Six months to the day a gunman opened fire inside First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 people and hurting 20 others, the church will host a groundbreaking on its new worship center and education building.
The new buildings mark a major step in the healing process for the tight-knit community, which found the international spotlight on Nov. 5, 2017. Six months later, area pastors will worship and perform baptisms at a community-wide event on Saturday.
Organizer Mike Ebert said the new space will help the church step into the next phase of its ministry.
“The church is really a very big part of the community,” Ebert said. He is part of a national Southern Baptist group called the North American Mission Board, which stepped in to support the church in the days after the attack.
“We came in and helped cover the costs of several of the funerals and we’ve been walking alongside the church during their healing process,” Ebert said.
The shooting had a ripple effect throughout Texas, the country and the world, sparking debate about gun laws and mental health.
“God has given [the church] a national and international platform that few churches the size of Sutherland Springs would have,” Ebert explained.
The event will be an opportunity to reflect on the lives lost, share the church’s transformation and focus on the vision for the future.
Carlos Leal’s cousin used to be a member of the church, prior to the shooting. Leal and his family stopped by the church to pay their respects as they passed through town from Corpus Christi.
“I think it’s very important for a grandparent or parent to hug their children every day” he said. “Because, you never know.”
Leal’s niece, Savannah Williams, said she wanted to make sure the victims and the rest of the community would be remembered, no matter how much time passes.
“Just because it happened months back doesn’t mean we forgot what happened,” Williams said.
Senator Ted Cruz is a scheduled speaker for the event, which starts at 11 a.m.