Former Alabama Baptist offers hope of Jesus in aftermath of Florida mass school shooting

Former Alabama Baptist offers hope of Jesus in aftermath of Florida mass school shooting

By Margaret Colson
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist

Tears come, often at unexpected moments. Anger simmers and occasionally bubbles up. Questions defy answers.

Still, in the midst of unimaginable tragedy, “Jesus is our only hope. He is peace and life,” said Eddie Bevill, pastor of Parkridge Church, Coral Springs, Florida.

“He meets us in our darkest and most needful hour.”

That’s the message he’s been taking — and will continue to take — to his South Florida community where more than a month ago a lone gunman killed 17 individuals and injured many others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The tragedy “hit close to home for us,” said Bevill. Douglas High School was home to Parkridge Church for its first seven years after being launched by Bevill in 1992. Today, the church is located only about a mile from the high school.

On Feb. 14, as details of the unfolding tragedy were sketchy and the alleged gunman still had not been arrested, parents from throughout the community parked their cars on the grass at Parkridge Church and walked to the school to meet their children as they were being released in small groups. Bevill and others from Parkridge were able to pray with and encourage some of the parents and students. Even with law enforcement vehicles speeding past the church, sirens blaring and helicopters swirling overhead, no one initially understood the extent of what was happening and widespread panic had not set in. It wouldn’t take long though to discover “how devastating it (the tragedy) was,” Bevill said.

The church did not experience any deaths or injuries among its members that day. Yet the ties to the school are strong and most church members know someone who had been murdered or injured. One young person from Parkridge survived the barrage of gunshots only because a teacher died trying to save her.

‘Code red’

When church member Alex Kaminsky, band director at Douglas High School, discovered that the school fire alarm was not a false alarm but instead a “code red,” he quickly locked the band room door, placing a banner over its window and turned the lights out. He led the approximately 80 students, including his ninth-grade son, to barricade themselves between instrument lockers and stay quiet, even as they heard shots ringing out over a crackly walkie-talkie. By day’s end, he had lost two band members who were not in the band room at the time.

“You never know when tragedy is going to hit where you are,” Kaminsky said.

Just as it didn’t take long to understand the devastation that had come or the “innocence that had been lost” in their community, said Bevill, it didn’t take long for Parkridge Church to respond.

At noon on Feb. 15, less than 24 hours after the mass shooting, Parkridge joined with Church United, a cross-denominational group of churches in South Florida, to host a prayer vigil on its grounds. (View a clip from the prayer vigil at TABMedia.) A portable stage was erected and chairs were set up as about 2,000 people, including community residents, church leaders, one school board member and politicians, poured in to embrace and to collectively grieve, pray, read Scripture and take their first fledgling steps toward healing. Florida Gov. Rick Scott was one of many to lead in prayer.

Kaminsky found it “comforting” that his home church hosted the vigil. Parkridge “is a bright beacon for a lot of hurting people,” he said.

On the following Sunday, Bevill, who had planned not to preach that day, stepped up to the pulpit. He began by reading the names of the 17 who had lost their lives. He then led his church in prayer and preached a sermon titled, “Still Good News,” from John 10:1–18, about God giving direction and purpose to life, “even when we don’t understand.”

He closed the Sunday morning service with prayer: “We pray, even in the midst of the great pain we are experiencing, that we would see You, that we would trust You, that we would be connected to You. … We need ultimately what only You can provide. So we pray You would give with great liberty to Your children peace, hope, encouragement, graciously Lord, even joy in the midst of our pain.”

Ongoing ministry

Healing in the Parkland community will be a journey that takes time, said Bevill. He understands that although much of the community already has the outward appearance of normalcy, people are still hurting, searching for answers and grieving. As life seems to go on for many and as media professionals pack up their gear and head home, Bevill said, “We (Parkridge Church) will be here.”

Much of what the church will do in the coming days is a “ministry of presence,” he said. There’s difficulty, he admitted, in knowing what to say to those who have experienced “the most excruciating pain you can ever imagine.”

Sometimes, he said, silence is the best response.

The tragedy will invariably provide opportunities for spiritual conversations with those who may have been closed to such conversations before, Bevill believes. Already these spiritual conversations have begun happening among staff members at Douglas High School.

Returning to school, Kaminsky said that the “conversation of my faith has come up a lot more often” with fellow school staff members and even with some band members and their parents. When colleagues ask him how he is coping in the tragedy’s aftermath, Kaminsky points to his “faith in God, who is bigger than all of this. The world is broken. We will experience triumphs and tragedies. He is always there for us to go to for strength and guidance.”

Need for prayer

As Bevill continues to lead Parkridge to minister to community residents in the coming days, months and even years, the biggest need, he said, is prayer. He prays that God will “till up the soil” in the hearts of community residents so that they will “run toward God” rather than “run away from God.” He also prays for his church members and other Christians in South Florida, that they will be “bold to talk with those who don’t know the Lord.”

“I do believe God can do something good out of this situation but it (the situation) is not good. We must remember that God is sovereign,” he said.


Although South Florida is home to Pastor Eddie Bevill now, his roots run deeply in Alabama, where he grew up at Birmingham’s Huffman Baptist Church and served in youth/college ministry at Hunter Street Baptist Church, Hoover. Bevill met his wife, Laura, at Samford University, and the young couple returned to her home state of Florida, with a brief stop in Texas for him to attend Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, before launching Parkridge Church.