ROSEBURG, Ore. (Christian Examiner) -- Just last Sunday Pastor Jerry Smart warned his church—increased persecution is coming. The Winston, Oregon, pastor had no idea just how close to fruition his prediction was.
"I told our church, 'We're going to see more and more persecution in this world,'" said Smart, pastor of Foursquare Gospel Center in Winston. "I said, 'How many of you believe that?' Most of the people raised their hands. I said, 'I think it's coming.' Of course, I was thinking of Christians in the Middle East. I didn't think it would come to our back door the next Thursday."
But of course, it did.
On Thursday, a 26-year-old shooter entered Umpqua Community College in nearby Roseburg and killed nine people and injured nine more. A variety of media reports confirm the gunman asked his victims whether they were Christians or not.
If the person responded yes, the person was shot in the head, execution style. If that person said no or didn't respond, he or she was shot elsewhere, typically in the leg. Smart, who counseled grieving family members, heard the same account from those who had been in the school during the shooting.
Smart, whose daughter is a nursing student at UCC, first found out about the shooting from frequent text messages of concern he received. Once he discovered she was safe, he began connecting with fellow pastors to get help to the impacted families. Through the Douglas County Evangelical Fellowship, an organization of which Smart serves on the board, Smart and other pastors organized grief counseling at three local churches.
Before going to the churches, Smart said he ended up going first to the local fairgrounds, where students' families were gathering to find out more about their loves ones.
Arriving just 30 minutes after the shooting, he saw several hundred people waiting at the fairgrounds for news. At its peak, he suggests there were 1,500 to 2,000 people waiting for news and supporting others who were waiting.
"One of the saddest parts of the day for me was watching people get off the bus and being reunited with family. But I was there five hours, and then seeing the people there all day waiting and looking and longing to see family and friends get off the bus, but they never did," Smart said. "Finally, about five hours after it started, the local law enforcement came out and said, 'Ladies and gentleman, we have another bus coming, so if you're here waiting for family and friends to come, I need you to move into this particular building. And if you're here to provide grief counseling, if you're a mental health professional or if you're a local pastor, I need you to come into this building, too.' It was clear then that, just by process of elimination, we were finding out who the victims were going to be."
Another poignant moment for Smart came when one woman came off the bus and burst into tears in his arms. A friend had died in her arms after being shot three times at the school. She asked Smart, "Why would God allow something like this to happen?"
"I was trying to form an answer and think about what the right thing to tell her was, but I soon realized she didn't really need an answer from me," Smart said. "Immediately, she went on to say, 'My friend, Kim, was a believer, and I know where she is at.'"
Smart said local pastors organized a time of worship, reflection and prayer at the local amphitheater on Saturday at 6 p.m.
Musician Darrell Evans, who has written worship songs like, "Trading My Sorrows," "Fields of Grace" and "Your Love is Extravagant," was set to lead the worship at the gathering where more than 1,000 or more people were expected.
Smart noted many in this rural, mostly conservative community were hurt by President Obama's suggestion on Thursday that the shooting meant more gun control was needed.
"I can't speak for everyone, but everyone I've talked to is absolutely livid about President Obama politicizing this and turning it into a gun-control issue," Smart said. "Everyone I know disagrees with that. We were very angry that he couldn't even wait to get all the names out that he started doing that. It's very hurtful."
Dave Kinder, pastor of Faith and Reason Ministries in Roseburg, urges Christians to continue praying for Douglas County, Oregon, long after the media attention wanes. The pastor notes that the county, though both rural and conservative compared to the rest of the state, is also largely un-churched. He suggested that only 25 percent of local residents attend church.
"Please pray that people would see God, turn to God and for God's comfort and for God's love," Kinder said.
Kinder believes the churches in the community have been a beacon of light during these tough times.
"Within the community, the church is reaching out, saying, 'come here, receive forgiveness for sins,'" Kinder said. "We have a very open-door, welcoming response. But the prayer is awesome, and it's happening in the media, and it is so awesome.
''We're a forgiven people for the one true God, who is not only just -- He's love. We have an amazing message. We're ambassadors for Christ," Kinder said.