By Joy Allmond
When First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, kicked off their annual VBS the week of June 3, it looked profoundly different from two years ago.
On November 5, 2017, a gunman entered their sanctuary, opened fire, and took the lives of 26 people.
Several of those who lost their lives were instrumental in the VBS ministry of the church.
“VBS takes up a large portion of our year, because we do VBS big,” said Sherri Pomeroy, wife of FBC Sutherland Springs pastor Frank Pomeroy. “Everybody around here knows this church produces an amazing VBS event every year and all the kids want to go to it.”
Also among those slain was the Pomeroys’ 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle.
“VBS was her favorite event of the year,” said Sherri of Annabelle, who had special needs.
“She loved having the DVD after VBS was over and being able to do the moves along with it. She loved playing with the other children and was excited about being a helper for the first time (the following summer).”
As the early months of 2018 rolled around, the leadership of FBC Sutherland Springs had to make a tough—but necessary—decision: They would once again host VBS, despite the painfully obvious voids.
“We didn’t want their work in the years past to be in vain,” said Sherri. “But it was tough. We had all new teachers—people who stepped up to stand in the gap. We knew we had to do it not only for the Lord, but to honor the memories of those who were gone.”
Jennifer Holcombe is one of the FBC Sutherland Springs members who stepped up to the plate. She lost her husband, her 18-month-old daughter, and several other family members in the attack.
“I knew we had to keep going and not stop doing these things to be able to heal,” said Holcombe. “Some of what we do is to keep it going for them. For me, if I could do it, I wasn’t going to say no. I had to do it to keep myself going.”
Karla Holcombe, Jennifer’s mother-in-law—described by Sherri as the “creative genius” behind the VBS décor year after year—was among those lost on November 5, 2017.
Karla’s daughter, Sarah Slavin, recalls a pivotal moment of healing during the 2018 VBS week—an event that seemed impossible to carry out, given the searing loss.
“My mom was very involved in Vacation Bible School when she was alive,” said Slavin. “And my dad would always make lots of props, and my brother always made props. I couldn’t imagine VBS without them. But I realized the Holy Spirit was the One doing all this that I gave them credit for.”
And according to pastor Frank, the Holy Spirit has not only been working in the church and the surrounding community to heal them, but He’s also been working through VBS to bring healing—and maybe a little joy.
Despite the tragedy, the same amount of children showed up for the 2018 VBS as during weeks in years past—which, according to Sherri, was between 40 and 50.
This year, they had double that number. They ran out of 100 name tags.
“VBS—at least in our church—has been an outreach to the community,” Frank said.
“Not only have we reached children, parents, and grandparents, and had parents come to know Christ through VBS, but people came together [to pull it off]. You could be in here every morning during the worship rally. You could feel the Spirit moving in these kids. But I would even venture to say [the 2018] VBS was more for the adults of Sutherland Springs than for the kids.”
And while the VBS leaders, volunteers, and kids of Sutherland Springs dedicated their new facility (dedicated May 19) this year, it’s the same Holy Spirit who will continue to heal hearts—in large part through the ministry of VBS.
“It lets us see … we can hold to the hem of His garment and still move forward,” said Frank. “The tragedy that inflicted so much heartache can still be healed if we hold on to the Lord and look at [our situation] through the laughter of these children.”
Joy is the executive communications manager at Lifeway.