First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs Lifted by Influx of Compassion

Kris Workman, paralyzed during the melee at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, is leading worship from a wheelchair for the rural Texas congregation.

Ryland Ward, age 6, came home from the hospital Jan. 11 after multiple operations for four wounds inflicted by the gunman who killed 26 people — including his mother and two of his sisters — at First Baptist on Nov. 5.

Ryland — riding in a fire truck in a police convoy — returned to Sutherland Springs after a two-month hospitalization in San Antonio, 30 miles away.

“There are so many people stepping up who want to help,” said Ted Elmore of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention — from firemen and police in San Antonio to the SBTC and its churches across the state, the North American Mission Board and a San Antonio-based independent grocery chain and a leading roofing firm.

And certainly the people of rural Sutherland Springs and nearby communities are keenly involved despite the horrific losses suffered in their unincorporated community of 400 people.

First Baptist has formed a six-member restoration committee, including one member from a nearby town who was stirred to join the church after the massacre.

The committee also includes several First Baptist members described by Elmore as “wonderful, common sense laymen” along with a former associate pastor at the church.

“That’s the nature of this community,” said Elmore, who participates in one or more conference calls each week with the committee and First Baptist pastor Frank Pomeroy, whose 14-year-old daughter Annabelle was among the fatalities at the hands of Devin Kelley who committed suicide shortly after driving away from the church property.

“Life has been forever changed for these folks, but in spite of the deepest hurts, they have embraced and said, ‘The devil will not win,'” Elmore said as the SBTC’s primary contact person with First Baptist in his work in the convention’s pastor-church relations, field ministry and prayer strategy.

Also on-site for six weeks are Mike Landry, who works part-time with the SBTC in church revitalization, and his wife Connie, both certified grief counselors. Landry is assisting Pomeroy in pastoral ministry as needed and visiting people in the community to hear and help heal their anguish.

“The SBTC serves churches. We’re there to serve Sutherland Springs in their recovery,” Elmore said, noting, “All the decision-making is theirs, and we respect that.”

Sutherland Springs Rebuild

The North American Mission Board, meanwhile, is taking the lead in the construction of a new worship center and education building for First Baptist, along with a memorial garden, retaining the firm of Myrick Gurosky & Associates in Birmingham, Ala., as general contractors.

“We think roughly it will be $1 million to $1.5 million,” NAMB President Kevin Ezell said during a Feb. 6 meeting of the mission board’s trustees.

“The construction company has worked with the church for free to come up with a design for new buildings and walked through it with pastor Pomeroy and the leaders they have appointed,” Ezell said.

Funding-wise, he noted, “There has been such a desire to help among Southern Baptists and … we will let churches know that if they want to give they can. If 1,500 churches were to give $1,000, that’s $1.5 million. In the SBC family, everyone who wants to can be a part of that.”

Churches and individuals can donate at Sutherland Springs Rebuild.

NAMB spokesman Mike Ebert said the range for the cost of construction stems from anticipated donated services from various contractors who will be working on the rebuild. It will be a full-fledged construction project with a start and end date that will not entail the removal of the former worship center, which is now a memorial, nor an adjacent education building, Ebert told Baptist Press. Decisions on those facilities will be made by First Baptist.

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Source: Baptist Press