Shooting takes place in Texas AG church
Mon, 27 Sep 2010 - 4:24 PM CST
Youth pastor Eddie Contreras was in the middle of preaching a sermon Friday night at Walnut Park Asamblea de Dios church in Garland, Texas, encouraging the high school and college and career students to be strong in their faith during times of despair.
That's when a gunman entered the church with his 2-year-old twin boys, yelling obscenities and degrading the faith of the members, accusing the group of being fake.
Josue Pablo, 20, screamed at Contreras and the 35 members for about five minutes while the youth pastor tried to calm him down.
Pablo then pulled out a gun and fired at Contreras, putting a bullet through his hand and piercing his cheek. When he waved his gun in the air a second time, the group members rushed around for cover. One of them called 911 from under a church pew.
Witnesses say Pablo then moved to the parking lot, waving the gun and shooting into the air several times. He screamed at onlookers, saying that he hated God and hated the church. As he walked away he asked, "So where is your God now?"
Church members pointed police to where Pablo was walking and he was later caught by the authorities. Officials say the handgun was recovered and Pablo was charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Contreras underwent 8 hours of surgery on his cheek and neck Saturday and is stable. There is no word yet on the condition of his hand. "They are keeping him in ICU for a while longer," says Mauricio Elizondo, pastor at Walnut Park AG. "He looks great and is recovering pretty fast — today he opened his eyes."
Elizondo was speaking at a leadership conference in Mexico over the weekend when a youth leader called him to inform him that his youth pastor was shot and lying on the floor of the church, wounded, and they were waiting for the ambulance.
While Contreras was being carried out of the church by paramedics, he kept asking if Pablo was okay," Elizondo says. "This speaks volumes of youth pastors who put their lives on the line every day to be a hero to our youth."
The shocked pastor canceled his itinerary for the conference and scheduled a flight home immediately.
Although the motive for the shooting was not determined, Elizondo believes it was inspired according to the Scriptures. "The faith of our church was under a spiritual attack," he says. "I believe we were attacked by the enemy because of what the church has been doing."
The church was started with just Elizondo and his family of four. Now, attendance is close to 2,000 members and growing, along with 100 small groups that meet in the city throughout the week.
Elizondo has been pastor of Walnut Park AG for the last nine years, while Contreras has been the youth pastor for six years.
"God has been so good ... blessing us with outreaches, missions, opening up churches, planting and just reaching our community," Elizondo says.
A unique aspect of the story is that Pablo's mother and sister are regular attendees of the church, according to Elizondo. His mother is a small group leader and his sister is active in youth group.
They attended service yesterday morning and members from the congregation surrounded them in prayer. Contreras' mother and Pablo's mother prayed together for reconciliation and forgiveness, and asked that the church be touched by the tragedy and resurrected with triumph.
As the lead pastor, Elizondo is stepping in and bringing the whole church together for services while Contreras recovers.
Part of Elizondo's plan for church restoration is to provide students with the support they need to deal with what happened. Last night during service, parents and pastors from other churches provided counseling for students at the altars.
"Students weren't very open at first, but then they broke down and started talking. Slowly but surely, they are getting out of it," Elizondo says.
He believes the community is counting on the church to keep their doors open during this time. Love, forgiveness and faith will play a key part in the healing process, not fear, Elizondo says.
"You never think something like this will happen at a church, inside a building that is sacred and spiritually nurtured," he says. "But we will get through this transition little by little and come out stronger than before. God has given us a wake-up call that times are changing."
Authors: Becca Dickson