God Will Remain in Roseburg When the Cameras and News Crews Are Gone


I know. After 19 firefighters died in Prescott, Ariz., the spotlight flared out as we rebuilt our lives.

by John S. Dickerson

TV news vans with telescoping satellite antennas have converged on the town of Roseburg, Ore. They huddle in parking lots surrounding Umpqua Community College, where a shooter stole the lives of nine students and teachers. For the next few days, reporters will document local folks recounting the horror, crying, remembering, and even staring like deer into the headlight of national news coverage.

Then, one day, the antennas will zip back down into the roofs of the vans. And as fast as they came, the reporters will be gone. The pain, however, will not go with them. And the little town will be left with a gaping void — not only from the absence of the national news but also from the deafening absence of irretrievable life.

I know this because two years ago I was the townspeople. The town had a different name — Prescott, Ariz. But we had a similar rural demographic and a similar story of tragic death — the loss of 19 firefighters overtaken by a wildfire. How odd it felt when the last news truck left.

What becomes of these communities, after they have left the nationassl spotlight? Their grieving process stunted by bright lights and once-in-a-lifetime attention, how do these towns resume life or discover their new normal, once the TV vans leave?

The answer to how people get along for the months and years following a national tragedy lies deeper than the generic community. The answer lies in the individual people — the woven threads and strands who make up the weave that we call community.

Seven years ago, I left a journalism career to become a Christian minister. I moved from documenting the funeral procession to leading it, from observer of grief to participant among the grievers. In this role, I have learned that there is no easy answer to give to a heartbroken mother or a mourning husband. There is no single sentence that can sooth the sting of death, injustice, lost life and suffering.

And yet, I have seen — time and again — that there are paragraphs and ideas that do sooth the sting of death for many. Some thoughts — gripped by the soul and held as belief — do give stability, peace and hope in the midst of unthinkable, horrific pain.

Nationally, we are lamenting that this same senseless shooting keeps recurring across this country. It seems that only the names of the locations, victims and killers change from month to month, week to week.

And yet, I have seen — behind the scenes and long after the TV news vans leave — another recurring narrative. A more positive recurring story of hope, humanity, unity and rebuilding.

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John S. Dickerson, a journalist and pastor, is author of I Am Strong: Finding God’s Peace and Strength in Life’s Darkest Moments.