Smith Mountain Lake, near the Blue Ridge Mountains is on the southwest corner of the Lynchburg District of the United Methodist Church, my district. At least ten churches large and small from our district are part of the Smith Mountain Lake community. Danville and Roanoke Districts also have churches located in this scenic resort and retirement area.
August 26 was a beautiful summer morning at Bridgewater Plaza shopping center overlooking Smith Mountain Lake. Alison Parker and Adam Ward were on assignment for WDBJ TV out of Roanoke to do an early morning interview with Vicki Gardner, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce for Smith Mountain Lake.
What started as a routine interview ended in horror as both journalists were shot and killed and Vicki Gardner severely wounded by a disgruntled, former employee of the television station. Within a few hours, the shooter was spotted on an interstate near Northern Virginia but before being apprehended he shot himself and within hours died.
Alison Parker grew up in Martinsville, Virginia was described by many as “a bright, shining light” with a vivacious personality and promising future in the media. Adam Ward was from nearby Salem, Virginia, played on the high school football team and attended Virginia Tech. Adam was engaged to a morning show producer. They were days away from moving to Charlotte, North Carolina. Two young professionals with everything to live for cruelly murdered on live TV.
Vicki Gardner is described as a “bright light” in the Smith Mountain Lake community. She served as Executive Director for the Chamber for over ten years. Vicki was rushed to surgery, came through successfully and is expected to have a full recovery.
Jack Philips, a resident of Smith Mountain Lake and a friend of Vicki summed up on his Facebook page what many were feeling: “I’m emotionally exhausted. Today’s shootings within 5 miles of our home have caused alternating periods in me of great anger and deep sorrow. Thankfully our friend, Vicki Gardner, appears to be out of danger, but she lost a kidney and her spleen. The two news people from WDBJ lost their lives. And why? Because some worthless person couldn’t hold a job and blamed his shortcomings on everyone around him. Today was a beautiful day here at Smith Mountain Lake. As each of these people got ready to go to work this morning, they had no idea that their lives were about to be changed (or ended) shortly. Live each day as you would want to be remembered.”
Visiting another television station in Lynchburg that day to check on friends, I saw professionals working hard to do their job and “get the story right” out of dedication to their craft and love for their co-workers but afterward those same professionals could be seen crying, grieving, offering each other support and hugs and at times with questioning looks, asking each other: “Why?”
Paul wrote in a letter to the Corinthians, “We are hard pressed on every side but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed.” (2 Cor 4:8)
Could this be the ultimate lesson we learn from the tragedy at Smith Mountain Lake? No matter what you may be going through:
We are hard pressed to understand what happened and why but we are not crushed.
Whatever problems you may be facing, we are perplexed but not in despair.
No matter what personalities you may be dealing with, we are persecuted but not abandoned.
Whatever tragedy you may be facing, we are struck down but not destroyed.
The gospel of John puts it another way as a promise from God: “I give them eternal life and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hands.” (10:28)
The tragedy at Smith Mountain Lake vividly reminds us that life is short and occasionally unpredictable. Human beings are vulnerable to tragedy, crisis, illness and the consequences of mistakes, mishaps and the evil intentions of others or even self-inflicted.
Yet, in the midst of even the worst tragedy there is the ever present promise of God: You may be hard pressed but you will not be crushed. You may feel perplexed but there is no need to despair. You may even feel persecuted but you will not be abandoned. You could be struck down but you will never be destroyed. God gives you the promise of eternal life so you will never perish and you will never, ever, ever be snatched out of God’s hands.