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A somber gathering in Sutherland Springs

November 17, 2017 GMT

RESILIENCE, Texas — About five minutes before arriving at the Sutherland Springs church I lost it. The emotions were overwhelming. I wondered what it would be like to walk into the church and see the newly crafted memorials to the victims. I couldn’t imagine the cold blooded murder of so many, including little children. How would it feel to walk into the church one week after the tragedy?

As a board member of the nonprofit BCFS, I was asked to accompany Sen. John Cornyn for his visit to the site on Sunday. For years BCFS has been on the scene of human tragedies ranging from hurricanes and fires to providing shelters for children in need.

Sunday was just one week after the bloody massacre in the church. Local law enforcement, DPS and private BCFS security had eyes on every street corner surrounding the church and the site of the church service to be held a few blocks away in a large tent.


Sen. Cornyn arrived on schedule to the somber site. Local officials led us into the church where we saw the memorial of handmade chairs inside. Each had a name of the victim. Each had a red rose except for one with a pink rose to commemorate the unborn child lost in the gunfire. We walked through the church in a surreal moment. It had been wiped clean of the blood. Bullet holes were repaired. Everything was freshly painted. The hard work of church members and volunteers had created a tranquil, peaceful site. I could only imagine the contrast to what happened at that very spot just one week earlier.

A few minutes later at the church service, I expected total gloom. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

A massive tent had been erected for the service at the direction of BCFS. The crowd was overflowing. Many surviving family members were present.

When the program began, you could feel the pain but the words from the pastors and Sen. Cornyn were also of hope and resilience. One pastor even joked about how he felt the little church’s attendance record had finally set a new record. On a typical Sunday at the small Sutherland Springs Baptist Church, attendance might’ve totaled a few dozen. Today under that huge temporary tent, the crowd well exceeded 500.

The audience applauded speaker after speaker who spoke of being stronger than the darkness sent their way. Even Pastor Frank Pomeroy, who lost a daughter to the gunman, said, “We have the power to choose, and, rather than choose darkness, like that young man did that day, I say we choose life.”

He acknowledges the pain of survivors but emphasized how the lost family members were now in a good place with God. His message was more uplifting than somber with an inspiring tone of ultimately conquering darkness and tragedy. I know I was not alone if feeling a deep sense of a greater good that will ultimately prevail.


Sunday’s events were beautiful. The community, law enforcement and BCFS coordinated the unveiling of the memorial flawlessly. Two large tents were erected to house the large crowd for the service and a catered lunch for the surviving family members afterwards.

Volunteers played a major role. Security for the church over the past week was provided day and night by BCFS. That security will continue in the coming days to protect that sacred ground.

It’s been a tough few weeks for Texans. First Harvey, now this. No one knows where tragedy will strike next, where first responders side by side with BCFS will be responding either in Texas or beyond.

Regardless, the people of Sutherland Springs have shown an infectious spirit of resilience. It’s a reminder of the spirit that somehow helps us keep going as a community, a state and a nation. For this, we are grateful to Sutherland Springs.

Henry Bonilla is former member of Congress and current board member of BCFS (, a global network of non-profit organizations operating health and human services programs throughout the U.S.