84th Street Church of Christ in Oklahoma City

My traveling companion, Stephanie, and I watched, windows down, with rapt attention from inside my SUV, America’s most magnificent, shaggy beasts grazing the prairie grasses of Yellowstone National Park. All was silent except the bass notes of their chomping and chewing. That sound caused in my spirit the same unexplainable thing a cat’s purr does —a feeling of deep contentment and well-being. I don’t know when exactly I fell in love. Was it in the 90s when I took in the Ken Burns documentary called “The West''?  Though I’d never want to end a single life of one of these grand beasts, somewhere along the way, I decided one day I’d love to have an entire shoulder mount buffalo grace my living room wall. 

The reaction I most often get when I share this idea is open mouth laughter — of the throw-your-head-back-to-get-more oxygen kind. The fact that 99.9% of people might consider it the ugliest decor move ever, doesn’t make me like my idea any less. So I'm on the hunt all over the country, for the “prettiest” one I can find, and have found a friend willing to house it until we, at some future point, move into a house for at least part of the year.

Then not long ago, I was listening to a podcast and learned something about the behavior of buffalo that astonished me. It astonished me because it was so symbolic of the one lesson, more than any other, that my courageous mother had taught me — the one lesson that has enriched my life on almost a daily basis.    

In a fierce prairie storm, 

cattle often get spooked, turn tail & run from it. 

Not buffalo. 

Buffalo wait for the storm to crest the peak of the mountaintop 

and as the storm rolls over the ridge, 

the buffalo herd charges 

head-on at full speed 

straight into the storm, 

thus coming out of the storm 

faster, stronger, and united.

This characteristic sealed the deal! I would not only keep looking for a screaming deal on a beautiful buffalo mount, I would artistically put the words you just read underneath it to become an unforgettable object lesson, useful to all our guests, for as our Lord has told us — it’s not a matter of if storms will pass through our lives, it is a matter of when. 

You can imagine how I felt when after worship, a family I had just met, the Lovelady family, spontaneously gifted us a tour of their buffalo ranch. This unforgettable outing included a ride in the back of their pickup down the road and into the field where their sixteen buffalo were living a pretty sweet life. We stayed an hour or so as Colby, Hope, and Hope’s mother, Lori, taught us so much about what they are learning regarding the history of buffalo, their behaviors, how to care for them, and such. Before we left the pasture, from the tailgate of the truck, Colby Lovelady coaxed #48, my favorite of his buffalo, to stretch out his long, black scratchy tongue to eat a piece of feed from my hand! What an experience!  I could not have imagined a better memory than this to look back on whenever I recall the day I turned sixty. 

Just as important as taking in these beautiful moments that seem to water and refresh our souls, are the moments we willingly experience that are difficult to take in, but can prune away from our hearts what hinders our growth. This was why we had been determined to visit the site of the nation’s deadliest domestic terrorist attack to both learn what we can, and to honor the 680 people who were injured and the 168 souls who lost their lives on April 19, 1995 at 9:01am. 

When we arrived just before noon at the Oklahoma Bombing Memorial, Mark exited the van to find Jessica White, our daughter-in-the-Lord and tour guide for the day, while I stayed in the van to finish the last few moments needed to complete a writing project. At noon, suddenly the eerie, unfamiliar sound of wailing alarms began to rise and fall. I was unsure of what was going on, and was informed, as I joined Mark and Jessica, that it was their monthly, city-wide tornado drill— something quite foreign to an Oregonian, that could not have been more eerily timed. I took a deep breath, and entered the building to slowly take our tour. First, they put us in a room with a long, empty table encircled with empty chairs. When they’d left and closed the door the recording of an actual business meeting began to play that had taken place beginning just before 9:00 a.m. on April 19, 1995. It droned on for a couple of minutes until the deafening sound of the explosion was heard, the lights flashed off and on, and desperate screams and shouts of warnings to avoid electric lines filled the room followed by only silence as the entire back wall lit up with a black and white screen of the photographs of 168 deceased people. 

To me, there were two major takeaways of the tour that were not to be missed: First, is that the books we read can change everything. In the years preceding the bombing, Timothy McVeigh lost confidence in the criminal justice system during the O.J. Simpson trial, and drove to Waco, Texas, with his accomplice Terry Nichols, witnessing firsthand the government’s failed response said to lead to the Waco Massacre on April 19, 1993. These injustices enraged McVeigh, putting him at a crossroad in his life. As an agnostic who did not believe in hell, but claimed only science as his religion [“American Terrorist” Pg. 142-143], rather than picking up the Good Book so that God's truth could set him free to a life dedicated to preventing and addressing injustice by means of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control— he instead was inspired by “The Turner Diaries”  — a novel now displayed in a glass case at the Oklahoma Bombing Memorial, that describes the bombing of the FBI headquarters with a homemade truck bomb, excerpts from which were found in his getaway car. Books change everything. I wish instead he’d read this:

"How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season, And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, But they are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish."  Psalm 1.

