“Uvalde is a very unique community — it’s like a family made up of 16,000 people,” says Mike Bingaman, an Assemblies of God chaplain who is continuing to minister to a community still reeling from the murderous attack that left 22 dead, including 19 children. “Everybody knows everybody; this grief has affected the entire town . . . it’s a huge network of family and friends.”
As a racehorse track chaplain for the past 40 years, Bingaman’s ongoing presence in the grief-stricken Texas town may at first seem out of place. However, as a licensed and active clinical therapist, his presence is desperately needed.
“The people of Uvalde have experienced something beyond grief to what is called traumatic grief — defined as an abrupt, unexpected loss,” explains Kevin Stowe, an AG health care chaplain and grief specialist who resides in Florida. “This type of grief can traumatize the brain, pushing people into a spiral of what for, if only, and why questions . . . and the best thing for them is to be allowed to talk through all their grief.”
And that’s where Bingaman comes in.
“What I do has been described as ‘loiter with intent,’” Bingaman says, who originally went to Uvalde at the request of Mike Reighard, director of AG Chaplaincy Ministries’ 461 Response. “I make myself available to people in locations where I’m likely to encounter them.”
When Bingaman first arrived, the day after the horrific attack, he says he visited a number of places where people were grieving. He was able to speak — and more importantly, quietly listen — to some of the family members of those killed as well as many people who knew the children, teachers, or their families.
“Mike was exposing himself to an enormous amount of other people’s grief, anger, frustration, and all those other adjectives that come with grief,” Stowe observes. “People aren’t designed to carry the burdens of other people on that kind of scale.”
That includes chaplains.
“The first four or five days were really raw — I called Kevin two or three times a day to just unload,” Bingaman says. “There are some things I learned that I will never tell my wife . . . let’s just say, the perpetrator was evil.”
Taking into consideration the impact of what took place had upon a trained, long-time chaplain, it isn’t difficult to imagine that there are thousands of people in Uvalde and the surrounding communities who are still desperately struggling — and will continue to struggle — with the emotional impact of what took place.
And Bingaman believes many of the community’s most vulnerable, the children, have yet to really start processing the tragedy.
“You have to understand, the attack took place at the end of the school year, and so the rest of the school year was cancelled — kids went on with their normal transition to summer vacation, where you don’t see everyone so much,” Bingaman says. “The reality won’t strike many of the kids until they go back to school and half of that entire fourth grade class is gone. That’s when it will hit them the hardest — and we have to be there for them when it does.”
Bingaman says he plans on making himself available for months to come, having received permission from his normal duties as chaplain at the racetrack to be spend every Wednesday in Uvalde.
GRIEF DOES NOT MEAN BROKEN
Stowe points out that for too many people, and perhaps even more so with Christians, grief is seen as a problem or something to be quickly put aside because the loved one is with Christ. Those attitudes towards grief are misplaced — grieving is important and takes time.
“We tend to always want to fix the grief, but grief does not mean broken,” Stowe says. “Grieving is what brings healing. In the Bible, we see that Jesus wept when Lazarus died — we all need that space to grieve loss.”
In Uvalde, the grieving may be more intense, widespread, and lasting than it might be in other locations because, as Bingaman has come to learn, the community is so tightly knit — there are few, if any, who aren’t connected in some way to the incredible loss.
The best thing for those grieving to do is to talk about it, Stowe asserts. On the flip side, the best thing for those wanting to help the grieving heal is to simply listen.
“But it’s not easy,” Stowe says. “Walking with someone through their grief is very, very uncomfortable.”
In Uvalde, most of the media have long-since departed along with those seeking to take advantage of the tragedy for financial gain, which has been a relief to the community.
However, local churches are still actively in the center of ministry — coming together despite theological differences to care for their traumatized community.
Bingaman has connected with Joe Ruiz who pastors Templo Cristiano (AG) in Uvalde.
“He’s been a blessing to our church,” Ruiz says of Bingaman. “Just last week (June 15) he was able to speak to our youth group and several other people in our church. He also spoke to a DPS (Department of Public Safety/highway patrol) officer who goes to our church who was there at the school during the shooting.”
What some may not realize is that in addition to local police, Uvalde is home to a significant number of state patrol and border patrol officers. What may be overlooked is that these officers are still men and women, just as human as any other person when dealing with the savagery that took place just a few short weeks ago.
Bingaman says he even had the opportunity to pray with an FBI agent who was struggling with the aftermath.
However, Ruiz is working together with other church leaders in the city to help bring about healing. He also expresses his appreciation for the financial support Templo Cristiano has received from their own and other districts and individuals as it has enabled them to do far more than what they could have done on their own.
“On June 25th, we’re having a Children’s Hunger Fund training, preparing church volunteers from a variety of churches to take boxes of food to homes and minister through that,” Ruiz says. “Then, on July 1st, a church from Waco is coming to provide a meal for at least 500 — my wife, Norma, is contacting all the families who lost children so they can be here and be served at that time as well.”
The church is also hosting a “Grief Sharing” training along with several other churches in the community on July 9; a community event on July 20-21 with multiple events/activities, puppet ministry for kids, along with giving away “therapy bears” to kids who desire one; and on July 28-30 the church is hosting a 461 Response ministry training to provide professional training and certification in working with traumatized victims. The certification, Ruiz hopes, will allow trained workers to volunteer to help schools once classes begin this fall. Ruiz also received two cases of books (in English and Spanish) used for hospice grief sent to him by Stowe to distribute.
“I think people are noticing that our church is there to help out the community,” Ruiz says. “It’s not about them coming to our church, but it’s about them knowing that there’s a God who loves them through us.”
PRAYER IS VITAL
In addition to being a tightly knit community, the tragic loss of so many young lives will be constantly before the citizens of Uvalde. Bingaman explains that in the Uvalde public school system, individual grades aren’t spread out over several different schools, instead all kids in the community, in second to fourth grades, attended Robb Elementary.
Even though Ruiz says the school is going to be demolished, until that fourth-grade class graduates from high school, every year, at every class event, in every age-level sport or activity in or outside of school, the half-sized class will be a stark and fresh reminder of the horrific loss that took place.
“It’s not going to be easy on kids, parents, teachers, coaches, or anyone closely connected to the community,” Bingaman says.
For those who have items that they believe would be useful for helping kids, teens, or adults in walking through and recovering from the trauma of the loss, connect with Bingaman for confirmation.
For others who want to help, but aren’t sure how, Bingaman says prayer is what is needed — prayers for the multitude of hurting people, for pastor Ruiz, for Templo Cristiano volunteers, and the other churches, workers, and volunteers in the community that God would make His presence known as they all come together to help bring healing.
“We believe in prayer, and we need to practice it for the people of Uvalde,” Bingaman says, “and not just today, but for the days, months, and years to come.”
Lead Photo: Candle light vigil at Templo Cristiano.
Bottom Photo 1: Pastor Joe with a Therapy Bear.
Bottom Photo 2: Pastor Joe with Christian Race Horse trainer Shae Cox who donated 99 Therapy Bears.
Bottom Photo 3: A ribbon like this is in front of every home that lost someone in the shooting.