Faithful turn to prayer in wake of tragedies

April 19, 2013 10:26:31 AM

Carmen K. Sisson - [email protected]


Terrie Young was watching television Monday when the words scrolled across the screen. Two bombs had exploded near the finish line at the Boston Marathon. At least three people were dead. Dozens were injured.  


"Lord have mercy," she whispered. And she fell to her knees.  


Wednesday night, a fertilizer plant in Texas exploded. Five to 15 people were dead, according to the initial reports, which proved to be a low estimate. Lynn Mullins fell asleep with a heavy heart and woke up knowing she had to do something.  


As storm clouds gathered over Immanuel Christian School Thursday night, Young, Mullins, and a dozen others gathered in the gymnasium and bowed their heads in prayer, coping with the week's heartbreak in the only way they knew -- by turning to the all-knowing to explain the incomprehensible. It was a common response in Mississippi, dubbed by recent Gallup polls for the second year in a row as the "most religious" state. 


Mullins, along with her husband, Immanuel Baptist Church pastor Charles Mullins, decided to organize Thursday night's impromptu service to calm nerves and ease the minds of those who have been left unnerved by the week's events.  


"It kind of shakes us to our core," Lynn Mullins said, her long skirt slapping against her legs in the stiff breeze as she stood outside the school, watching the approaching storm. "Sometimes people get real rattled and fearful, and they just get overwhelmed." 


The couple came to Columbus three years ago, and since then, they have grown close to their congregation of 130 people. Both said they were not disappointed by the low turnout for the hastily-assembled service, which had only been publicized by telephone and word of mouth that morning.  


"For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them," Lynn Mullins said, quoting Matthew 18:20. "It doesn't have to be droves of people." 


And so the small clutch of believers gathered in a circle on a vinyl, faux-parquet basketball court, somewhere near the three-point line, praying for the nation and its leaders, the victims and the survivors. 


One by one, each person spoke aloud, sharing their testimonies of faith. One woman said her first response was fear, anxiety, depression. She forced herself to turn away from the glut of increasingly gory images plastered across the Internet and began seeking out scriptures to uplift her spirit. Her fears dissipated. The anxiety was replaced by tranquility. 


Charles Mullins confessed that his life and schedule had been hectic this week, overwhelming and heavy. He had finally lost his composure when a television newscast showed a Texas volunteer firefighter covered in blood, saying over and over, "Where are my guys? I can't find my guys." 


As of this morning, 35 people were reported dead in the West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion. At least 10 were first-responders, including five firefighters.  


The chaos and pain and agony hit close to the bone for Mullins. But through prayer, he said, Christians can bring peace, even amid violence.  


It fills a need within the community in times like these, Young said.  


Prayer may also be beneficial by providing a concrete way to alleviate the helplessness people sometimes feel when faced with such large-scale tragedies.  


"I can't go to Texas right now," Mullins said. "I can't go to Boston right now. But God is there." 


Many church members said this week's events serve as a reminder of the fragility of life and the need to use the days wisely, taking none for granted. Others, citing reports of Boston bombing victims removing their jackets to wrap around those with more serious injuries, said the explosions are an example of the power of human kindness and the innate goodness within each person.  


"Even the smallest thing can be as big as the biggest thing," one woman said quietly.  


They did not know that later in the evening, a thousand miles away, a convenience store would be robbed and a police officer at Massachusetts Institute for Technology would be fatally wounded by one of the suspected bombers. 


They did not know of the subsequent carjacking the suspects would commit or the gunfight that would commence in Watertown, a quiet suburb of Boston. They did not know that by the end of the night, one suspect would be dead and the other would be on the run.  


But they prayed, and will continue to pray, as a nation continues to mourn.

Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.