John Kern – Deployment Summary to San Jose, CA
Billy Graham Rapid Response Team 5-27-21 to 6-2-21
Myself, Mike How, and Vickie How were asked to go to San Jose after the tragic shooting of 9 Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority employees (VTA) at the light rail yard adjacent to the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department on 5-25-2021. A former disgruntled employee who worked at that light rail yard came on the property with an automatic weapon and just began shooting people indiscriminately. He ended up taking his own life subsequent to the event.
In many ways, this was, for me personally, the most difficult deployment in my 8 years of serving as a Chaplain. We spent most of our time ministering to folks who came to the memorial site set up at the City Hall to pay their respects. We had opportunity to speak to many individuals, including some immediate and extended family members at that site. What was so very discouraging was the fact that so few people actually came there. We spent most of the daylight hours there, and rarely saw more than 5 or 6 individuals there at any one time. It was so very sad to see the lack of response, but we thank God for those we did get to talk with.
There was a spirit of heaviness at that site, as well as throughout the city. We all sensed very heavy spiritual opposition at every turn, and it was only by the Great Grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit that we were able to effectively minister. It was almost tangible, the darkness and the spiritual oppression….I could feel it, as could the other Chaplains. We spent much time in prayer both individually and as a group, asking God to take the veil off of people’s hearts and minds, and to allow us to speak with people, pray for them, and share The Gospel.
Every team member experienced opposition every day. Many times when approaching folks at the memorial site, we would encounter rejection, and in some cases, out and out hostility toward us. In my case, I had several people whom I engaged with, asking them to share their feelings. Whenever I would get to the point in the conversation where I would offer to pray and/or seek to present The Gospel, the person would just leave. I believe that every team member had similar experiences, but we remained on site, and continued to offer to pray for people. Many people did in fact allow us to pray, and many expressed their sincere thanks and appreciation for us being there. Our Chaplain Coordinator offered himself to the News Media for interviews at least 3 times that I know of, and only two of those interviews were aired, with one of those being “scrubbed” of the mention of Christ. The other interview was shown in it’s fullness, and the love of Jesus was professed in that one on the 10 O’clock NBC news affiliate. The newscasts had no discernable impact upon the number of people visiting the memorial site however.
Usually, in shooting deployments, the first responders are open to us visiting them and praying for them, but in this case that was extremely limited or non-existent. We did get to pray for one group of firefighters at a nearby station that indeed was on scene, but did not get any time to talk or visit. The staff leadership at the second fire station we visited were just short of being hostile toward us, and we were not allowed any access at all. The San Jose Police Department was approached, but never did allow access, and the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office (right next to the light rail yard) also did not provide access. Some of our team was able to pray with a few of the officers who were staffing the cordoned off area, and they were prayed for. We also approached the Coroner’s Office to see if we could speak with those staff members who were dealing with the bodies of the deceased, but were again not allowed in. The office manager was very polite, and explained to us that the staff was still in the midst of processing the bodies from the shooting, so they did not have time to talk. She allowed us to pray for her, and to pray with her about the staff. While we were concluding our prayer with her, she said she had to go, because she just got notice of an officer involved shooting with a fatality that had just happened.
The organization (VTA) that was directly affected did allow us access to their employees at the bus depot site. (they could not allow us into the light rail yard because it was still closed off for the Crime Scene Investigation to be completed) Mike and Vickie spent about 5 hours at the VTA Bus Depot from 8pm to about 1am, placed in the dayroom/dispatch area of that facility where all of the employees come in at the beginning or end of their shift, or for their breaks. We had a table to use, but it was not private space, so most people just passed by and exchanged greetings. Mike and Vickie did get to pray with one man, and encourage him, as he shared from his heart. They spent some time with him, and he was very thankful for it. My fellow Chaplain Mark and I came in early the next day, and spent 5 hours there from about 4am to 9am. We also had one individual who was willing to sit down at the table, bear his heart, and receive prayer. After that day, a decision was made by the VTA management and the Union that they would only utilize their contracted Employee Assistance Program counselors going forward………. …..another closed door.
