I’m from Uvalde. Now, when I say that, I am often met with a sigh, groan, or an awkward silence.
Like many of you, I found out about the Robb Elementary school shooting through social media. Robb Elementary was the elementary school that I went to – now, it is a crime scene. My elementary school is a crime scene – that is still hard to let sink in. Seeing the images of my beloved hometown fill the news and social media was so surreal. I heard the news at noon on May 25, and over the next 12 hours, the reality of what happened gutted and unraveled me.
Uvalde is my hometown. It is where my Indian immigrant parents decided to settle, where I fell in love with Mexican food, people and culture, and where I first learned the values of hospitality and community. While it may be underresourced by the world’s standards, it is rich in relationship and community like can be found in my church, for example. My church existed for the community; Sundays ran long and continued at lunch in the Golden Corral. Everyday the doors were open for prayer meetings, youth group, worship practice, etc. We ran food pantries, held BBQ fundraisers, gave our time, talent, and resources in whatever way we could because to love God was to love neighbor. My church also came with the messiness that comes with community, but looking back, I learned a lot about what life-on-life relationship, accountability and hospitality meant because of my experience there.
Two weeks ago, I spent time in Uvalde and the mix of emotions I felt is hard to explain. Going to the memorials at both Robb Elementary and at the Plaza were incredibly sad. It is difficult to hold space for all the grief you feel as you take in each memorial, decorated with beautiful pictures of the children and teachers, enveloped by the strong floral aroma of flowers and candles laid there in their memory. It is hard to be at Robb, which now looks more like a crime scene than the school where I enjoyed recess and played tetherball with my friends. Anger surged each time I saw police; I still do not understand what happened-but it does not look good. I felt a sense of shared solidarity in the non-verbal cues between community members at each memorial we went to – the type of communal solidarity you feel when you are proximate to the pain. Uvalde looks so much the same, but there is a heaviness and soberness everywhere you go. It will be a community forever changed.
I ran into friends, bringing me back to a past that felt both familiar and distant. Each time we spoke, I heard new pieces to the story of that fateful day – new pieces of information, of grief, of how it touched them and the community. I hold these stories in my heart as sacred pieces to bring before God in grief and lament. Everyone in Uvalde has only a few degrees of separation – everyone is touched in some way.
During this time, I have taken solace in the book of Mark. I deeply resonate with the story of Jesus on the boat with the disciples in the storm (Mark 4). I find myself crying, “Teacher – don’t you see that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38) I like how the First Nations Version puts it: “Wisdomkeeper! Do you not care that we are fighting for our lives?” I have a newfound sense of solidarity with the disciples because I am trying to bail out the troubled waters of injustice from the nation’s boat. I am tired of the storm of gun violence that threatens the lives of our communities. It feels like Jesus is sleeping. “Wisdomkeeper! Do you not care that we are fighting for our lives?”
I sat in the pews of our church in Uvalde last Wednesday, joining others who are bailing water out of the boat, asking Jesus to wake up. We sang Spanish and English worship songs about God being on the throne and deserving the glory. I had a hard time believing those words; I was and am still shouting, “Wisdomkeeper! Do you not care that we are fighting for our lives?”
Our pastor prayed this simple, breath prayer on behalf of the families affected that convicted me. He prayed, “Give them what they need…give them what they need…all for your glory.” In the midst of an unbelievable tragedy to our community – our friends, family, and neighbors – the pastor & congregation knew and reminded me of who would ultimately bring shalom. It was Wisdomkeeper’s gentle way of asking me, “Why have you given yourself over to fear? Where is your faith?” (Mark 4:40).
The church in Uvalde is not praying that breath prayer in the “thoughts and prayers” cop out sort of way. They are using their assets and giving the community what it needs. They are creating spaces to grieve, to process, to be trained in trauma informed care, to worship and pray on the Plaza, to offer free food and places for kids to play and process. There are BBQ fundraisers on every corner and chalked messages reminding us of our shared grief and hope. When they pray, “give them what they need,” they are praying to be part of that answer to prayer…all for the glory of God.
