Several teams of Assemblies of God chaplains have arrived in Uvalde, Texas, to join Joe Ruiz, pastor of Templo Cristiano (AG) in Uvalde, to minister to the small community still reeling in the aftermath of the horrific attack that took the lives of 19 elementary school children and two teachers, with 17 other children and adults also receiving injuries on Tuesday.
Terry Hunt, the 461 Response chaplain and team lead, and chaplain Mike Bingaman have already arrived in Uvalde, a relatively small town of 16,000 located 85 miles west of San Antonio. Five more team members are enroute with more members of the Chaplaincy response team arriving in the coming days and weeks.
According to Chaplaincy Ministries Senior Director Manuel Cordero, the hospital administration in Uvalde met with Texas Gulf Hispanic district superintendent, Edward De La Rosa, asking for chaplains to be sent to minister to their staff. 461 Response is an AG Chaplaincy ministry.
Chaplain Mike Reighard, national director for Chaplaincy’s 461 Response Team for Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM), says that through the 461 Response Data Base they were able to quickly form a team to respond. However, he notes that in addition to the immediate response needs, there will be a need for CISM in the weeks to follow.
“We want to be there at every phase as trauma unfolds in people’s lives,” Reighard says.
Pastor Joe Ruiz who has led Templo Cristiano (AG) in Uvalde for about three years, agrees. He understands that the journey to recovery for many people hasn’t even really started yet.
“People are still trying to process what took place,” Ruiz says. “In our church, we had one boy who was shot in the shoulder, but has made it through surgery and is doing good. But we also had a parishioner who lost two nieces [in the shooting].”
Bringing things even closer to home, Ruiz says that his cousin’s wife, Eva Mireles Ruiz — who is being called a hero by many for reportedly shielding her students during the attack — was one of the teachers killed.
“[Ruben, Eva’s husband] is a school police officer, but his office is at the high school,” Joe Ruiz says. “His wife called him and told him there was a shooter; then she called him again and told him she had been shot and was dying. He rushed to the elementary school and another officer had to take him down because he was headed inside to save his wife . . . bullets were flying around him and he didn’t have any protective gear on.”
Reighard says that in addition to AG ministers and parishioners, the response team’s main focus will be on family members and the first responders, especially law enforcement and hospital staff whose responsibilities have brought them face-to-face with the unthinkable.
“We held a prayer vigil last night,” says Ruiz, whose church offers both Spanish- and English-speaking services with about 160 total attendees. “Well over 100 people were there.”
Although many organizations are already in Uvalde, providing food and finances, a lot of reflection is taking place.
“It’s so new right now, people are trying to process what really happened, why did it happen, it shouldn’t have happened, we know each other, and thought we took care of each other,” Ruiz says. “Prayer is what is most needed right now.”
Ruiz also believes God has him and his wife, Norma, in Uvalde for a purpose. He says they have an understanding of the pain so many parents and others are experiencing.
“Ten months ago, our son was killed in a motorcycle accident,” Ruiz says. “I woke up at 4 this morning, just processing everything, and it brought back the hurt of what we went through . . . and God spoke to my heart, that He gave strength to me and my wife [to make it through] and now we’re able to work with and better understand the pain and the needs of those suffering loss here in Uvalde.”