EL PASO – Fifty Baptist leaders—including El Paso pastors, their wives and Southern Baptists of Texas representatives—gathered Aug. 22 at Immanuel Baptist Church for an evening of worship, prayer, food and fellowship in preparation to serve together following the Aug. 3 shootings at the Cielo Vista Walmart.
Immanuel Baptist is only blocks from the Walmart where 22 people were slain by a lone gunman.
The ripple effect of the recent violence was remarkable for a city the size of El Paso. While not every pastor knew victims or their immediate families, most at the rally knew friends or distant relatives of victims, or first responders or employees of the Walmart.
“El Paso has long been a peaceful loving city. Then this kind of tragedy happens. It brings fear to the hearts of the people,” Sergio Lopez, pastor of La Verdad Community Church, told the TEXAN earlier.
People know one another in El Paso. Or they know someone who knows someone.
Preaching from the Old Testament biblical passage of Nahum 1:7, SBTC Executive Director Jim Richards told those gathered the acts that day were evil and reminded them of the spiritual warfare taking place in our world.
“When people are being killed because of the color of their skin, their ethnicity or even their religion, it is nothing but evil. Human help and power fail us,” Richards said. “We must realize the evil we face is not flesh and blood. We are in a spiritual warfare. It’s only God who can help us get through these evil days.”
Only moments before Richards had enjoyed a light moment with Chuy Avila, an SBTC church planting specialist. Grinning at Avila, who was translating his sermon into Spanish, Richards said: “Well, I hope I have some friends out here who can tell me whether or not Chuy is saying what I am saying.”
Laughter erupted as Richards continued, “You pastors, help me. Be sure he is preaching my sermon.”
Richards asked the audience to use their phones to turn to Nahum 1:7: “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of distress; he cares for those who take refuge in him.” He explained the historical context of Nahum, the prophet whose name means “comfort” and who predicted the destruction of Assyria—the “evil superpower” of its day—as the Assyrians threatened Jerusalem.
“[T]here is comfort in chaos,” Richards said, and believers can access God’s comfort by recognizing his “providence,” realizing nobody deserves God’s goodness.
“When we were unloving, unlovely, unlovable, God loved us,” Richards said, referencing Romans 2:4 before relating the story of Joseph, sold into slavery, falsely accused, imprisoned and later elevated to prominence.
“So God is good despite the evidence,” he said, quoting Genesis 50:20 and Romans 8:28.
Of God, Richards proclaimed, “He enables us to go through what he doesn’t deliver us from,” referencing Philippians 4:13, 2 Corinthians 12:9, Ephesians 5:18.
From Romans 8:35-39, he reminded the audience to be filled with God’s Spirit.
Likening God’s affection to “loving with intensive care,” Richards encouraged those in the room to trust, quoting 1 Peter 5:7. He and reassured listeners of the “intimate and eternal relationship” with God through Christ promised in John 10:27-28.
“God will bring evil to an end. He will reign supreme over all. He is our comfort,” Richards urged, before closing in prayer.
Immanuel Baptist worship leaders Olivia DeLeon and Daniel Rico led in music, while Ted Elmore, SBTC prayer mobilization strategist, invited local pastors to pray between hymns and praise songs.
Tim Thompson of Mountain View Baptist Church reminded the audience “the battle and the victory are won already.”
Lawrence Vanley, pastor of McCombs Baptist, followed Thompson, asking the Lord to increase the faith of those present, so that “mankind can know that here in El Paso, believers who trust in Jesus Christ are standing shoulder to shoulder against Satan.”
As Elmore introduced a time of prayer around the tables the lights dimmed and invocations in English and Spanish filled the room.
Following corporate prayer and music, Daniel Moreno, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Jezreel, prayed in Spanish and English for the police and first responders, city, state and federal authorities and their families: “Every day they are taking care of this city. Put on them the peace. Help them, Lord, to be trusting in you. El Paso is strong. Help us, Lord.”
La Verdad’s Lopez also prayed bilingually, asking the Lord to heal El Paso that the “love of Christ can conquer our hate, and faith and hope can dissipate all our fears.”
Elmore directed SBTC staff to move to different tables to pray before he closed the session in prayer, referencing the brightly lit star on a mountain overlooking El Paso.
The iconic symbol of hope originated as a Christmas decoration in 1940 and has long commemorated special events, blazing 444 consecutive days in 1979-80 during the Iranian hostage crisis. It is now lit nightly.
“Lord may our churches be shining lights just like the lights on the mountain. I pray that our churches would be the lights on the mountain, in the valley, and wherever we are,” Elmore prayed.
Richards ended the evening by inviting the area pastors and wives to attend the SBTC annual meeting in Odessa, Oct. 28-29 as guests of the convention. Transportation, hotel, Monday dinner, Tuesday breakfast and lunch will be provided, he said, and on Monday night of the annual meeting, El Paso pastors will be recognized with a special time of bilingual prayer.
Urging El Paso pastors to attend, Richards noted the convention’s Hispanic leadership in President Juan Sanchez, pastor of High Pointe Baptist, Austin; and Jason Paredes, pastor of Fielder Church in Arlington and chairman of the SBTC committee on order of business.
Elmore planned and emceed the prayer event and was assisted by Avila who coordinated the location, food and music with Immanuel pastor J.C. Rico It was funded by the SBTC through the Cooperative Program.
Mike Gonzales, SBTC director of Hispanic ministries, offered those at the rally copies of the Fishers of Men Bible in English and Spanish (Biblia del Pescador) and Charles Swindoll’s Viviendo los Salmos (Living the Psalms). He also awarded gift baskets and restaurant gift cards to a few recipients.