Counseling the Grieving
A Chi Alpha pastor rushed to Roseburg, Oregon, Oct. 1 to counsel grieving students at Umpqua Community College (UCC) following the mass shooting on the campus. Then later that evening, Steve S. Kramer led the kickoff meeting of the new Chi Alpha group at the University of Oregon in Eugene, 65 miles north of the tragedy.
Kramer drove to the rural UCC campus, located six miles north of Roseburg, a southwestern Oregon community of around 21,000.
Police said nine people died and seven more suffered wounds in the rampage. Police shot and killed 26-year-old suspect Chris Harper-Mercer in a shootout. Survivors reported that Harper-Mercer asked students their religion prior to shooting them. The Christians received a lethal shot.
Kramer saw reports of the massacre on Facebook and immediately determined to respond to the crisis as one of the closest campus pastors. OCC is a commuter school without traditional on-campus ministries such as Chi Alpha.
Officials allowed Kramer and other pastors to enter the fairgrounds where students had been bused after the shooting. Kramer spent four hours on site, ministering to around three dozen students.
"I just tried to be a presence there, calmly asking if they were OK," Kramer said. "Mostly I just listened and offered touches of affirmation. I tried not to be too intrusive."
He is accustomed to adversity because of long-term cerebral palsy. Nevertheless, Kramer graduated with a master's from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary and spent a decade in Holland with his wife Julie planting Chi Alpha chapters on college campuses.
Kramer debated whether to leave the scene, but he had a commitment to lead the first public meeting of the Chi Alpha group he launched at his alma mater. This fall, Kramer returned to the University of Oregon in Eugene as a U.S. Missions campus missionary, starting a Chi Alpha Campus Ministries U.S.A. chapter.
There is no AG church in Roseburg. But Oregon Ministry Network Lead Pastor Bill Wilson asked two nearby pastors to coordinate support and counseling as needed to those impacted by the tragedy.
David L. Bates is pastor of New Hope Fellowship in Sutherin, eight miles north of the UCC campus and the closest AG church. His daughter Jenna is a UCC student and was in an adjacent biology classroom building when the shooting began. Instructors put the building on lockdown and Jenna spent 30 minutes in a safe storage area, according to her father. Jenna, who turned 22 on Monday, was shaken up when her parents met her at the fairgrounds area where she had been bused.
Ronald J. Marsh, interim pastor of Winston AG south of Roseburg, also is lending support to the emotionally distraught.
U.S. Assemblies of God General Superintendent George O. Wood says the tragic loss of life is heartbreaking.
"The shooting is a reminder of the evil in the world that strikes randomly and without warning," Wood says. "How vital it is that we are always prepared to meet our Lord at a moment's notice. We hold in our prayers the family members and friends affected by the loss of their loved ones -- bold believers who professed their faith in Christ with their final breaths -- and pray for the recovery of those who have been wounded."