OK City residents relive tragedy

BY BOYCE BOWDON | OKLAHOMA CITY, OK | September 12, 2001


Terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon surfaced painful memories for many who had close encounters with the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.

Margaret Ball, superintendent of the Bartlesville District in Oklahoma, was one of the more than 400 chaplains who minister to survivors, families of victim, and rescue workers. She spent many hours at the temporary morgue set up

at First United Methodist Church, where bodies of the 168 victims were kept.

For two nights following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Ball had nightmares. "They were the first I've had in three or four years," she said.

Bob Long, pastor of St. Lukeís United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City, says the attacks triggered his memories of the Oklahoma City bombing, which occurred less than a mile from his church. Under Longís leadership, St. Lukeís became a care center for more than two weeks. Not only did they serve hot meals to rescue and recovery workers, they provided housing for scores of residents of the area who had been forced from their homes by the blast. The American Red Cross set up an emergency operation in the fellowship hall.

"When I watched rescue workers digging through the tons of rubble, risking their lives in hopes of saving someone who was trapped, and when I listened to survivors telling their stories, it was like Oklahoma City all over again, only

many times worse.Ē

But Long said watching the rescue and recovery efforts brought back good memories as well as bad memories. "I remembered how people from all over the country, people we didn1t know, had pitched in and helped us in our efforts to help others. Within three or four days after the bombing we had started receiving packages from individuals and from churches. Some were care packagesčlittle plastic bags filled with soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, washcloths, and other items like that. We passed out hundreds of them to rescue workers and they were glad to get them."

In addition to the care packages, Long recalled, "people sent us cards, letters, posters and even banners, and asked that we pass them along to rescue and recovery workers, survivors, families of victims and others. Iíll never forget

what a lift these gave to people. They reminded them that even strangers were thinking about them and praying for them. They felt affirmed,loved."

Long said that as he thought about the help St. Lukeís and other churches in the Oklahoma City area received following the bombing from well-wishers in far away places, it made him determined to do something to help the recovery efforts in New York and Washington, D.C.

Like many other churches, St. Lukeís hosted a prayer vigil that was open to everyone. Collections were taken for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

But Long was determined to do more. I think it would be a sin if we didnít do something concrete," he said. For our sakes, as well as for the sakes of the people who receive them, we are going to make care packages like the ones we

received. We are also going to collect items that we know rescue workers will needčsuch as gloves, paper masks, and goggles. And we are going to pass these along to some church in the area or to some denominational agency that

can get them to people who can use them."

Richard Whetsell, pastor of St. Matthews United Methodist Church in Midwest City, an Oklahoma City suburb, is the coordinator of Disaster Response for the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church. Whetsell says he and many other Oklahomans with whom he has talked share Longís feeling.

"We have this deep desire to do something. Following the bombing United Methodist churches in dozens of countries around the world gave generously to help us. Now we feel like it is our turn to help. Pastors and lay people

are calling me asking what they can do. I1ve been telling them that at this time the best thing we can do is pray, and contribute all we can to UMCOR. Some want to collect clothing, but used clothing isnít needed at this point. Some are eager to go to New York or Washington and help remove debris or do anything else, but the local authorities say they have all the volunteers they need right now. So some of us who were part of the Oklahoma City bombing relief efforts are really having a tough time not getting in the middle of the action."

Ric Pierson, director of the United Methodist Circle of Care Counseling Center in Oklahoma City, says some people whose lives where heavily impacted by the Oklahoma City bombing are now asking for additional counseling.

Pierson says the extensive and graphic coverage on television is triggering post traumatic stress disorders. "Itís not healthy for someone who has been traumatized to sit in front of the tube for hours and hours and observe all that. Itís too overwhelming."

Pierson -- a licensed professional counselor -- offers this word of advice for people of Oklahoma City. "We just need to remind each other that we will get through this, just as we did with the bombing. The bombing was traumatic,

there were lots of things to be done, it didnít happen over night but got through it, and we can get through this and any other trauma. This is a time for us to reaffirm our faith and to remember that terrorists are not ultimately in

control of our destiny."

Oklahomaís Bishop Bruce Blake was leading a seminar on Servant Leadership at a Canyon United Methodist Camp the morning that terrorists were destroying property and killing people in New York City and Washington.

When the news reached the camp, Bishop Blake asked the 60 clergy who were present for the seminar to join hands and to sing Kum ba yah, my Lord.

"That song has touched me during some special moments in my spiritual journey," said Bishop Blake. "But never have I heard any group sing it with the depth of emotion that was in that room."

Bishop Blake said the words of Kum ba yah expressed how he and others were feeling: "Someoneís praying , Lord...Someoneís crying, Lord... Come by here."

After the group finished singing, Bishop Blake said to them, "Even in a time of national disaster like this, we have something to be thankful for. We can be thankful that we donít have to invoke Godís presence. All we have to do is recognize it and be ambassadors of love to those who are grieving, those who are hurting in any way. In every situation, in ever conversation and action, we let us be governed by Godís love."


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