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BOSTON (BP) -- A day after two bombs exploded near the finish line of the iconic Boston Marathon Monday (April 15), pastors and other leaders were urging people to pray for Boston as the city grapples with the questions that arise from tragedy.

Three people were killed and more than 170 were injured, including 17 who were still in critical condition Tuesday, according to The Boston Globe. Metal fragments found in marathongoers led investigators to believe the bombs were loaded with pellets or nails intended to harm as many people as possible, the newspaper said.

"I would say first of all to just pray for Boston. This was a huge shock," Jim Wideman, executive director of the Baptist Convention of New England, told Baptist Press. "Patriot's Day is a state holiday and a day that the Boston Marathon is always run. It's an exciting day for Boston. Up here, this far north, it really marks the beginning of spring for us.

"So it's a day that everybody looks forward to, and this action was calculated, I believe, to cause as much confusion as possible. It has left the city in shock," Wideman said.

Amid that shock, a group of young adults from the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, were making themselves available to talk with and pray for passersby on the streets near the site of the bombings.

The group had been in town since Thursday, working with Hope Fellowship Church, a Southern Baptist congregation about three miles away in Cambridge.

On Monday, the Prestonwood mission team handed out gum and invitations to Hope Fellowship to people who were watching the marathon.

"Some of our people actually walked down toward the finish line," Josh Steckel of Prestonwood told Baptist Press.

Around 2:30 p.m. Eastern, less than half an hour before the blasts went off, the group started heading back to the church.

"Some people said they heard something that sounded like gunshots," Steckel said. "We were away from the city when it happened, on our way back from the marathon already."

That night Hope Fellowship opened its doors for people to stop in and pray. Though residents of Boston were encouraged to stay home following what is being investigated as a terrorist attack, a few people from the neighborhood who aren't normally part of the church showed up to pray and to be prayed for, the church's pastor, Curtis Cook, said.

"We will have a special service evening as a time to pray, read Scriptures, sing and have a chance for others in the neighborhood who might want to come in as well," Cook said Tuesday. "Obviously we'll speak to it on Sunday as well as part of our services."

Steckel's team from Prestonwood was back out on the streets the day after the bombings, handing out granola bars, this time with signs on their bags that said, "Need prayer? We are available." That simple invitation afforded several opportunities to pray with people and share the hope of Jesus, Steckel said.

They also secured cases of water and gave them to police and National Guardsmen stationed near the blocked-off crime scene. The mission team was scheduled to leave Boston Wednesday.

"Tell people to pray boldly in Jesus' name that the Gospel-centered church planters and pastors here would have more opportunities to share the Gospel and love on the people of Boston," Steckel said. "Also pray for healing, that God would use this for revival and for His glory."

Steve Brown, a bivocational church planter who moved to Boston last summer with his wife and two children, was anticipating opportunities to speak with his coworkers at The Container Store as he drove into work Tuesday morning.

"The people that we're close with, our friends and the people I work with for sure, they know that we're Christians, and when things like this happen it just creates a lot of questions in people's minds whether they are up front in talking about it or not," Brown told Baptist Press.

Brown was asking God to give him opportunities to share the hope and comfort of Christ with people in the midst of those questions.

"I think it makes people think about their worldview whether they realize it or not. People think about why these things happen and where such evil comes from and where does God fit into this," Brown said.

When tragedy struck in Newtown, Ct., in December, Brown had conversations with coworkers about how to process and respond to evil events in the world. He hopes to build on those conversations now, leading people to place their faith in Jesus.

Josh Wyatt, pastor of Charles River Church in Boston, landed at Boston's Logan Airport just half an hour after the bombings and expected his wife and three children to be at the finish line to support one of their friends who was running. He was going to meet them there.

"By God's grace, at a church marathon party that morning, church members talked my wife out of going because the crowds would be too challenging to navigate by herself with three young kids. Instead, she picked me up at the airport, we prayed with our children and began supporting victims and their loved ones and hurting Boston residents," Wyatt told Baptist Press.

Wyatt used texting and social media to check on the safety of church members and to issue a call to prayer for Boston.

"This Friday night we will be holding a community prayer gathering to lift up those who have been affected, plead with God for the redemption and restoration of our city, and to minister to our neighbors," Wyatt said.

"We're asking those outside to join us in prayer for the church in Boston, that we would unite to love our city well. Pray also that our city would experience the hope of Jesus," Wyatt said. "For those who trust in Him, 'He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.'"

Wideman of the BCNE said the convention has reached out to crisis incident management officials and to others who would need trained chaplains and pastors to step in and help people process the bombings.

"We are always looking for ways to build bridges to people who may not know Christ, and we're hoping that we have an opportunity here as well," Wideman said. "It's brought up a lot of questions and I know that our church planters and our pastors and other lay people will have the opportunity to visit with neighbors and with friends."

Already, the convention's WMU president has been able to counsel a neighbor who came to her with questions after the bombings, he said.

"We just want to be sensitive when the opportunity arises to speak a word of hope because of Jesus into the lives of people who have been affected. We ask Southern Baptists to pray that we have those opportunities," Wideman said.

There are about 100 churches that cooperate with the Greater Boston Baptist Association, Wideman said.

Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

Copyright (c) 2013 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net

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