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Big Island Baptist churches spread message of love, not blame in wake of Texas shooting

November 7, 2017 - 7:37pm

HILO — Hawaii Island Baptist church leaders say they’re sending prayers to Texas following a church massacre Sunday that killed at least 26 people and has been deemed the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history.

A gunman, identified as Devin Kelley, reportedly opened fire during morning services at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, before fleeing the scene and killing himself. His victims ranged from 18 months to 72 years old, some reportedly in mid-prayer as Kelley entered with an assault-style rifle.

Authorities are investigating a possible motive but said Monday that Kelley had a “domestic situation” with relatives, at least one of whom attended the church.

“It’s heavy on everyone,” said John Endriss, pastor of Engage Church in Hilo, on Monday. “It never feels like it’s going to be your church or your city, especially in a small town like Hilo and we recognize (in Texas) they likely felt the same thing. Churches over time have been a place of conflict between different people and things like that, but I think this one kind of surprised people. It was just a really small area.”

Engage, a Baptist church with primarily young families and college-aged members, set aside time during Sunday evening services to pray for the victims and briefly address the shooting, Endriss said.

Endriss said the island’s Baptist churches are a “close community” of about 25 congregations and many of the pastors meet monthly for prayer sessions and lunch.

Those congregations haven’t discussed a collective vigil or fundraiser for victims, though most, including the First Baptist Church, are part of the overarching Southern Baptist Convention, which allocates resources to member churches for disaster relief.

The shooting also re-energized the country’s gun control debate. President Donald Trump, who has opposed more rigorous gun laws, on Monday called the shooting a “mental health problem” and not a “guns situation.”

Endriss said he chose to avoid the political divide during his remarks Sunday and instead “highlight our goal to be a light in the world and spread the good words of Jesus.”

Spencer Baker, pastor of Big Island Baptist Church in Kailua-Kona, said he’s also encouraging church members not to “find someone to blame.” He said he has received a string of texts and emails from church members since Sunday and also plans to address the shooting during services this week.

“As we start to process all of this, we’re seeing everyone wants to find someone to blame,” Baker said. “The right is leaning this way and the left leaning another way. So the tragedy is we’re all flawed individuals and the biggest message I’m trying to communicate is not to find a person to blame but we all need the Lord to get us through this life.”

Hawaii Police Department conducts active shooter preparedness presentations for churches, schools, businesses and community organizations upon request.

Puna Baptist Church in Pahoa hosted one of those active shooter training sessions in the past and invited neighbor churches, pastor Alan Tamashiro said, adding he thinks “preparedness is the best thing to do.”

“(The presentations) are really good and I’m proud of our police force for reaching out into the community,” Tamashiro said. “It doesn’t matter what organization, what religion or what denomination, they will come out and do a thorough job.”

“I’m heartbroken that this happened to a church at a time of worship,” he added. “It’s a time when people seek solace and love. Whether it’s a church or a mall, it’s reflective that there’s a lot of brokenness in our world and a lot of people are hurting, and more than ever before I’m determined to lead my church to share the love of Jesus with our community and our world.”

Gov. David Ige on Monday, at the direction of President Trump, ordered flags be flown at half-staff at the Capitol along with all other state offices and agencies through sunset Thursday.

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