Ten days ago, Oklahomans observed the 15th anniversary of one of the greatest tragedies ever to occur on American soil. In somber but triumphant ways, we reflected on the beautiful April morning that became a day that lives in infamy. In a split second, the innocence and security that marked our history were stolen from us. One Ryder truck filled with explosives ripped away the face and heart of the Murrah Federal Building, changing forever the lives of the families who were forced to mourn the death of 168 loved ones.
Any person who lived in Oklahoma City can tell you exactly where they were at 9:02 the morning of April 19, 1995. I remember well sitting at the stoplight on Northwest Highway near Baptist Hospital. I felt and heard the boom of the bomb and looked toward downtown to see the column of black smoke rising into the beautiful, clear spring sky. I made my way to our church office, where a television had been set up for us to watch the horrendous scene unfold. The chaotic moments to follow caused our staff, like many others across the city, to begin the process of identifying church members who we knew worked in the Murrah Building.
We frantically spread across the city to touch families and get reports as to the safety of our church members. Prayer in midst of disbelief filled the next hours—hours that stretched into days during which many of our church members became involved in the search and rescue efforts.
Like many Oklahoma City area pastors, I became a volunteer chaplain. I will never forget stepping into ground zero and standing near the crater that had been blown into the ground by the explosives. To stand within a few feet of the building was to see and feel the devastation of hatred. Many times during the days that followed, I watched televised reports of the events. Even the best television camera could not reveal the ugliness of that hate-filled crime against innocents.
During those days, I was reminded why I was so proud to be an Oklahoman. The people of this state poured out their love on families of victims, rescuers and the countless people involved in the process. As soon as the need for bottled water or gloves or food was made known, people gave far beyond what was required.
One sharp difference between Oklahoma and other places where tragedy had occurred was the open display of faith. A New York Times reporter visited Northwest Church where I was privileged to pastor, and he was overwhelmed by the spirit and faith displayed by our people. He asked again and again what was so different about Oklahoma in comparison to the response to tragedy in his own city. I told him it was simple. Oklahomans are a people of faith. We lost two people from our church and family members of our church family. On the front page of The New York Times was a picture of our youth lifting hands in praise to God as we worshiped. The Sunday after the bombing, I well remember preaching on the hope we have in Christ that hatred cannot steal.
Years later, when I visited the Bombing Memorial, the emotion was overwhelming. Walking past the fence where stuffed animals, signs and notes of love and hope were hung, my mind filled with images from those days at ground zero. My heart broke as I stepped onto the plaza marked by the reflecting pool, the survivor tree and the 168 empty chairs. In fact, to this day I have not walked through the museum, even though those memories are 15 years old. The anguish of the loss and hurt caused by hatred is too painful.
It is inconceivable that blind hate could rage so high as to knowingly destroy children and innocent adults. Yet, such is the nature of hate. It blinds and numbs the violent and produces a sense of rightness about such heinous acts. The events of April 19 must forever remind us that this world is filled with the end result of sin. The act of Timothy McVeigh was sin and hatred on steroids.
Through the black smoke and pain of deep loss, we as people of faith must lift our eyes. Hatred, tyranny and violence are the lot of a journey through this world. But this world is not our home. One day, the King of kings and Lord of lords will step out on the clouds to destroy the acts of hatred. My prayer is that of the early Christians—Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus.
Anthony L. Jordan is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.