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In over twenty-five years in the ministry I have seen and have been given the opportunities to deal with the church experiencing different types of tragedy and pain.
Some situations were isolated to an individual, and other situations affected everyone in the family of believers. I have seen lives taken suddenly because of an accident. Families being destroyed by divorce. I have ridden in boats that passed over the roofs of flooded houses and walked through the neighborhood leveled by a tornado. I have been with the family as they identify the body of a loved one who had been murdered and have been to the graveside of the one-day-old baby and the saint who had served so faithfully and lost the battle with cancer. What I had dealt with was not any different than what others have dealt with who are in service to Gods people. On March 24 of this year I was preparing for a short vacation and a trip to Tulsa. About 1:15 I received a phone call that sent me to Westside Middle School where a tragedy, like none other I had dealt with, had taken place.
Everyone deals with pain differently.|
How do you deal with pain of this volume? How do you deal with pain when it affects everyone with which you come in contact in some way or the other? Maybe the best place to start is with the words I shared with the father of one of the victims as we left the hospital on Tuesday night. In response to his question, How am I going to make it? my words were these: We are going to make it by putting one foot in front of the other. We respond in times like these, one step at a time, one day at time. (Matt. 6:34)
To minister in the time of pain, I believe a foundation must be laid so that you and those around can respond. The foundation that I feel needs to be laid first is helping the family of believers to look to the Lord daily so that when pain comes, and it will, they are looking to Him. (Hebrews 12:2)
When it comes to the foundation of faith and focus Lynette Thetford is our witness. When she realized that she had been shot on the school ground that day, she began to pray. She felt she was going to die and as she prayed for her family and for the forgiveness of those that had done this (not knowing it was one of her students), she looked to her Lord and she had a peace, a peace that passes any human understanding. She told me, I felt I was going to die and as I was ready." And she went on say, How can I tell this to people, because I want everyone to have that confidence when they meet their Lord. What a lady of faith and a witness for us today.
The second foundation I believe we must lay is our relationship with each other. Something I share with a congregation when I start my work with them is that there are four things they must be able to do. They must know how to laugh, cry, hug and pray together. These four things I feel are absolutely necessary for a congregation to minister in the times of pain (Romans 12:15, James 5:13-16, Acts 12:12). I dont know when this has ever been brought closer to home for me than when our church family was together for the first time, Wednesday night after the tragedy. It was a time we reminded ourselves that what was going to make the difference for us during this was our ability to laugh, cry, hug and prayer together.
When dealing with those in pain the most asked question is Why? Why did this happen?
People look for a reason. In tragedy our purpose is not to debate the reason, it is respond, for I believe that is what Gods people are to do. We are not called to debate the issue, but touch His people and those you come in contact with. (2 Cor. 1:3-5, Gal. 6:10)
The next question is asked by those who want to touch those in pain. Their question, What am I to say?
To answer that I go to a lesson I learned a number of years ago from the friends of Job. A lesson from the friends of Job? Yes, they give us the words to say at the point of crisis.
Wait a minute! When they came to Job, at first they didn’t say anything. Correct and that is the lesson. It's later when they try to spout volumes of truth and end up blaming Job that they get God angry with them. When they sat in silence in the dust with Job, they did their most effective ministry for him. The teach us that often the less we say, the better; and most of the time nothing is the best. Our presence and our touch are what is important, not our words. Words are empty, sometimes even harmful. Remember the thoughts we started with on pain. There is really not anything to say (James 1:19). And when it does come time to speak, look to the Lord for wisdom on what to say and He will give it to you (James 1:5). When it came to words, the most difficult time I faced was when I had to respond both to the grief of death and the praise of life one row from each other.
As you respond to those in pain, remember to laugh when you can, cry when necessary, hug at every opportunity, and pray together.|
When you look closely at the blanket in my office, you will see a tear in the eye of the clown. Sometimes the caregiver must have some care. On Friday after the tragedy I was emotionally and physically drained. My son had taken my pager away and made me take some time alone with the Lord. This was wise counsel from a young man. Jesus took time to be away. During the crisis I had the blessing of being touched by brethren around the world. I was able to send out daily E-mail updates that gave me the opportunity to express a lot of feeling. I would encourage you to keep a journal during a crisis time. From those E-mail updates we received over 1300 messages.
Many ask me today, How are things going? My response, How are they supposed to be going? Many have written some tremendous material on the subject of grief and the stages of grief. But the problem is that no one has figured out the timetable for these stages. Again I refer back to the beginning thoughts on pain. Everybody is different and that is true even in a family. And when you think you are doing something well for one, it may not be the best for someone else. I have learned that there is a flip side to everything you do. It would be great if you could go start at the point of a tragedy or pain and say today will deal with…it just doesnt work that way.
Once more back to the thoughts on pain that we started with. Our church family and community have experienced tremendous pain through the tragedy at Westside. But pain is pain, and congregations everywhere face pain every day. We never know what the next phone call will bring. So in many ways, we are always about ministering to a church in pain. Sometimes we may not see it or understand it, but it is there and we have been called to respond. And as you respond to those in pain; remember, laugh when you can, cry when necessary, hug at every opportunity, and pray together.
I had a friend who was an airline pilot. His responsibility, as he described it to me, was to watch for the red lightthe light that would come on when there was problem. Once after a flight he came by my office with a smile on his face. I ask him what had happened, he said, The red light came on, and I knew what to do.
In some ways are lives are lived knowing that someday or sometime that red light is going to come on. We never know when and we never know exactly what it is going to tell us to respond to. Our prayer has to always be that we are ready to respond when it comes on. For when the red light comes on you only have the time to respond.
On March 24 the red light came on at the Westside Middle, the Westside School District, the Bono Church of Christ, for everybody in our area and in some ways for the whole world. Today we are thankful to our Lord that we have been able to do what we have done. Knowing that we still face many more opportunities to respond from this tragedy and to do whatever the next phone call should bring.
Benny Baker is minister of the Bono Church of Christ, Bono, Arkansas. Benny will be sharing his insights into ministry and the crisis at Westside Middle School at the 1988 Harding University Lectureship, September 27-30.
HEARTLIGHT(R) Magazine is a ministry of loving Christians and the Westover Hills church of Christ.
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