Pastors’ insights from Oklahoma City bombing offer healing, hope for nation

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Keeping faith and supporting those affected by the recent terrorist attacks – rescuers as well as victims – are important as the nation moves ahead, said United Methodist pastors who responded to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

“You never get over something like what happened in Oklahoma City,” said the Rev. Robert Allen. “You’ll never get over what happened in New York and Washington. These are just horrible, tragic events. Our faith is important at times like these.”

Allen, currently serving at First United Methodist Church in Wichita Falls, Texas, was pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed.

“God is with us through all of it,” Allen said. “God doesn’t promise he’s going to keep us from walking through the valley of the shadows. What he does promise is that he’s going to be there with us, to comfort us, to strengthen us, to walk with us.”

Affecting us today. The people of Oklahoma City know the trauma that still lies ahead for New York and Washington. The bomb blast that destroyed the Murrah building on April 19, 1995, killed 168 people and injured 400 to 500 others. It was the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil until Sept. 11, when hijacked planes were crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside.

Six years after the Oklahoma bombing, several people are still receiving free counseling offered by the United Methodist Church’s Oklahoma Annual Conference for those affected by the bombing, said the Rev. David Severe, executive director of conference program ministries.

He expects more people to seek help as the trauma of the bombing returns, triggered by the recent attacks.

“One of the things we’re anticipating right now is that there were some folks that appeared to recover rather quickly (from the bombing) who really only stuffed that down inside, and with this experience, that is going to be pushed back up to the surface,” Severe said. The conference is getting the word out about its counseling service.

The conference’s Volunteers-In-Mission program is prepared to send teams to New York and Washington if they’re needed, Severe said.

Need for support. Rescue and recovery workers dealing with the latest tragedy “will suffer tremendously” and will need a lot of support, said the Rev. Guy Ames III, pastor at Oklahoma City’s Chapel Hill United Methodist Church.

Police and firefighters involved in Oklahoma City’s recovery experienced a high divorce rate, he said. Chaplains also will need support, he added, recalling that the city’s chaplains suffered emotional distress as they responded to the bombing.

The federal government will focus on families that lost loved ones, but tens of thousands of people are experiencing the trauma of serious injury, the loss of a colleague or friend, the loss of a business, and they will receive little if any attention, Ames said.

The healing process. The economic impact will be tragic, he said. “Oklahoma City lost 600 businesses the day of our bombing; 300 of them never came back.”

The healing process takes time, pastors said.

“It unfolds in waves, like when you throw a pebble in a lake,” Severe said. “And some people recover relatively quickly, others process it for indeterminate lengths of time, and some folks are still struggling with it.”

However, even in tragedy there can be triumph, he said. “We sure have seen that in Oklahoma City. We have seen people made stronger and bridges built.” Downtown, once in decay, has been restored. On the grounds of a bombing memorial stands a building dedicated to the study of anti-terrorism and peaceful conflict resolution.

“There will be good coming out of the evil,” Ames said, “but healing will take years.”

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