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Tragedy Finds Church Expressing Love for Community

The quiet city of Hermiston, Oregon, is still reeling from a shocking double-murder-suicide, but Hermiston Assembly is working to start the healing.

When Pastor Terry Haight and other leaders of the Hermiston (Oregon) Assembly first began to plan their “I Love My City” outreach in July, they had no idea how much their city — or their church — would need this warm embrace of compassionate caring and love.

On Aug. 18, the 25,000 to 30,000 citizens of Hermiston and the surrounding area were sent into a state of shock when a 45-year-old Hermiston High School wrestling coach went to the home of his friend and fellow wrestling coach and shot and killed him and shot Andria Bye who was also at the home (but survived), before taking his own life. What sent the community and church into a deeper tailspin was it was later discovered that the perpetrator had earlier shot and killed Bye’s son, James “JJ” Hurtado, 14, and dumped his body in a field.

JJ, a state champion middle school wrestler in his weight class, had recently started to connect to and get more involved in Hermiston Assembly’s youth group — wanting to get involved in the worship team and attend more events. 

“JJ and his mom didn’t come every week, because she is a nurse and sometimes her schedule conflicted with church services,” says Haight, whose been ministering at the church for the past 18 years. He explains the church runs about 150 on Sundays and about 200 on Wednesdays due to the numbers of unchurched kids who are drawn to the church’s youth group and adults to midweek small groups.

Haight would speak at the vigil for the grieving families and community, which saw 700 gather. During the vigil, he referred to Job and how his friends had the right idea at first by just coming, sitting, and grieving quietly with their friend. Haight then pointed out their error when they started to lay blame. “We were all hurt and devastated by the very nature of what happened,” he says about the tragedy in Hermiston. “But laying blame is not what God wants for us. Everybody involved were victims and the entire community is in need of healing.”

In a small, interconnected community such as Hermiston, Haight believes this tragedy has left a lasting impact on at least two key generations: teenagers and forty-somethings. 

“For many, this is understandably still a very raw and very sensitive issue that they’re still working through,” he says. “But we want to communicate that God is good, He loves you, He cares for you, He is concerned about your brokenness, and only He can bring the healing.” 

Roger and Tina Brown have served as the church’s youth leaders for the past two years, and have seen the impact the loss of life has had on their group. “One of the girls lived next door to JJ for years and they were good friends,” Tina Brown says, “and another girl was dating him. So we have a number of kids who are really still struggling to work through this.” 

The I Love My City outreach was slated for Sept. 24 weeks before the tragic double-murder-suicide. Haight believes the timing of the event proved to be exactly the right time. 

“We had five teams made up of a total of 70 volunteers, go out into the community simply to serve them,” he says. “Our efforts were very well received — a lot of positive responses. Of everything we did, we only had one person who was kind of grumpy.” 

Members of Hermiston Assembly set up two free car wash locations with volunteers asking if visitors would like prayer for anything as they washed their cars, they had another team going door-to-door offering to pray with anyone who had a need, a fourth team passing out cold water at the soccer fields with a special message, and they also held a block party with free food, games, and bounce houses. 

Tina Brown led the soccer park outreach. “There are teams and hundreds of people coming and going all day there,” she says. “It was very encouraging as people were very receptive. We just introduced ourselves and told people we wanted to love on our city because our city has been through so much lately.” 

Brown says that because they had publicized the I Love My City effort on social media and every team member was wearing a red I Love My City T-shirt, many people were quick to identify their group. Others were simply surprised by the acts of service that came with no strings attached. 

However, both Haight and Brown expressed surprise and appreciation for Andrea Bye, JJ’s mother, who signed up and volunteered to be a part of one of the teams. 

“Seeing her there in her red shirt was extremely encouraging,” Brown says. “She was smiling and ready to go out and love her city even after she has been through so much . . . you can go out and love and counter the hate that happens!” 

Haight explains that the I Love My City effort wasn’t focused on leading people to make a decision to accept Christ as their Savior, though if that opportunity arose, they would certainly follow through. Instead, it was about simply demonstrating Christ’s love to a hurting community. “Our desire was to provide acts of service as we also planted seeds of Christ’s love into hearts and lives,” he explains. 

Following the Saturday outreach, the youth who participated were all smiles and looking forward to the next time they could serve their community and share Christ with others. 

“I recall, in particular, a couple of middle school boys who were so excited to give people water and explain why they were doing it,” Brown says. “Going up to people, talking to them, and telling them about God’s love is no longer foreign to them — they loved it — and that’s exciting!” 

Haight says he had planned 10 to 15 minutes of testimonies following a debriefing on Saturday. However, that wasn’t the case. “It turned into 40 or 45 minutes of testimonies as people were so excited to share what God had done throughout the day,” he says, believing this was confirmation of the beginning of healing God is bringing to the community. 

Church leaders are already planning their next demonstration of love, which they hope to do about every 90 days. “We’re going to set up tables with hot chocolate available and wrap Christmas presents absolutely free,” Haight says, crediting his wife, Sheri, for the idea. “It’s an opportunity to demonstrate our love for our community as well as an opportunity for conversation, prayer, and to share the gospel in a non-threatening manner.” 

“If looking for opportunities to love on people, not just at an event or at our church, becomes the culture of our church as Pastor Terry has envisioned,” Brown observes, “this will become our way of life.”



Dan Van Veen

Dan Van Veen is news editor of AG News. Prior to transitioning to AG News in 2001, Van Veen served as managing editor of AG U.S. Missions American Horizon magazine for five years. He attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, where he and his wife, Lori, teach preschool Sunday School and 4- and 5-year-old Rainbows boys and girls on Wednesdays.