We can always remember where we were on important dates in world history. I was in my 3rd grade class on November 22, 1963 when John F. Kennedy was shot in killed. Our teacher came into the classroom and told us we could go home because of the President’s death. I remember running home to tell my parents the news only to find them in front of the television watching as things unfolded. September 11, 2001 I was at work in Alexandria, Virginia. Wendy was in Iowa visiting her family showing off Jessica who was a little over 3 months old. I remember we had the television on at work when the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Nobody in the office was thinking attack, all I could think about was that Wendy and Jessica were about to leave her mom’s house and head to the airport. I called Wendy on the phone to see if she had seen the news, if she hadn’t, I wasn’t going to say anything because I didn’t want her to worry about traveling. When the second plane hit the South Tower Wendy called me on the phone and told me her flight had been cancelled and I told her not to worry we would figure something out. I could go on and on about where I was on certain dates, but this year’s conference is on an anniversary weekend of a date I will always remember exactly where I was at the moment and time I was notified about the Sutherland Baptist Church Shooting.
November 5th, 2017 started off like any other Sunday. I had gotten up and went to church, three services went by without a hitch. I was hoping that we would get out on time. The Dallas Cowboys had a 1:00 game and were playing the Kansas City Chiefs. It wasn’t on local television, so I was going to head over to Johnny Brusco’s to watch the game. Wendy decided we could do a working lunch while I watched the game. She wanted to hear about the church I had spoken at in New Port Richey the day before and the next few weeks were going to be hectic, so she wanted to put together a strategy plan. My mind wasn’t much on work because I was so into the game, we had a new quarterback and the best running back in the league. Kansas City was no push over and if the Cowboys could beat them, their season was looking better. Wendy was asking about the Saturday training and going over everything we had coming up that week when the first text came to my phone. Then the second one hit, “Are you watching this?”, “Shooting in small Texas church in Sutherland Springs, multiple causalities.” I opened my Fox News App on my phone and started watching the horror play out. Preliminary reports told us that they estimated the causalities in the 20’s but there could be as many as 50, the shooter used an AR-15 style weapon and was dressed in black tactical gear. I quickly looked at where Sutherland Springs was located because this place sounded like the town near where I grew up in Texas. Small town with the population of 600. I found that it was outside of San Antonio, about 4 hours from where I grew up.
Then the reports started to come in, 26 people killed with 20 others injured. The suspect was killed and was the son-in-law of one of the members of the church. Immediately I was taken back to my Saturday training. I told Wendy I had just told the church I feared the next attack against a church would be a domestic issue and here it was happening right in front of us. I don’t remember too much about the Cowboys’ game, I was still trying to wrap my head around what was unfolding in front of me because nothing made sense. I was angry, how could a gunman walk into a church and kill 26 innocent people and wound 20 more. My thoughts went to training; was this church not prepared for an incident like this one? Was there nobody armed in a small Texas church on that Sunday? Did the pastor tell them to leave their guns in the car? How could this happen?
I wanted answers. I got some, the shooter was dishonorably discharged from the Air Force for beating his wife and almost killing his infant son. Then there was another question, how did he get this weapon? He was seen a few days before the shooting at their church’s Halloween festival, dressed in all black which caused concerns of several members of the church. At the shooting, law enforcement officers advised the media that the shooter had 15 magazines capable of holding 30 rounds each. One newspaper stated that authorities estimate 700 rounds were fired in 11 minutes. Reports started to talk about the victims, the pastor was away that weekend, but his daughter was killed, a whole family attending the church was killed, it just went on and on. I remember walking around for several days upset about the event. It took me back to my situation and once again I raised my hand up to God and cried out WHY? What did the fine folks in Sutherland Spring do to deserve this carnage? I had to turn away from the news and focus on the week ahead but every time I had a chance, I was going online to find more answers about what happen in Sutherland Springs.
Then the media came to Sutherland Springs. “Never let a good tragedy go to waste”. If you know me, I don’t operate that way. When 9/11 happened, I was a consultant for a public safety software company that their product allowed all types of computers to talk to each other. Didn’t matter the platform they were running on; this software allows user from one law enforcement agency to search multiple agency’s systems like never before. The day after 9/11 when fires were still burning at the sites of the attacks, the CEO of the company called all of us together and said that we were going to have a retreat this weekend to discuss how the company could capitalize on what just happened. We were still looking for survivors and he was talking about making money. I left the company about two weeks later.
So, when the media started hitting Sutherland Springs, I am still mourning the dead and I wasn’t even involved in the incident. There were those that went out and, to me, used the incident for their own justification, ratings and their agendas. This just put me more into a tailspin. Give the families and friends of the victims a chance to bury their dead, let them have a moment to reflect on what had just happened and then after a while, let them tell their story. But so many of the “concerned” wanted to be the first to interview the victims and get their 15 minutes of fame with the ones that had lost so much; love ones, friends and the innocence of knowing that evil can come into even a house of worship and do the most vile thing possible.
