The niece of an Alabama Baptist pastor is among those recovering after a gunman opened fire on a Las Vegas concert Oct. 1.
Danae Gibbs was shot in the left upper thigh by a single bullet, said her uncle, Charles Gibbs, pastor of West Mobile Baptist Church, in Mobile Baptist Association. In a Facebook post, Gibbs said the bullet traveled into Danae’s lower left abdomen, tearing through the small intestine before becoming lodged close to her spine. Surgeons performing emergency surgery on Danae decided to leave the bullet in. His niece is “doing great” and resting, Gibbs wrote in an Oct. 2 update.
An estimated 22,000 concertgoers were gathered Sunday night (Oct. 1) in an open-air venue for the Route 91 Harvest Festival country music concert in Las Vegas. The gunman, 64-year-old Stephen Craig Paddock, opened fire on the crowd from a 32nd floor hotel room in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, located across the street from the concert venue.
More than 500 were injured in the attack and at least 59 have died in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
Alabama native Vance Pitman, the founder and senior pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas, said he woke up Oct. 2, his birthday, to news of the shooting. In a video statement, Pitman said his heart is “broken and devastated” over the tragedy but said the church is ready to minister to those who are hurting all across the city.
“This is the day when we get the opportunity to really rise up and serve the city and love the city and demonstrate the love of God for the city,” Pitman said.
Hope Church is only a few miles from the shooting scene. The church took several steps on Monday in response to the tragedy, including calling in all of its 15 pastors to be on hand as it opened its doors as a safe space for prayer and counseling, and, if needed, a shelter for anyone dislocated as a result of the shooting.
Pitman also urged members to donate blood and said he had let police and other law enforcement officials know the church was ready, willing and able to provide physical and emotional support to anyone in need among the city’s 2.2 million residents and its 1 million weekly tourists.
“You’ve got some people who are believers, yet even their faith has been shaken,” Pitman told Baptist Press. “And then you’ve got a lot of people in Las Vegas, a city that’s 92 percent non-evangelical, 60 percent unchurched, that are already really skeptical of faith and now, very much so.
Pitman acknowledged that in moments of tragedy, people are tempted to run from God. Scripture teaches a different response, he said, quoting Psalm 46:1.
“God is a refuge in help, a very present help in time of trouble,” Pitman said. “The Scripture teaches that God is to be run to in moments like this, that He’s a refuge. He’s a shelter that we can run to in moments of tragedy and find comfort, find peace, find redemption, reconciliation and find hope.
“This is a moment to run to the Father, to cry out to Him and to pour out your heart to Him,” Pitman said.
Pitman said Hope Church will dedicate this weekend’s services to the tragedy as the church “seeks to be part of bringing healing to the city.”
“(We) pray that God would take what the enemy intended for evil and out of that God would produce good that would ultimately result in him being glorified and exalted among the peoples of the earth,” Pitman said.
Las Vegas is home to 118 Southern Baptist congregations, according North American Mission Board figures. The church-to-resident ratio is roughly one to 18,300. Less than 8 percent of the city identifies as evangelical, NAMB said on its Send City website, and about two-thirds of the city is unchurched.
Pitman encouraged Americans to remember that Las Vegas is much more than a tourist attraction.
“You’ve got 2.2 million people that live here, that have families, they have jobs. It’s a beautiful community, a beautiful city that’s right here in the heart of the southwest. And they’re really hurting today,” he said. “A lot of people think of Vegas as sin city but the Scripture says where sin abounds grace abounds all the more, and the darker the darkness, the brighter the light of the gospel.
“And today is a dark, dark day in the city of Las Vegas, which means that’s a backdrop for an incredible display of the glorious light of the gospel,” Pitman said. “And that’s what we pray to see happen here, is the church rises up and begins to serve the city.” (Compiled by TAB with contributions from BP and RNS)
How should we as Christians respond?
In the wake of another mass shooting in the United States, faith-based communities will once again be called on to make sense out of a senseless tragedy.
Without a doubt, Christians will ask and be asked how God could allow something like the Las Vegas concert attack to happen.
How should we respond?
Kevin Blackwell, executive director of Samford University’s Ministry Training Institute, says we must first look to the origin of the event — Eden.
“Some are tempted to ask, ‘How could God have allowed this to happen?’ I want to be clear, this was not God’s plan for His creation,” Blackwell writes.
Though humankind was created in God’s image, sin marred that image, Blackwell writes.
“A heart that was created to worship became fallible to the point of total corruption. In Genesis 4, we find the first murder and by Genesis 6 God was ‘grieved in His heart’ over the absolute deplorability of creation,” Blackwell writes.
The events in Eden are directly connected to events like the Las Vegas massacre, Blackwell says. Satan is still at work in the world and individuals are still susceptible to following the base instincts of human nature.
The message of hope that Christians can speak into times of tragedy is important, says Terry Wilhite, an Alabama-based crisis communication specialist.
“What we do right now matters. Eternity could be in the balance for someone who sees the love of Jesus and the hope of glory in us at this very moment,” Wilhite says.
Neighbors, friends and coworkers will be hurting and they will seek answers, which is why Wilhite offers several tips for Christians as they respond to a crisis like the attack in Las Vegas:
Stop now and pray for all of those at the concert. Especially pray for first responders and their families, those whose love ones have died and those who are being treated now at Nevada hospitals. Pray for leaders who are now barraged with mountains of decisions that must be made.
Love and show grace with your words. Refrain from political commentary and remarks of judgment and don’t forward these type comments on social media or participate in a back and forth with those who are offering idle talk.
Point people to Jesus but don’t beat them up with Scripture. Share the comforting words of the Bible in a loving, graceful way.
Share lovingly and in your own words and life experiences how one can accept Jesus as Savior and how He carries our burdens and our sorrows; Jesus is not our best hope, He is our only hope. By entrusting our lives to Him we can have personal victory in times of crisis and the strength we need to go forward. “Because He Lives, we can face tomorrow…”
Be available to listen. Open your mind and heart, your home, your house of worship for prayer. Crises are our best opportunities to be available to share the hope that is within us. Be available. Listen. Pray with others.
Be one. If we call on Jesus as Lord and Savior, let’s stand together — put religious differences aside — and show the nation and the world what unity in Jesus is all about.
Following a national tragedy, grief is inevitable. However, in times of confusion and sorrow, the Church has an opportunity to encourage and comfort those who suffer, Blackwell says.
“We should fervently pray for the church to be at its best in the days ahead so that we can minister to the hurting, weep with the broken hearted and tell of the love of Christ.”