By Debra Hane
Uvalde Strong signs could be seen throughout Texas. The tragic shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday, May 24, 2022, devastated this small community and shook the nation. Although people may never understand the depths of grief and shock of such tragedy, many relate to the horror of losing children at such a young age. There’s an understanding that the people of Uvalde will need a strength that’s beyond themselves to heal and move on.
“We were shocked and heartbroken as we watched the news unfold about the shooting …[and] began to beg God for his mercy on the people of Uvalde, asking Him how we could help in this terrible situation,” shared Fred Pry, assistant vice president of USA Ministries. Within 24 hours, Fred and his wife, Dawn, were on the road from Child Evangelism Fellowship® International Headquarters in Warrenton, Missouri, with 20,000 pieces of literature, mostly English and Spanish Do You Wonder Why? booklets. They arrived in San Antonio, Texas, on Thursday and joined MiMi Sellers, CEF® state director for East Texas; and CEF local coordinators Matt Gruber from San Antonio and Jen Edington serving in Austin and Houston. Friday morning, as this team prayed together before heading to Uvalde, they felt led to go to the churches first. They sensed God’s direction through the day, many times arriving at a church as the pastor was either coming or going.
“Pastors needed to talk. No one was asking how they were doing,” reflected Pry. The team listened as pastors poured out their hearts; at times their stories were graphic. They ministered to the victims and their families at the hospital, and it was their job to inform families of loss. Pastors were focused on meeting the needs of the community, providing comfort, counseling, funeral plans—all while suffering their own trauma. The team prayed with them and gave them Do You Wonder Why? booklets to hand out to those they serve.
Seventeen volunteers joined them on Saturday, many who spoke Spanish. They walked through the community, talking and praying with people they met. Although it was 99 degrees, people were out all over the city, grieving together. “I have never been in a community that was so open to the Gospel and the love of Christ and had such a willingness to talk and pray with complete strangers,” commented Dawn Pry. Some who were related to the young victims, expressed their brokenness. Others knew the shooter and expressed concern for his family. Some saw the Do You Wonder Why? booklets and asked for copies to distribute where they worked, at the school, library, and even restaurants.
“I have never been in a community that was so open to the Gospel and the love of Christ and had such a willingness to talk and pray with complete strangers.”
Lolita, a Spanish volunteer from Houston, almost didn’t go to Uvalde. But at the last minute, she joined the team and went to the school to hand out Do You Wonder Why? booklets. Hundreds of people gathered there to give flowers. In the evening, one of the volunteers pointed out a girl who had crawled out a window of the school to escape. She had not come out of her house since the tragedy. She stood expressionless with her mother, sister, aunt, and cousin. Lolita knew she had to tell her about Jesus. The women were receptive of Lolita and genuinely interested in knowing Jesus. As Lolita shared God’s promises from Hebrews 13:5-6 that “God will never leave me,” and “The Lord is my helper,” the girl’s countenance changed. Lolita realized, “God had this appointment, this meeting with this family so they could know Jesus as Savior and I was the one in charge of leading them to the Lord. And the Lord had it already planned for me to do it.”
Do You Wonder Why?
In response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Do You Wonder Why? was created to help children deal with tough questions they ask in the midst of tragedy. Millions of copies have been distributed in the wake of tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, school shootings, and other tragedies. The booklet has been translated into 54 languages and well over 12 million copies have been distributed around the world. Most recently, 5 million were distributed in Ukraine and bordering countries.
Visit cefonline.com/why to read a digital copy (available in 16 different languages) or view a Do You Wonder Why? video. These booklets can be purchased through CEFPress.com and are available in English and Spanish.
Having lived through the shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, almost 3 years to the day prior, MiMi Sellers wanted to comfort the hurting community. “I don’t know if there are words to express how it feels to be amongst a community that is struggling like that. There are not enough words in the dictionary to explain it,” shared Sellers. She did not want to leave that Saturday evening to go home. The need in Uvalde was great and the hearts of many people were open to hear about God. Volunteers brought encouragement for a few days, but MiMi sensed the burden for a full-time worker who could provide emotional and spiritual support to the people at this time. Someone who would become part of the community, organize ministry, and train volunteers. She began praying for God to provide someone.
“I don’t know if there are words to express how it feels to be amongst a community that is struggling like that.”
While preparing to go to Uvalde for three days and then on to California, Angela Carrillo realized God had other plans. Relief washed over MiMi when Angela called to tell her God wanted her to go to Uvalde to stay till the end of the year. Angela served with the CEF Spanish ministry in California for over 15 years and with the Dallas CEF chapter for five years. She’s a Children’s Ministries Institute® graduate with leadership experience and has led training courses in English and Spanish. Within 24 hours God had provide for half of Angela’s living expenses through the end of the year.
Angela shared, “On Friday, June 3rd, I began my journey to Uvalde. Upon entering this large but small community, I could feel the sadness, the pain and hurt this community is feeling. I knew at that moment, that this is where I belong, where the Lord led me to, and where I will serve with a servant’s heart.”
Angela has become part of the community, made friends, and has reached out to churches as they pick up the pieces and try to regroup. Many schoolteachers who also teach children’s Sunday school, need time to heal and be ministered to. So Angela has stepped in to help. She’s recruited volunteers from Houston to teach Party Clubs in day cares and community centers and she’s organizing teams to teach 5-Day Clubs throughout the community. When people are ready, she’ll provide training for them to effectively teach boys and girls about Jesus. Angela already has five people from Uvalde who will help with 5-Day Club® ministry.
Finding a place to live through the end of the year has been a challenge for Angela. But when 93-year-old Catherine heard about Angela’s need, she was excited to offer her a place to stay. For six months, Catherine had been praying for God to send someone to help her have a Good News Club®. She once hosted club in her home but had to stop because at 93, she needed help. Now, plans are underway for the first Uvalde GNC™ this fall which will be held in Catherine’s home with the help of volunteers from her church.
It may be hard to understand the depths of shock and grief people experience after tragedies such as in Uvalde. We wonder how such sadness can ever know joy again. Yet out of tragedy a strength can rise from beyond oneself—the strength of God comforting, healing, and loving through others. May Uvalde Strong not just be a desire for the people of Uvalde to have the strength to move on, but the reality of a community bonded together in the love of God.