Reflections on Roseburg: Shepherding Through Tragedy

By Grant Goins and Ron Laeger

On October 1, 2015, a tragic shooting took place at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Two Western Seminary alumni, Pastors Grant Goins and Ron Laeger, have been on the ground shepherding their congregations and the surrounding community through the immediate effects and the aftermath of the event. Following are their thoughts regarding how to cope when tragedy strikes so close to home.

Pastor Grant Goins

In the midst of an act of community violence in which eight students, a teacher, and the gunman lost their lives, our region has been dramatically impacted. There is a palpable difference when one walks the streets of our town. An insight the Lord has given me in my pastoral role is the need to equip God’s people to be “spiritual first responders,” looking for and walking through the many open doors we have as our community processes grief and loss. Even a simple shift in wording from “How are you doing?” to “How are you holding up?” yields amazing results. Medical professionals have had patients pour out their souls, pizza deliverers have wept with their customers, employers have counseled employees whose kids were shot. The Christians in our county need to be incarnational, empathetic listeners on the front lines of grief.

The general public was not satisfied by the terse, official words of sympathy its government offered, they were hungering for more.

The opportunities we’ve had to minister to the community at large have been plentiful and instructive. I’ve learned that many who are not part of local churches still want to gather together and grieve, yet they aren’t coming to local churches to do it. They want to gather in public places to pray, hear Scripture, and sing. The night of the shooting was my first such lesson: our governor and several elected officials spoke at a candle-light vigil in a public park. The official program was finished in 15 minutes, yet people remained in the park. Some shouted, “We want ‘Amazing Grace!’” and others made small talk with their neighbors, yet few turned to go home. A pastor friend called me and suggested we make our way to the stage and begin praying into the open microphone. I wasn’t sure this was a good idea, yet I began praying when he handed me the mic. I then handed the microphone to several others, led the group of a couple thousand in “Amazing Grace,” and another pastor from our ministerial fellowship closed in prayer and dismissed the gathering. The general public was not satisfied by the terse, official words of sympathy its government offered, they were hungering for more. I’ve seen this same sentiment play out several times since.

I’m optimistic about what God has in store for our region. I’ve seen unlikely partnerships, walls broken down, and gospel movement begun in many sectors. Please pray for a bountiful harvest as God’s people make the most of these opportunities!

Pastor Ron Laeger

When you receive the call to pastor a local church, you also are called to minister to that community. You never fully know what will occur in that community, but you know you better be ready. When shots rang out at the campus of Umpqua Community College (UCC) on Thursday, October 1st, 2015, local pastors in Roseburg, OR were challenged with how to respond.

My wife, Tanya, and I went immediately to a staging area where students and faculty were being bussed away from the crime scene. We brought bottled water, granola bars, and a listening ear. We prayed with hurting students awaiting families and transportation.

A local leadership team of evangelical pastors known as the Douglas County Evangelical Fellowship (DCEF) began directing resources and working with key community leaders to make certain that people struggling with the event had competent community care, a listening ear, and the gospel. Global ministries were present in Roseburg within 12 hours of the shooting, including the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team of Chaplains seeking opportunities to bring support to the churches. Within 48 hours, 10 chaplains were on site with a ministry vehicle for counseling, prayer, and to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Eleven people placed their faith in Christ and nearly 330 people prayed with the chaplains.

When you receive the call to pastor a local church, you also are called to minister to that community.

Wellspring Bible Fellowship hosted the chaplains and used the testimony of one chaplain in the Sunday sermon following the shooting. To show how churches were responding to the horrific incident, two media outlets videoed the church service for the evening news.

We’ve been supporting our people with pastoral counseling and sending our law enforcement officers struggling with PTSD to officer retreats. We also hosted an evening of training for community ministry leaders on ministering to trauma and grief and worked with the DCEF team that planned and hosted a community gathering of churches to nurture healing at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.

I’m constantly in awe of how God uses us to bring His comfort and healing to hurting people. I’m grateful for the prayers and contacts by the Western Seminary family within hours of the incident.

Grant Goins is the Associate Pastor at Roseburg Alliance Church and Ron Laeger is the Senior Pastor at Wellspring Bible Fellowship, both churches being located in Roseburg, OR. These reflections were originally printed in the Fall 2015 edition of Western Magazine.