I’m not sure that it is wrong to bail out the water of the boat when the storm is plaguing your community, but it does seem wrong to lose sight of the one who will ultimately calm the storm.
Jesus directly responded to the disciples’ distrustful question, “Wisdomkeeper! Do you not care that we are fighting for our lives?” He asked them, “Why have you given yourself over to fear? Where is your faith?” (Mark 4:40). Jesus promised them that they would get to the other side (Mark 4:35), yet they responded with fear in the midst of their desperation. They sought to save themselves with their limited perspective, influence, and resources. It begs the question – am I coming at my community development, organizing and advocacy work knowing who will ultimately calm the storm? Do I trust that Christ is the one who will stop gun violence, senseless deaths, and evil? Will I holistically respond and work alongside my community to give it what it needs?
It is absolutely necessary for us to continue to pray, fight for and advocate to see our communities holistically restored. But I have to remember it is God, alongside his people, who will ultimately restore our communities. It is here that I find healing, reorientation, and hope from the deep despair I feel at times. Howard Thurman says it like this: “In the stillness of the quiet, if we listen, we can hear the whisper of the heart giving strength to weakness, courage to fear, hope to despair.”
Most days I still feel like Jesus is sleeping in the boat with me. Most days I pray “when are you going to wake up?” (On repeat.) Yet even in these moments, I am choosing to offer the mustard seed faith I can muster up to trust that the Creator of the Universe is with me and will one day rise up and say to the storm of gun violence, “Peace, Be Still.” Through tear filled eyes, as I soberly hold the stories of these children, teachers and the Uvalde community in my heart, I trust he is going to get us to the other side.
In listening to the community this week in Uvalde, here are some specific people/needs to be praying for. I have intentionally chosen to keep some of the intimate details of the stories I heard to protect the sacredness of the stories and grief of our community.
- Families of those who died:
- Makenna Lee Elrod, 10
- Layla Salazar, 11
- Maranda Mathis, 11
- Nevaeh Bravo, 10
- Jose Manuel Flores Jr., 10
- Xavier Lopez, 10
- Tess Marie Mata, 10
- Rojelio Torres, 10
- Eliahna “Ellie” Amyah Garcia, 9
- Eliahna A. Torres, 10
- Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, 10
- Jackie Cazares, 9
- Uziyah Garcia
- Jayce Carmelo Luevanos, 10
- Maite Yuleana Rodriguez, 10
- Jailah Nicole Silguero, 10
- Irma Garcia, 48
- Eva Mireles, 44
- Amerie Jo Garza, 10
- Alexandria “Lexi” Aniyah Rubio, 10
- Alithia Ramirez, 10
- Dr. Roy Guerrero – the pediatrician who treated the kids
- Churches/Pastors figuring out how to respond to the many needs
- Sacred Heart Catholic Church & First Baptist Church who are holding many of the funerals
- First Responders
- Police who were at the school
- Pete Arredondo-UCISD police chief
- Uvalde CISD teachers, staff, administration & students
- Uvalde alumni of Robb & Uvalde High School
- Uvalde PTO
- The kids who survived and their families
- Miah Cerillo
- Zayin Zuniga
- Kendall Olivarez
- Arnulfo Reyes – teacher who survived
- The high school seniors who went through a pandemic and had their graduation disrupted by this horrific event
- Staff at Rushing-Knowles & Hillcrest funeral homes
- Uvalde mayor & city council
- Grandmother & family of Salvador Ramos
- Workers at Wendy’s who knew Salvador Ramos
- Stewardship of the abundance of resources in the area now
- Volunteers/organizations from around the country and nearby – that they would listen to the community and help it heal
- Unity and not division
- Forgiveness for each other
- Healing from trauma
Our response after tragedies like these demands a holistic response. Below, we offer ways to pray, engage and advocate to end gun violence:
This toolkit is brought to you by CCDA’s Reducing Gun Violence Affinity Network. We created this toolkit in hopes that you and your community would take steps in addressing the roots of gun violence & taking steps to address it. We invite you to hold space to pray, lament, come alongside, and advocate for your neighbors.