  Nina, a gifted musician, had arrived in the Los Angeles area a few hours earlier and surprised me by driving over for the meeting.  Before I preached, she sang two songs and ushered in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

“I don’t trust people who haven’t been through something,” I told the ladies.  “And I have a feeling that most of you have been through adversity.  You’ve known some deep pain and heartache.”  Many women responded vocally.  As I began recounting my personal story, I also preached about making choices—how bad choices get us into trouble, but “God choices” get us out.

In the back of my mind, I could hear my father—who sounded just like Archie Bunker on the old All in the Family TV show—saying, “You’re a bad picker, Little Girl.”  Dad was so right about that.  My teenage years were full of bad choices, with disastrous and far –reaching consequences.

I told the women at the Dream Center how Jesse and I had decided we would get married in the summer, after I graduated.  My last year in high school, I was in the DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America) program, so I only went to class for half a day, and then I went to my job.  One afternoon in late April, Jesse picked me up after work, and he had an engagement ring for me. Standing there in from t of Diamond’s department store, he put a diamond on my finger.

My mother was devastated when I told her I was going to marry Jesse.  “Lori, please wait,” she begged me. “You’re too young.”

“I’m older than you were,” I snapped.

“That’s true—and it’s why I know firsthand how hard it is.”

She looked pained.  Mom had been just sixteen when Dad , who was eighteen, pressured her to get married.

“Besides, you can’t stop me.  I’ll be eighteen at the end of August, and then I won’t need your permission.”  I was stubborn and determined.  “So either you sign the papers for me to get married, or we’ll go to another state and elope.”

Mom kept trying to talk sense into me, but I wouldn’t listen.  She knew that Jesse hated his mother, and that was a huge warning sign for her.  “He doesn’t have a good family relationship,” she said, “and he won’t be good to you.” I turned a deaf ear to every reason why the marriage wouldn’t work.

(to be continued)

Becoming a Hope Craftswoman – Part 1
Becoming a Hope Craftswoman – Part 3

Becoming a Hope Craftswoman (Pt. 1)

I opened my Bible to 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, which I had often prayed over in my ministry: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

“Heavenly Father,” I prayed, “please help me to show my wounds today, so that you may use them as a source of healing.”

It is never pleasant to relive the past when I share my testimony.  But I do it because God uses it to comfort others.  A hurting woman knows I understand her pain and suffering when she hears that I have been down the same road.  And when she receives healing from God, she will extend that same comfort to yet others so that the circle of wounded healers widens.

I’ll never forget the first time I shared a short testimony before a group of women at Phoenix First in the fall of 1990.  I had panicked at the thought of standing before the pastors’ wives and the matriarchs of the church and telling them even the briefest highlights of my sordid past.  I had been a Christian for only about eighteen months, and I still carried a dump truck size load of shame about my past sins, even though I knew God had forgiven me and completely changed my life—in fact, he had called me into full-time ministry.

They’re going to shun me, I thought.  They’ll talk about me, and I’ll never be able to hold my head high.  I’ll have to leave the church.  They think I’m the perfect little Christian, but when they find out. . .

On and on the accusing voice assaulted my mind.  My stomach was so tied in knots; I didn’t think I could go through with it.  I nearly backed out at the last minute, but I managed to battle my fear and honor my commitment to give a five-minute testimony.

I was petrified as I stepped behind the pulpit—the spot usually occupied by Tommy Barnett, one of the most respected pastors in America.  What an incredible honor.  Some one thousand women were in the audience, about six or seven hundred from the inner city and three or four hundred ladies from Phoenix First.  The lights were dimmed, so I couldn’t see their faces.  But I definitely heard them respond when I took the microphone and said, “From the time I was seventeen to the time I was twenty-one, I had five abortions.”  The loud gasps throughout the audience paralyzed me for a moment, but I finished my story and then sat down to listen to the other testimonies.  Well, now they know, I thought.  I wondered if anybody would even speak to me, or if they would just avoid me.

One of the first people I saw afterward was Marja Barnett, my pastor’s wife.  Phoenix Fist Assembly is a huge church, and as I recall, she had never spoken to me before, except perhaps to say hello.  This beautiful, gracious woman came over to me, kissed me on the cheek, and then clasped my hands.  “Oh, Lori, you poor thing,” she said in her lilting Swedish accent. “I never know you have such a horrible life—I can’t believe what you go through.  I’m so happy you are in our church.  I love you so much!”

I don’t remember exactly what she said after that.  All I know is that Marja’s love and acceptance flowed over my soul that day like a healing balm.  Now, eight years later, she had invited me to the Dream Center, and my heart’s desire was to extend the same encouragement to those who needed it.

(to be continued)

Becoming a Hope Craftswoman – Part 2
Becoming a Hope Craftswoman – Part 3

Can These Bones Live?

What could be more unlikely than a pile of human bones living again?  It doesn’t seem like a very intelligent question to ask and an even more impossible thing to actually occur.

Yet, God Himself asked the question of Ezekiel as he looked out over the valley of dry bones:

And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live?

and I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest.
—EZEKIEL 37:

As Ezekiel looked at the dry valley of bones, he had no hope.  He saw only bones that appeared to be dead, dry and beyond hope.

There was a reason God asked Ezekiel if the bones could live.  God wanted Ezekiel to know that the bones could live, and that he had a very important role to play in their living.  Let’s read on:

Ezekiel 37:1-10:  Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feeta vast army.

In these last days, there are many of God’s people that appear to be dead, dry and beyond hope.  The battles have been fierce, and while they appear to be defeated, don’t count them out just yet.  In fact, it is the Lord’s heart to count them in!  The Lord is raising up an army – a vast army from the bones of those who appear to be lifeless and without hope!

It is the prophetic call and responsibility of the Church to speak life to the dry bones within.  The Lord said “I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it!”

From my own personal experience, when you have been down for such a long time, and someone tells you that you CAN get up – it’s as life-giving as the very breath you breathe!  You can rise again!  You may have been told it’s over, you’re done.  But, God says NOW is the time, NOW is your time!

Jesus came to give hope to the hopeless.  It’s time we learn to speak life to those who need encouragement and hope.  When you speak words of life, you are literally creating the will to live – and that is Jesus’ heart!

NOW is the time to speak life to someone!