President Obama pays tribute April 9 to three soldiers killed at Fort Hood earlier this month. (Dept. of Defense photo)
President Obama pays tribute April 9 to three soldiers killed at Fort Hood earlier this month. (Dept. of Defense photo)

Baptists see Fort Hood shootings through lens of Easter

Baptist pastors recall how the April 2 shootings that killed three soldiers felt tragically familiar, and how they and their ministries immediately responded to meet the spiritual needs of their congregations and the Army base.

By Ken Camp

As ministry leaders at First Baptist Church in Killeen, Texas, prepared for Wednesday evening activities earlier this month, they heard an all-too-familiar report: a shooter had opened fire on soldiers at nearby Fort Hood.

“The really sad thing is the sense that it didn’t come as a complete surprise," Pastor Randy Wallace said. "'We’ve done this before — here we go again.’” 

Five years ago, a shooter killed 13 people and injured more than 30 others at Fort Hood. In 1991, a killer drove his pickup truck through the plate glass window of a Killeen cafeteria and shot 50 people, killing 23, before turning the gun on himself.

randy wallace130“It’s appropriate we were gathering for prayer meeting,” Wallace added. “The focus of our prayers became the developing tragedy that was still unfolding.”

The church had to find substitutes on short notice to cover the Royal Ambassadors and Girls in Action missions education programs when they learned leaders could not leave their posts at Fort Hood due to the lockdown.

Although the church facility is located just about three miles from the sprawling U.S. Army post, worshippers knew only bits and pieces about what was occurring on the base.

“The Army keeps a tight rein on what is released in those kinds of situations. There was no real-time information available,” he said.

Gradually, they learned a shooter had killed three soldiers and injured 16 before fatally shooting himself.

As news spread, some people in the community who do not regularly attend Wednesday evening worship at First Baptist stopped by to pray that evening, Wallace noted.

The next morning, he put aside the sermon he had planned for Sunday — a stewardship message encouraging participation in a debt-retirement campaign — and started work on a new sermon.

Hardship and danger

He selected as his text Romans 8:31-39, a New Testament passage in which the Apostle Paul described hardship and danger but assured his readers nothing could separate God’s people from God’s love.

The opening slide of the visual presentation that accompanied the sermon pictured an ambulance and the title, “No Escape.” In his sermon, Wallace acknowledged the reality of corruption in the world and told his congregation nobody is immune.

But he reminded them corruption does not limit God, it is not from God and it is temporary.

forthood pressconference600“It was a very raw service. People were emotionally exposed,” Wallace said.

“For some, it was peeling back wounds from five years ago. For others, it was peeling back wounds from the Luby’s [cafeteria] killing.”

As he looked at the congregation, he saw military personnel who told him they had been at a site where the shooter opened fire just five minutes before the rampage began. He also saw both military and civilian families who had been through a variety of traumas in recent years.

“For anybody who had experienced tragedy, this reopened the wounds,” he said.

Lifeway Fellowship

A few miles away at Lifeway Fellowship, Pastor Jimmy Towers led in a prayer time for military personnel.

“That’s nothing unusual here,” he said. “We have a large contingency of soldiers in our church, and we’re constantly aware of their needs and are praying for them.”

Towers chose to minister “one-on-one” with military personnel and their families rather than deal with the issue directly in his sermon. It focused on preparation for Easter.

At First Baptist, Wallace confessed he did not know fully what impact the continuing trauma of the most recent shooting would have on the congregation, but he also was looking ahead to Resurrection Sunday.

“We’re going to do Easter,” he said, noting a desire not to allow a killer to rob the Risen Christ of the attention and glory he deserves. “We’ve got to do Easter.”