NEW BRAUNFELS—Members of First Baptist Church in New Braunfels felt a flood of emotions following the loss of 13 beloved Christian brothers and sisters in a bus crash, but they never felt alone.
“We have been strengthened by how others have responded to our grief and to this tragedy,” Pastor Brad McLean said.
Fourteen senior adults from First Baptist Church were returning from a retreat at Alto Frio Baptist Encampment March 29 when a pickup truck collided head-on with their bus in rural Uvalde County. The wreck killed the bus driver and 12 passengers. One other passenger was hospitalized, as was the driver of the truck.
Outpouring of support
“We literally have heard from people around the world,” McLean said. People from as far away as Norway and Germany contacted the church to express sympathy and offer assurances of their prayers, he noted.
Church members felt support from concerned people in distant places, but they saw it firsthand from neighbors who stepped up to serve and stand alongside grieving friends.
“The community has been amazing in its response,” McLean said. “Our sister Baptist churches immediately showed up. Businesses in town have been bringing food for the hundreds of people who have been here since Wednesday night. Everyone has been incredibly compassionate and gracious to us.
“On Thursday (the day after the fatal wreck), leaders of other churches literally put on aprons, worked in the kitchen and served us. It’s a true testimony to walking together in Christ. They said: ‘You’re hurting, so we are hurting. You need help, so we are here to help.’”
Church establishes fund to help families
In response to the many people who offered financial assistance to the families directly affected by the fatal bus crash, First Baptist Church established a relief fund. Contributions can be made online here.
“Any funds we receive will go directly to the families impacted by this unfortunate tragedy,” McLean said.
The church also established an online portal for people who want to express sympathy, volunteer or donate food here.
‘Work through these losses together’
In planning the first worship service after the fatal wreck, McLean worked with his staff to select appropriate Scripture readings to offer comfort, rather than develop a traditional sermon.
“That is what will minister to our hearts—letting the Lord speak to us as a church,” McLean said.
In addressing the congregation, he urged members to acknowledge deep wounds take time to heal.
“It is important for us to recognize this morning that our pain is real, our loss is real, our grief is real,” he said. “As a church family, we will have to work through these losses together. It will not be done in one Sunday. It will not be done after one week of memorial services. It will take a little time.”
In his remarks, he reminded church members that while they grieve, they do not grieve in the same manner as those who have no hope.
“Our family members who lost physical life last Wednesday are wonderfully alive in Christ,” he said.
McLean praised his staff and the members of his congregation for ministering to each other during difficult days.
“Our ministry team has worked long hours, doing whatever they needed to do to help the church walk through the process in a way that honors the Lord,” he said. “I’m incredibly proud of our staff. I’m incredibly proud of our church family. They have said: ‘I’m here. I’ll do whatever you need me to do.’ It’s the church being the church.”
Individual ministry for individual loss
While the 13 who died in the bus crash will be linked forever by the tragedy, the church will seek to remember each one individually and minister to the unique needs of each family, McLean said.
“We want to make sure every family is loved, every family is cared for and that attention is given to them,” he said. “We want to remember the life of their loved one. Each life is vastly different. We want to celebrate and remember those lives as God lived through them.”
The bus tragedy offers members of the church the opportunity to demonstrate tangibly the depth of their faith, he noted.
“These are the moments in which you have to act on what you believe,” McLean said. “We believe in eternal life in heaven. We believe in the hope of resurrection. We believe these things. We have to act on these things.”
Looking ahead a couple of weeks, McLean acknowledged he hadn’t yet had a chance to think about how the tragedy might affect the schedule of previously planned Easter activities. But it will not change the message and meaning of Easter.
“On Easter, we were going to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And we are still going to celebrate resurrection,” he said.