Churches in the El Paso, Texas area are giving prayers, counseling, and blood to help the victims of the recent mass shooting that has so far resulted in 22 deaths.
Over the weekend, a shooter entered a Walmart in El Paso and opened fire, killing 20 people and wounding several others in an incident believed to be inspired by white nationalism. Two more people would die of their injuries on Monday, bringing the total to 22 fatalities.
Police have stated that the suspect posted a manifesto online before the shooting, which warned of an attack in response to what it called "the Hispanic invasion of Texas."
21-year-old Patrick Crusius is the lead suspect and has thus far been charged with one count of capital murder while the investigation continues, according to a report by Reuters published Tuesday.
On the same weekend, nine people were killed and 27 were injured in Dayton, Ohio when 24-year-old Connor Betts opened fire. Betts was killed by police less than a minute after he began his rampage.
Although social media posts in which Betts expressed liberal views have become widely known, police have not yet determined a specific motive for the mass shooting, but some have noted that he had a reported obsession with violence.
The Christian Post interviewed local El Paso pastors to learn about what their churches were doing in response to the shooting, what ties they had to the victims, and what they believed churches across the country needed to do in response to the apparent rise in mass shootings.
Love will bind and hold us together
J.C. Rico, lead pastor of Immanuel Church El Paso, told CP that his congregation is providing licensed counselors at no cost to anyone affected by the tragedy who needs them.
“It will be a long term process where we will have Christian licensed counselors getting with those impacted in this meaningless violence. There are some that were not injured but were at the location and have asked for counseling,” said Rico.
One example cited by Rico was a young man with their church who needed counseling, as he worked at the Walmart and had encouraged some people to show up for an event on the day of the shooting.
“He now feels responsible for sending the young girls’ soccer team ‘The Fusion’ to Walmart for a fundraiser. The two male coaches were shot and are still in the hospital. He needs counseling as well,” continued Rico.
Rico also noted that one of his church’s members had a brother-in-law among the dead, adding that the church “will continue to minister to them personally.”
Rico felt that churches needed to “come together” despite having their own “way of doing church” in order to “to share the gospel of Christ.”
“Love will bind and hold us together. There is no greater love than the one our Father in Heaven gives us,” added Rico. “This tragedy was about hate, racism, ignorance and fear from a young man.”
“I pray we as churches reach out to individuals like this young man so that they can see and receive God's grace and love. Then can we see a change in our society and stop these mass shootings.”
Working toward peace and unity
The Reverend Amy Wilson Feltz, pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in El Paso, explained that while to her knowledge no one from her congregation was present at the shooting, her church still has a proximity to the tragedy.
“Several members of the church do know people whose family members and friends were killed or injured,” Feltz explained.
“Our church is about a mile away from the Walmart where the shooting took place, so we are very aware that our neighbors are suffering, and we grieve with them and are here to support them.”
Feltz noted that members of St. Paul’s UMC had donated blood and that members who were trained in counseling “are prepared to offer grief counseling and a ministry of presence to those in need.”
“Many church members have given blood and are seeking other ways to reach out in love and kindness to the families of the victims and to the survivors,” continued Feltz.
“On Wednesday evening, our church building will serve as the site of a worship service of hope and healing that is being organized by the El Paso District of the United Methodist Church. Many of our local church leaders and members will take part in that service.”
When asked by CP about how the church could help curb the current trend of mass shootings, Feltz responded that the answer was found in following the example of Jesus Christ.
“I believe that the people of churches can seek to live in the ways that Jesus modeled and called us to live, moving toward the suffering of others, standing up for people who are outcast and marginalized, speaking and acting in love for all people, working toward peace and unity,” Feltz said.
“This begins in our personal relationships at home and at work and at church and informs the way we live in everyday life.”
Feltz believed it was “sad to say that living in this way is as countercultural now as it was in the days of Jesus,” but nevertheless stated that “it is central to our calling as those who call ourselves Christians.”
“It is our responsibility to hold ourselves, members of our church communities and our nation’s leaders accountable to this standard of behavior, as well,” she added.
Pray against this spirit of hatred and racism
Daniel Sattelmeier, senior pastor of Crosspoint Church in El Paso, recounted to CP that a member of his congregation had a friend among the wounded victims of the mass shooting.
According to Sattelmeier, the friend had pushed his mother out of the way of the shooter and was shot twice as a result of his actions. The friend had had two surgeries and was still in critical condition as of Tuesday afternoon.
Sattelmeier also told CP that Crosspoint had many first responders among its members and that they were personally involved in responding to the mass shooting.
“A couple of our first responders had to go into the Walmart and heard” cellphones of the deceased going off, according to Sattelmeier.
“This person who is obviously dead and … his family is desperately trying to call him and contact him,” he observed, describing the first responders’ experiences as “gut-wrenching.”
Sattelmeier, who spoke to CP right after donating plasma, said that his church was doing “a number of things” to help, including a prayer vigil held earlier in the week and plans to setup a blood donor clinic by next Sunday.
Sattelmeier felt there were two crucial things that churches could do to curb mass shootings. One was for the church to encourage the building up of “strong families.”
“A lot of these young guys have been in broken families,” explained Sattelmeier, “and there’s a lot of things that have gone on in their past that could have maybe been prevented if they had come out of a stronger family unit.”
Another important thing for the church to do was to “pray against this spirit of hatred and racism and disunity and anger,” according to Sattelmeier.
“There is just a lot of anger it seems like right now in our country. That’s something that we really can pray against that, which we did on Sunday but we’re going to continue to do that,” he added.
“We need to somehow communicate that the Gospel is really ultimately of grace and forgiveness, no matter who it is that is in our path at the time and what they believe or what they’re going through or what they’re spouting, we still need to reach out and teach our people to express love and tolerance.”
We have not been given a spirit of fear
Maribel Valdivia of Beth El Bible Church provided CP with an emailed statement by her and Pastor Eric Paul explaining that no one at her church was “personally connected to the victims.”
There was, however, one member who was in the Walmart parking lot when the shooting happened and a few others who were locked down at an adjacent store for hours.
“As a church, obviously, we are praying,” they stated. “Our Sunday gathering was very focused on praying for the victims and families, emergency responders and our city as a whole.”
“We are very much encouraging our congregants to stay in God's Word, continue to live in community and especially in harmony with other churches.”
While the congregation itself did not hold a vigil, many of its members participated in the prayer vigils of other local churches.
“Please continue to keep us in your thoughts as this has been very impactful at different levels for many of us here in El Paso. We have not been given a spirit of fear but right after something like this happens, constant reminders of God's truth are absolutely vital,” they concluded.