Christmas in Newtown, Conn., will forever be changed.
The mass shooting last week at Sandy Hook Elementary School — coming less than two weeks before Christmas — has not only made it impossible for some to celebrate this year, but for years to come.
Many have taken down Christmas decorations at their home. Some had wrapped presents for a lost loved one under their tree.
“How is it even humanly possible for something like this to happen?” said Rapid Response Team Chaplain Coordinator Jack Dowling, one of 10 chaplains deployed by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association the day of the shooting.
The timing, this close to Christmas, has undoubtedly added a layer of difficultly to Newtown, which still has some lights and trees around town. Christmas will go on. But it will be unlike ever before. And some in the community have Christmas at the forefront of their mind, and want to dialogue about the deeper meaning.
“Jesus did come and Jesus was born and Jesus was a babe at this time of year,” chaplain Toni New replays some of the conversations she’s had. “And we know now this time of year, that your family can be at peace and at rest with the Lord. And you can be there with Him too someday if you have a relationship with Him.
“And that’s what we have to speak to them: hope, and knowing that they can rejoin their family member; that this is not the end.”
Much of the ministry has been to the First Responders and to the general community, but some of the crisis-trained chaplains have had encounters with family members at restaurants and the hotel.
Rapid Response Team Director Jack Munday gave a training at a local church on Sunday evening on how to best deal with traumatic situations. A chaplain is being made available for each of the 20 funerals that have started this week, presenting the family with a Billy Graham Training Center Bible.
“Almost without exception, across denominational backgrounds, they are appreciative of our presence,” Dowling said. “We’ll give a brief word of encouragement to the family and sometimes prayer.”
And there is much need for prayer as the community is still in shock. Here are a few ways you can remember Newtown in prayer over the Christmas season:
1. For the community of Newtown: As Christmas quickly approaches, there will be some families who have wrapped gifts under the tree for a loved one that was lost in the Sandy Hook shooting. Pray that this community is able to celebrate Christmas; that the peace of Christ would permeate through Newtown.
2. For the First Responders: For those who were among the first to respond to Sandy Hook Elementary School, haunting images are making it hard for some to even sleep, as they awaken with flashbacks. Please pray for emotional stability for these First Responders as well as others in the community who are dealing with survivor’s guilt and are taking down Christmas decorations.
3. For the Rapid Response Team chaplains and others ministering in Newtown: A deployment like this takes a toll on everyone and those ministering to the hurt and broken are no exception. Pray for the Billy Graham chaplains, including some who will help share the hope and love of Christ over Christmas, foregoing time with their own families to serve the Newtown community.
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