Murder at NASA Space Center puts spotlight on victim's faith

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LEAGUE CITY, Texas — As David Beverly and William Phillips had lunch together on Friday, April 20 with another colleague, Beverly told Phillips about his faith in Jesus Christ. Later in the afternoon, back at their office at NASA's Johnson Space Center, Phillips fatally shot Beverly, his supervisor, and then killed himself.

Listening to news reports that day, Doug Belisle, like so many others in communities surrounding the Johnson Space Center near Houston, hoped no one he knew was involved in the reported shooting that occurred in Building 44 on the NASA complex.

Then came the news that Beverly, 62, was the one who had been fatally shot. According to news reports, Phillips worked for NASA contractor Jacob's Engineering Group Inc. and was distraught over a poor job performance evaluation and feared getting fired.

The Houston Chronicle quoted colleagues who said Phillips was not in danger of getting fired. The Chronicle described Phillips as an unmarried loner who appeared obsessed with job security.

Belisle, adult ministries pastor at Bay Area First Baptist Church where Beverly attended, said he began to question what he should say during Sunday morning services. Belisle knew three weeks prior that the church's senior pastor, Randall Williams, would be out of town and that he was scheduled to fill the pulpit.

The 31-year-old church staffer knew that at moments such as this a congregation seeks words of peace from God and they expect the pastor to deliver it.

"As I looked over my notes at the pulpit, I thought, 'God put this on my heart three weeks ago.'" And so he preached the sermon he had originally prepared. "It turned out that it spoke perfectly to the situation."

From Mark 10 — the story of the rich young ruler — Belisle told his congregation, many of whom were grieving for the loss of their friend, that the ruler was given an identity check. Jesus' response to the man's question of how to attain heaven meant he would have to forsake all he had. Would the rich man's identity be found in a faith in Christ or in his possessions?

"God does that to us all the time by inserting crisis into our lives. Am I finding my identity in what I do or in who I belong to?" Belisle asked the congregation.

It was clear to the Belisle and those who knew Beverly that his identity was found in Christ. Phillips, mistakenly assuming he was going to lose his job and what his relatives told the Houston Chronicle was largely his identity, could not see beyond the moment and lashed out with a deadly reaction.

Although Beverly enjoyed his job as a NASA engineer, it did not define him, Belisle said. Though his faith was barely a footnote in most news stories following the tragedy, Belisle said Beverly's faith and commitment to his church and his wife Linda was prominent.

"David was just a people-oriented person," said friend Bill King, a Bay Area FBC member. Beverly volunteered at the church as a greeter, welcoming people to the church each Sunday morning. His people skills were perfect for that kind of a job, King said, recounting a visitor's amazement that Beverly remembered his name after only meeting him the previous Sunday.

Beverly was an encourager, King added. But even with such a temperament, King said it would be impossible for Beverly to stave off the attacks of someone determined to do him harm.

Fellow Sunday School class member Toni Kulkarni said the group spent Sunday morning remembering Beverly and speaking of the ways he had impacted their lives.

"He was very analytical and very thoughtful," Kulkarni said.

The class spent a lot of time together outside of church, growing in their friendships. The love David and Linda Beverly shared was always very apparent, Kulkarni said. They enjoyed each other's company. "They were an inspiring couple."

As the class reflected on his life, Kulkarni said there was no animosity toward God — no "Why David?" or expressions of anger toward God.

In the days following the shooting, NASA personnel have surrounded Linda Beverly, seeing that needs are met and running interference between her and an inquisitive public and the onslaught of media attention, King said.

As the healing process continues, the Sunday School class will have more opportunities to walk with her through her grieving, King said.

"She has been remarkable," Belisle said. "She's a positive person, constantly pointing to Jesus Christ and that David is with Him and that this is a temporary separation."

Belisle said Linda Beverly wanted 2 Corinthians 5:6-9 to be prominent at the funeral. The passage speaks of the Apostle Paul's desire to be pleasing to God whether at home in the body or at home in God's presence.

"Even that day, he shared Christ with the very guy who ended up taking his life," Belisle said.

"It's wrapped in tragedy. But God is taking this situation and getting the glory and drawing people to him."

Bonnie Pritchett is a correspondent with the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Published, May 2007