As Dale traveled the 2 hours to his shift at a Prayer Station, he asked God, “Am I gonna do any good today?”
At 4pm on Friday, May 31, 2019, a man entered a Municipal Building in Virginia Beach with a gun, and proceeded to kill twelve people and wound 4 others. It was a tragedy that reverberated beyond the east coast.
Six months prior, a team of YWAM staff from YWAM Virginia, who had been preparing to open a new location in Virginia Beach, sensed God telling them to wait. While they had talked about beginning in January, they felt God saying that the first day should be June 1st.
It was no coincidence that the new YWAM location started the day after the shooting; God, in His wisdom and love, intended the first official service to be intercession. Their first week as a location entailed setting up a Prayer Station near the Municipal Building and quickly-formed memorial. For 9 hours a day, the entire week, they took shifts manning the Prayer Station, praying for and comforting everyone who approached.
Dale arrived on Tuesday morning, and while he did not know how God might use him, he was ready to serve. On that day, they prayed alongside teams from The Billy Graham Association and CBN, as well as an evangelist who has committed to traveling to and praying at the sites of mass shootings all over the nation. At one point, around 100 people gathered in a large circle to pray for the victims, the first responders, and the city.
Around noon, a man named Scott approached Dale. Dale could tell this man carried a heaviness, and that it was important to choose his words wisely.
He invited the man to sit with him, and calmly asked, “Where were you when it happened?”
The weight was clear in Scott’s heart. Dale sat quietly as the man shared that he had been working as a building inspector there for 10 years. Over the course of that time, he not only came to know the shooter, but parked next to him every morning.
“Dale, I was supposed to be there. Normally on a Friday at 4 I’m walking into that same building. But that day, I took off work.”
Over the course of an hour, Dale began to recognize an unexpected connection forming. This man, who only an hour before was a stranger, found in the Prayer Station and Dale’s company a safe space to process and ask hard questions. “I just don’t get it, Dale… I knew him, how could a coworker of mine do something like this?”
Dale began to see himself in this man. With his experience in construction, Dale has often gone into buildings like the Municipal Building; what if this had happened in Richmond, on a day he was requesting a permit?
At one point, it was clear the man was wrestling with a thought.
“Dale, this is the third near-death experience I’ve had in a year.”
Dale’s eyes widened.
“First, I was in an accident where someone T-boned my car. I couldn’t get out; they had to use the jaws-of-life to rip my car open. Second, I was diagnosed with a terminal illness. The doctors only gave me a short window to live, but somehow I’m still here. And now… I should have been in that building at 4 on Friday; but I wasn’t.”
Dale was amazed. “Scott, you are a walking miracle.”
They continued to pray together, working through several tissues. When Scott said goodbye and left, Dale knew something important had happened in that Prayer Station. Only hours before, he was unsure if he would have any impact, but God intended to show the power of intentional prayer. While he does not know how the interaction impacted Scott, Dale has continued to think of and pray for him, with plans to find a way to reconnect.
When tragedies like this occur, we can find ourselves asking, “Where were you, God?”
Over the decades that God has been calling individuals and families to serve through YWAM, we have walked through many tragedies. In the face of such pain and brokenness, we are forced to contend with that question: “Where were you, God?”
Yet time after time, we have heard Him say, “I am here. I am with you.”
God was with Virginia Beach when he postponed the start of our new location until June 1. God was with that community as he prompted the YWAM Virginia Beach staff to commit to a full week of providing prayer through the Prayer Station. God was with YWAM staff as they stepped into that space unsure of what to say or do, but confident God would work. And God is with us today.
We do not always know why tragedies occur, but moments like this humble us to know that God is here. He is with us.