Our women’s singing group, The Steel Magnolias, sang at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs on Oct. 1, 2017, before leaving on our Pacific Northwest mission tour. During our visit, we met most of the church members killed one month later. We attended many of their funerals. When I heard about the dedication of the church’s new building, I had to go.
As I wound my way along the country roads to Sutherland Springs last Sunday for the dedication services, I kept seeing tall towers peering through the trees and asked myself, “Is that it?”
I saw what looked like a shining light on a hill that was the bright colored stone of the new church building shining brilliantly. In fact, the image of a light on a hill was referenced several times during the two worship services.
The glorious new church building now rises up from the trash heap of despair left when a troubled man went on a killing spree on Nov. 5, 2017. But as the hashtag on the t-shirts worn by church members proclaimed, “#Evildidnotwin!”
Frank Pomeroy, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, set the victorious mood for the new “church house,” carrying over the “hope of glorious expectation in what Jesus wants from us now” from the first worship service into the second, during which 26 slain church members were honored.
The revival that was a dedication service
I wasn’t supposed to be in the new sanctuary. The seating was very limited, and the big wooden double doors were closed after all the family members and survivors, praise team members, media and officials were inside for the second service. The remaining crowd was directed to an overflow room.
Something told me to stay by the sanctuary doors, however. I might be able to hear what was going on inside, even if only through the crack in the doors. All of a sudden, the doors opened, and a kind officer waived me in. I motioned to a friend who was with me, and we were ushered into the church. What a blessing!
I felt I was at a revival in the first service. My heart was lifted as the praise team began singing the words to “Glorious Day”—“Jesus, when I met You … You called my name, and I ran out of that grave.” As the singers began to shout with gusto and raise their fists in victory, my heart was pounding.
The powerful praise to our Lord Jesus Christ was followed by an equally powerful message of hope from Pastor Pomeroy, followed by his wife Sherri, who shared a deeply moving story about one of Karla Holcombe’s last prayers.
Holcombe—one of the members killed—prayed that the Lord would give the church the corner of the huge lot where the little church building stood. She prayed repeatedly for it and told Pastor Pomeroy, believing one day the land would be given to First Baptist Church.
Pastor Pomeroy knew the church could not afford the land, but Holcombe told the pastor each time: “We won’t have to afford it. God is going to give it to us.” The new building now sits on that corner—Karla’s Corner, as it’s been named. That’s the power of prayer!
Karla Holcombe believed, never knowing how, when or where, but putting all her faith and trust in her Lord, knowing he would give that land to his people in Sutherland Springs.
The outpouring from outside Sutherland Springs was tremendous, including more than $1.5 million provided through the Cooperative Program of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Bell tolls in memory of the 26 slain
Mark Collins, the associate pastor of First Baptist in Sutherland Springs before being called as the pastor of First Baptist in Yorktown, Texas, read the name of each person slain. The bell tolled for each name, ringing out as a clarion call to “march on, do not cower to evil, be vigilant in your stand for Jesus.”
Collins followed the reading of the names by singing “It is Well with My Soul,” written by Horatio Spafford after losing his four daughters at sea.
Dignitaries pointed people to God
Gov. Greg Abbott, sitting in a wheelchair after experiencing his own life-changing event, offered encouragement to those gathered. He spoke from the Psalms, declaring: “You, Oh Lord, have tested us; you have tried us; you laid a crushing burden on our back, and yet you brought us out to a place of abundance” (Psalm 66:10-12).
Abbott went on to say, “This new worship center has been given to you as the abundance of God’s blessing.” He charged the congregation to walk with God and charged Pastor Pomeroy to lead the congregation.
Sen. John Cornyn recalled his first visit to Sutherland Springs on the evening of the shooting in 2017, saying: “Anguish gripped this community, but at the prayer vigil that night, there surfaced a small glimmer of peace, a peace that no human is capable of summoning, a peace that only comes from God.”
All who attended were blessed immeasurably and left charged with the victory of Jesus.
Debbie Daniel is the director of The Steel Magnolias, a women’s singing group presenting Southern Gospel concerts around the United States. She is a member of the First Baptist Church of San Marcos, Texas.