April 19, 1995 I was downtown early that morning for the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast at the Myriad. I left downtown around 8:30 am or so. and stopped by a local store just off N. Broadway to see if it was open early but it wasn't, so I headed back across NW 10th St. to Portland Avenue Baptist Church where I had been pastor for just a little less than three years. It was staff meeting morning so I went to my upstairs office and was working on the staff meeting agenda when the bomb went off at 9:02 am. I hurried to the window in my office which looked in the direction of downtown OKC and saw a grayish colored mushroom cloud arising from downtown. When the bomb went off, it shook our building very hard and it is located about four miles from downtown. My first thoughts was that it was a gas explosion, or a tanker truck or railroad car explosion.
One of the staff members and I started back down 10th St toward downtown but traffic became so heavy that we just parked the car and walked the rest of the way to the Murrah Building. We arrived just about the time that the second bomb warning came in so we were turned away from the building and walked back to our and then drove back to the church. I returned downtown and went to the police chaplain command post and was assigned a task by the chaplain of going and being with the parents of children who were missing from the daycare center in the Murrah Building. I remember the sense of inadequacy I felt but the desire to be a presence of God in that desperate situation.
The following Saturday I was assigned on a detail with two other chaplains to be present in the basement of the Murrah building as recovery teams were doing their work. Shortly after we arrived at the building the recovery teams changed out so there was a period of around thirty-minutes or so that we alone in the belly of that building in which 168 people had died. It was an eerie almost surreal experience listening to the wind blow through the silent building. I couldn't help but to pray for those victims families who were still waiting for the remains of their loved ones to be returned to them. I was also overwhelmed by the courageousness of the OKC firefighters and the other rescue/recovery teams from around the country for they risked their lives daily in working to recover people's loved ones. They worked in a dangerous surrounding as parts of the building could have further collapsed and taken their lives. There are many other stories I have from those days, but what do I see 20 years later after the bombing in OKC?
We learned how to pull together and work together as a community.That has now become known as the "Oklahoma Standard" and it started that first day of the bombing. The afternoon of the bombing turned cold and rainy and many of us did not have proper rain gear including rubber boots. Trucks began to drive up, doors rolled up, and an abundance of rain gear was handed out. I still have a pair of rubber boots I received that day. If you needed a battery for your cell phone they were available. If you needed to eat, food from the finest restaurants in Oklahoma City was readily available. It was amazing! Secondly, the "faith factor" was vitally important. Someone asked, "Where was God during the bombing?" I will tell you that He continually present in so many ways for everyone involved in the bombing. Faith provided the strength and hope to make it through those days. We have learned how to work together in a better way as a faith family in OKC too. I believe we also lived out the "Joseph principle" in our city. Remember the story of Joseph, sold by his brothers into slavery into Egypt, from the first book of the Bible, Genesis. They meant it for evil. Joseph experience the highs and lows of life during his years in Egypt, but he eventually came to see that although his brothers meant this experience for evil, that God planned to bring good out of it! I believe we have seen the same thing here in OKC! What Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols meant for evil and harm for our city, has been turned into "good" for our city.
We are not the same city we were prior to April 19, 1995. We are a stronger city now in so many ways. We are city filled with hope not despair. Sorry Tim McVeigh, but good trumped evil in this instance!
God Is Good All The Time, And All The Time God Is Good!