As I walked from display to display reading the details of this horrific event, I could barely contain my emotions, imagining what it would be like to not know if my own buried baby was still alive and in pain under the rubble.  But even as the 680 survivors were hurting and waiting for rescue, beautiful people from every direction saw the cloud of debris fill the sky like a storm and because of their love of strangers, they, like buffalo in a storm, courageously ran toward the pain with great hope of becoming a small part of the solution.

As they arrived, some volunteers held some as they breathed their last.  “The person I was helping died holding my hand,” recalled Michael Godspeed from the Oklahoma City Police Department.  Others held survivors who were in deep, unthinkable grief not knowing which of their friends and family had survived. 

Rescuers extended a ladder truck to the 7th floor of the Murrah building to provide a means of escape to stranded survivors, while other rescuers laid out sterile sheets to quickly access their first aid supplies and triaged who would be taken to the hospital first.

Priscilla Salyers, a survivor who was buried in rubble on the fifth floor of the Murrah building, recalled, “Suddenly, someone took my hand. Words cannot begin to express the comfort and peace I felt with this human touch."

Andy Sullivan used a steel scalpel, a nylon traction rope for a tourniquet, and his pocket knife to free survivor Daina Bradley.

As more time passed and the trained service dogs continued to find buried people, their paws began to bleed from cuts caused by all the broken glass and the residents of Oklahoma began to donate hundreds of booties to protect their paws.

A woman who was married to a paramedic opted to give birth alone, without her husband attending, so he could continue to work rescuing more victims from the rubble.

Even from far away, over the weeks that followed, people found ways to show their support. Medical teams from around the country mounted several dozen flags on the exterior remaining floors of the bombed building  “...in cold defiance against those who might think they have collapsed our spirit," said Dr. Denis Clement Astarita.

How amazing that our every action seems to ripple out and affect the world in either adding to the hurt or moving toward healing. And again, how beautiful the courageous people who, because of love, run toward pain to become a part of the solution. That’s really what the church was established to do — to extend God’s rescue plan, the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ to people who are crying out from under the rubble of sin, who have come to realize that being hell-bound is the ultimate pit. (Mark 9: Revelation 9). To all who realize their need of a spiritual rescue, Jesus says "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). This is exactly how "The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen" (2 Timothy 4:18).

Of course, God in His wisdom has created us with such varying abilities for becoming a part of the solution, and it all starts with giving sin’s victims something to believe in that is real this time. 

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things (Romans 10:14-15)!

The 84th Street church of Christ in Oklahoma City has beautiful feet. They are a warm congregation, full of life and committed to preaching the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). They ran toward the pain of my daughter in the Lord, Jessica, whom I had mentored for years. She was buried in sin's rubble but had returned again and was once again in love with God, enjoying her church family, actively reaching out to also rescue others, and was happy to be mentioned by name here, as a living testimony to God's transformative power.

Harry Osborne, the preacher at 84th Street in OKC runs toward the storm. He recognizes the long-lasting value in doing all he can to train other preachers and has developed an intense, weeklong preacher training curriculum. The curriculum consists of a large variety of classes divided into three levels of difficulty, taught by various skilled instructors. Those not planning to become full-time preachers, but wanting to benefit from these college-level courses are also invited to attend. He has offered this training course in the Philippines and at the time of our visit was working toward offering again the same course in this congregation in Oklahoma in the near future. Can you imagine the growth in the kingdom if every preacher followed suit to one degree or another, training as many as he can to take his place?  I’d also invite you to take in online the great sermon Harry preached the day of our visit using Psalm 32 to teach “How to View Sin & Repentance.”

In a culture that is bent on destroying the innocence of our precious little ones as early as society will tolerate, God is using others to run toward this storm. My friend of many decades, Carolynn Davis, who has a heart for the souls of the littlest ones, has worked diligently to create a high-quality Bible curriculum that is now being taught at 84th Street in Oklahoma City, and is happy to make it available upon request for those willing to teach the younger ones, but would rather not start from scratch to build their own curriculum. These young souls are no less valuable than the souls of grown adults, just as the nineteen souls of the children who were killed in the bombing are no less precious than the other victims. It’s almost too sad to take in, but we must always allow our shared grief to unite us.  One of the most bonding moments of our worship was during a prayer when a brother was making intercession on behalf of the souls that we love who have abandoned God and are presently refusing a rescue. He couldn’t go on. Then neither could we. So we just all silently wept for this, the greatest of all losses, knowing with assuredness that the day is coming when "He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away" (Revelation 21:3-4).

Until that day comes, we are called to be like the Survivor Tree planted just outside the  Murrah building in Oklahoma City that somehow withstood all the flying cement landing on and crushing cars and everything else around it. This tree has become a symbol of resilience and strength. I touched with both hands The Survivor Tree during my visit and prayed to God that we can be like it. When chaos surrounds us, may our deep roots forever keep our leaves green (Psalm 1) so that we can provide shade, comfort and hope for the weary souls that surround us. 

84th Street Church of Christ
1017 SW 84th Street
Oklahoma City, OK 73139