Writing this column just a few short miles from the Borderline Bar in Thousand Oaks, one is struck with the reality of what one man with evil intent can do. He alone destroyed the peace of what has been rated as one of the safest cities in the country.
As a country, we’re learning that safety is never sure. With the string of mass shootings our society has experienced in recent years, we’re forced to master strategies we wish we never had to learn. Experts try to make it simple to remember, “Be prepared to act—to hide, to fight, or to flee?”
We ask, “Why this town?” Why not this town! Tragedies, hurricanes, and evil can come to any town. When strategies come, families, communities, and countries are called on to respond as best they can. They come to comfort family and friends. They line up to give blood. They gather to honor those who have died.
People came by the thousands lining the freeways, the streets, and the overpasses as Sheriff Sgt. Ron Helus’s body was taken to the Ventura County Medical Examiner. Tears are shed for those who died. Private and corporate prayers are said for healing for those injured and for comfort for families impacted by the loss.
In moments like this, we are not a divided nation, just fellow citizens coming together to do what we can to help. We take pride in our first responders, and we do what we can to support the families who’ve lost those they love.
We ask, “Where is God?” Such questions are not uncommon in times like this. C.S. Lewis, the English professor turned believer and theologian, would say, “Pain is a megaphone in the hands of a loving God.” God does not cause the tragedies or the attacks, but he weeps with us and comforts us with His enduring presence and peace.
God’s presence was evident that night in the heroic actions of one young man at the Borderline Bar. When the attack began, Matt Wennerstrom crouched with others under a table. As the shooter paused to reload, Matt grabbed a bar stool and broke a window. He took as many as possible with him as they escaped through the window. They ran away from the bar into the parking lot, waiting for help to come.
When interviewed by a reporter from ABC News, Matt was asked if he was afraid of dying and how he had the presence to act so heroically. His calm response reminds us all that God works through people of faith to act out His will. Matt said without fanfare, “I wasn’t worried. I know where I’m going.”
Like others rushing in to help, he may very well have claimed the Biblical promise written in Joshua 1:9. God’s blessed assurance comes in the form of a command and a promise: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
That night, Matt trusted God, and God worked through Matt and others to do what they could to be part of the answer to this senseless attack. With an inner peace, he surrendered to God’s ultimate will and got busy doing what he could to serve the living! And serve he did. Matt saved many through his heroic actions.
For Sheriff Helus who rushed in to help and the others who perished at the hands of the attacker, may God give them eternal peace. For we prayerfully claim another Biblical promise from the words of Jesus, recorded in John’s Gospel: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” On this day, Lord, we all pray that it be so.