Do you have moments in your life that linger in your mind? You remember the where, the what, and who was with you. The sights, sounds, and emotions become embedded into our memory.
For Rancho Tehama in northern California, November 14, 2017, will not be easily forgotten. Just as school started that morning, a gunman rampaged through the rural community, eventually killing 5 people and injuring others.
For Village Missionary Stephen May, who has served with his wife Debbie at Rancho Tehama Community Church since 2015, reflecting on the shooting one year later makes the events of that day surreal.
Remembering the Rancho Tehama Shooting
After feeling sick and deciding to sleep in, Stephen suddenly awoke to gunshots outside his home. His phone immediately flooded with anxious calls from congregation members who wanted to know what was happening.
A phone call from his son, Zachary, informed him of an active shooter and warned him to stay inside. Despite the danger, Stephen headed to the church office.
Soon after his arrival, Stephen received calls from various news stations with requests for interviews. Meanwhile, first responder vehicles zoomed past the church on their way to help those impacted by the shooting.
Stephen stood in shock that such an atrocity could occur in a remote area like Rancho Tehama. His anxiety grew for Zachary, on lockdown at the school.
The nightmare finally ended when the shooter took his own life after a shootout with police. Thankfully, no children were killed due to the school’s immediate lockdown procedure and the alertness of the school staff.
Although the perpetrator was gone, he left behind a trail of death and destruction.
“My wife and I awoke the next morning, still in shock and at a loss of what to do,” remarked Stephen, although they were both thankful for God’s protection.
Rancho Tehama had no infrastructure (government agencies or emergency services) to deal with a situation of this magnitude. Despite their sense of helplessness, Stephen & Debbie prayed that God would intervene and direct them. This lack of governmental assistance allowed the Mays, Rancho Tehama Community Church, and Village Missions to step in and serve wherever needed.
One of the first events where Stephen served included a community vigil. Due to the anger and confusion in the room, Stephen had to discern how he could best share the Gospel with the hurting crowd.
Despite his uncertainty, he led the group in prayer, and eventually officiated the memorial service for the victims a few days later.
Stephen also met at the school to pray for the safety and healing of all affected by the shooting.
“We shared Jesus with those that needed to hear it, even on local and national news reports,” continued Stephen. “God made our little church the focus of worldwide prayer.”
The Path to Recovery
One year later, Rancho Tehama is still learning how to recover. Although the community will never return to how things were, Stephen believes that doors have been opened for sharing the Gospel.
“We are looking past our differences and are focusing on being a community,” says Stephen. “Rancho Tehama is full of broken people not looking to connect. However, we see that because of the shooting, and the way the church reacted, trust is being built.”
Relationships have been established between the church and the school, which now has a full-time security person. Bridges have been strengthened with the local Hispanic community, when previous attempts were often shunned. Many of those personally impacted by the shooting, including 2 children who were shot but survived, have attended the Rancho Tehama Community Church.
Stephen also reminds his church of God’s grace and protection at work that day.
“There were miracles during the shooting that we don’t even know about,” he states. “No children were killed. Looking back, I see that God is in control, and He has allowed this to happen for some purpose.”
The Mays also personally experienced God’s protection over their family.
Had it not been for Stephen feeling sick and choosing to sleep in that morning, he could have been in the shooter’s path while walking to the office. Debbie normally took morning walks with other ladies in their church around the time and place of the shooting, but she was at her new job. And their son Zachary survived the assault on the school.
Lastly, Stephen’s pickup truck, discovered with a bullet hole in the back window and a shattered driver’s side window, reminds them of how close the shooting came.
“Thank God for His miraculous protection. What the enemy intended for harm, God intended it for good.”
Because of committed partnerships with Village Missions, this rural community received spiritual guidance and hope after a devastating tragedy.
Through the traumatic and the ordinary, our Village Missionaries respond to any crisis that emerges, extending the love of Christ to the communities they faithfully serve.
Village Missions believes that every community, no matter how small, deserves a church body to gather with, and a pastor who stays with them long-term. Then in moments of deep pain and grief, the lost and hurting in our country’s forgotten places can be comforted.