I took a step back and though about my own story. I grew up in a small town and when I was 15, my mother and father had domestic issues. My father physically abused all of us and my mother took us and fled to friends of the family. The friend and his wife took us in with their eight kids until we could decide what was going to be our next move. The friend was a deacon of the church and was counseling my mother and father. One Sunday after a church service my father walked out of the service and shot and killed the deacon. I couldn’t talk about what happened for several years. I was at a class reunion not too long ago and when I started sharing my story, classmates looked at me and told me they never knew of my past. It was just something I didn’t want to talk about.
When we got into this ministry, I still didn’t like telling that story even though it was so important to the ministry. I would always leave it till the end of my training and it was one of those slides that “this can happen anywhere, even in a small Texas town” slides. Attendees would tell me I needed to put my story first in the training. I explained that I put it in the back because I didn’t want to take that tragedy and use it for personal gain. I felt uncomfortable talking about it first, I didn’t want to capitalize on a tragedy. So many attendees told me it gave me more validity to who I was. It was explained to me that we all have a story, this is what makes us who we are, and it puts a personal side to these types of incidents. After that we started putting my story in the front of the presentation and we could see the difference it made. I was telling people my story and they could relate because most knew me or had experienced a similar story.
So, when we planned our first conference, I wanted to bring in keynote speakers that had a story to tell. Once again not to capitalize on tragedy but to show the human side of people when faced with these types of situations. You see we read about these stories, but we don’t feel the human side of the story. We might read about it but when we hear their story it hits us right at home. It tells us it could happen to anyone and anywhere, including you and me.
For our first conference I had heard about a pastor in Kissimmee who was involved in a shootout with an employee at his church. I contacted Terry Howell not knowing how he would respond but he immediately accepted our invitation. Terry explained to me that he was in the process of letting an employee go, when the employee pulled a gun and at point blank range shot at Terry. The shooter missed Terry. God had other plans for him. Having him at the conference telling his story showed the human side of when evil walks into the church. We learned it didn’t have to be a stranger that walks in, we must always be prepared.
The following year I had no idea on what we were going to do for a keynote speaker. Once again God showed me, He was in control (I need to practice what I preach, He always has our back when we are following Him). I was invited to come down to St Pete and speak at a Florida Baptist pastors luncheon about our ministry. When I got there, they told me they had another pastor speaking who was at a Baptist church in Fort Worth, where a person walked in and killed 7 people. I knew immediately this had to be a pastor from the Wedgewood Baptist Church shooting.
I met Ron Holland who was a youth minister at another church in Fort Worth. He had taken a group of his kids to Wedgewood to see a youth play when evil once again walked into a church and started killing people. Being a little afraid that Ron might think I was an ambulance chaser and just wanted to exploit his story, I hesitantly asked him if he would come and talk at our conference. He immediately agreed to come and tell his story. What we didn’t realize was the day of 2nd conference was the 19th anniversary of the shooting. When Ron told his story there wasn’t a dry eye in the church.
So, coming up on this year I was not sure where we were going to go. I was looking for another story that we could relate to, to put that special person in front of the group to understand that these incidents are real, and they happen to everyday people like you and me. Of course, I didn’t see this one coming. God did, isn’t He something.
A friend of my wife told her about Julie Workman, a survivor from Sutherland Springs. I immediately knew the name Workman. You see Kris Workman was leading music on November 5th when evil struck in Sutherland Springs. Kris was one of those 20 survivors. He was shot twice, and it left him paralyzed from the waist down. So the name Julie Workman I figured was a family member of Kris Workman.
I found out that Julie was Kris’s mother. She and her two sons had survived the attack. So, I called Julie not knowing what to say and in a few awkward minutes on the phone she opened up with her story. I told her about our conference, and I wanted her to share her story. It is one of faith and how all of those involved pulled together and grew stronger. This is story you do not want to miss. The faith of the survivors at Sutherland Spring are the faith that Paul found with the early Christians who were being persecuted in the New Testament. Their faith will not be extinguished by a madman walking into their church. It will not die.
So, I invite you, if you have not signed up, there are still tickets for the conference. Come and listen to one of the most powerful testimonies you will ever hear. Come and hear Julie tell her story and know that God has a plan for everyone, no matter who you are, where you come from, what your background is. God has a story for all of us. David Colbath one of the Sutherland Springs survivors, who was shot eight times said it best "God had nothing to do with this," "Evil came into our church and evil tried to prevail, but evil didn't win, God won."
Jim has many years of law enforcement experience and has run the safety team at his church for several years. TSA was formed after he realized God's calling when multiple churches reached out and asked him to present at their church.