Help from Within: Standing Together in Rural Ministry
This is the second installment of our 2-part series about the Freeman High School Shooting. We recommend reading Part 1 (Shepherding the Suffering), which aired last month.
The McNally family still felt shaken after the shooting. Freeman High School had become a crime scene. One student lost their life, and three students sustained critical injuries. The people of Valleyford mourned over the tragedy that hit their small community.
While news stations, first responders, and outside assistance flooded into the area in the days following the shooting, the McNallys found that the most welcome help of all came from within Village Missions.
Village Missionaries Don & Gaylene Manning, who have served in La Pine, Oregon, since 2014, have deep roots in Valleyford. Don had moved there when he was just four years old and started attending Valleyford Community Church (VFCC) at age six, the church that Aaron currently pastors. He graduated from Freeman High School and served as a Deputy Sherriff there before joining Village Missions.
When Don heard of the shooting at Freeman, he not only grieved for his hometown, but for his fellow Village Missionaries in Valleyford.
“On the day of the shooting, the news interviewed a young girl who was one of our AWANA kids at VFCC,” recalls Don. “She was right there when the shooting happened. She laid on the floor with one of the girls who had been shot. That really tore at our hearts.”
Without hesitation, Don picked up his phone and called Aaron, asking if he and his family needed help. Two days later, the Mannings arrived in Valleyford, ready to serve wherever they could.
Spreading Good News During Disaster
Aided by their many connections, Don & Gaylene began ministering to the community.
They met with many of the victims’ families. Don had the opportunity to have meals with several of the first responders. Along with the McNallys, Don & Gaylene also attended the re-opening of the school the following Monday.
“We had opportunities to pray with people who otherwise would not have let us prior,” remarks Don. “We even got to encourage some of the psychologists who had come to comfort the students. We were spreading the Good News of Jesus during disaster. But I had never been so ministry-tired in my whole life.”On the second Sunday after the shooting, Don demonstrated the value of standing together in rural ministry; he preached to give Aaron much-needed rest from his ministry demands.
Although the Mannings were only in Valleyford for one week, their encouragement left lasting impacts on both the community and the McNally family.
“The Mannings came up to support us while we were supporting the community,” says Aaron. “Having another pastor right here to partner up with was a huge help.”
Village Missionaries Stand Together
Reflecting on the week spent with the McNally family in Valleyford, Don and Gaylene demonstrate an important truth: Village Missionaries take care of fellow Village Missionaries.
“Many pastors from Spokane Valley showed up for the big re-opening of the school, but they never came back,” says Don. “That would have left Aaron the only pastor in that town alone. As Village Missionaries, we have to be ready to take care of each other.”
In moments of great joy, and in days of terrible tragedy, Village Missionaries take care of their own. They continue standing together in rural ministry.
Update on McNally family, Freeman High School, & Valleyford
More than a year later, the McNally family looks back on the shooting with fresh eyes. “That was the hardest time we have ever been through in our entire lives,” recalls Suzanne. “But, we are able to put things in perspective a little bit quicker.”
Aaron feels that walking with everyone through this trial “absolutely allowed him into the community almost instantaneously.”
On September 16, 2018, the McNally family attended the one-year mark event at the school. A student-led prayer time was held in front of Freeman, with 130 staff and students in the audience.
Following the prayers, the attendees observed a moment of silence for the student who passed away. A Memorial Stone in his memory is to be placed on the school property in the upcoming months.
While the initial sense of unity has begun to fade between the students of Freeman, Stephen McNally, now a senior, continues to see the positive impacts that have emerged. ”You don’t see bullying like you did before. There is a connection that is way greater than it was before.”
Currently, the shooter is still going through his trial. VFCC is being used as a meeting place, which could be an emotional trigger for many. Please continue to pray for the people of Valleyford, and the students who were injured, as several surgeries and rounds of physical therapy were necessary for their recovery.
Standing Together in Rural Ministry: The Need
Unfortunately, these events occur with more frequency in the United States, even in small towns like Valleyford.
But what if a church and the McNallys had not been there? You can make a difference right here in the United States. By partnering with Village Missions, you enable a Village Missionary couple to be in the forgotten communities of our country–to respond, care for, and love people in these times of tragedy.
Would you help a Village Missionary to serve?