We were always greatly encouraged every time someone would allow us to pray for them, so those times became especially precious to us. Two of our Female Chaplains also were given the great privilege of visiting a widow of one of the men who was shot and killed at VTA. They were invited to come to her house, and were able to spend a couple of hours talking and praying with her and several other relatives that had come over to provide comfort. We were very excited as a team for this, since this is what we came for.
Mike and Vickie also got to speak with, pray with, and hug the son of one of the victims while ministering at the memorial site. Mike testified of the tangible presence of The Holy Spirit while he and the son embraced; Mike sensed from The Lord that his job right then was to simply hold on to the son and share in his grief. This is always a very powerful moment in any of these disasters; but especially so in this case because of him being the man’s son. His father turned out to be a hero, as he pushed several people into what is called a “safe room”, and yelled at them to bar the door and not open it for anyone. Right after he did that, the shooter killed him. I also spoke briefly with that man’s 3 nephews who came to the memorial site. They were all weeping, and struggling to maintain their composure. I approached them and asked them if they knew anyone shown on the posterboard of pictures, and they pointed to their uncle and told me they were his nephews. All they could say between sobs is that he was a great man. I also began to cry, and so we cried together for a few minutes…..all I could say was how very sorry I was. Before I could offer to pray for them, they slowly wandered off.
There were several other highly emotional interactions with individuals experienced by every team member. We love these times, because we know that God is at work, and He knows and understands grief. We also know that every time we get to pray for someone, Heaven is in motion.
Many people thanked us profusely for the prayers, and mentioned the tangible peace that came over them as a result of the prayers. We as Chaplains are of course always quick to point to The Lord, and let the people know that the peace they feel comes from God Himself, by way of The Holy Spirit. We, as Chaplains, do not produce it; it all originates from God’s throne, and it is a powerful thing indeed.
And it is with great joy that I can report that we had 5 individuals make professions of faith in Jesus Christ.
I have asked Mike How to share concerning one young man he ministered to who came to faith in Jesus Christ. I had talked with him a little earlier in the day and prayed with him, but he was not in a place to receive Jesus just yet. I love how God knows the exact right time and place, and then moves upon that person’s heart…..BEAUTIFUL! Mike’s summary of the deployment and his interaction with the young man Andrew who came to faith are also included here.
Please be in continued prayer for the community of San Jose, for the churches there to have the opportunity to minister to the impacted families, for all of the first responders who were on that scene, and for the employees of VTA. And thank any and all of you who were praying for us! We indeed felt your prayers!
Mike How – Deployment Summary to San Jose, CA
20210531 CCM BGEA RRT Deployment Report on “Andrew” – A Homeless man
This deployment was like no other that I’ve been on. It is one that will, for me, be one of continued prayers and trusting IN THE LORD JESUS… to accomplish His will. We were sent to San Jose due to the very horrific shooting at the VTA (Valley Transit Authority) “Lite Rail” yard. A disgruntled employee came with the horrid intent of shooting and killing as many people as he could. Very tragically, he murdered 9 of his fellow coworkers. He did not shoot any of the women, he only targeted the men in the yard.
It is in this horrid environment that the BGEA RRT Chaplains Dispatch called up to deploy to this mass shooting. This is our (Vickie and I) 1st mass casualty deployment. We were called up on Wednesday AM … about 2 hours after it happened. The deployment dispatch folks wanted us to go immediately. VERY, unfortunately, the devil had things “in the way” and we were not able to deploy until late Thursday. By Saturday, the entire team was on the ground. It was on Friday, that Vickie and I were at the actual incident scene. THAT’S when it hit us. And it HIT us HARD !!!! The veil of evilness… heaviness… SIN… was so palatable that “you could cut it with a butter knife.” AND … it had a horrid smell to that evilness. Both Vickie and I felt …. “Genesis 4:9-10 – (9) And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? (10) And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.” PLEASE NOTE: it IS … YOUR prayers … that kept the WHOLE team focused on the Lordship of Jesus. We NEEDED that Holy Spirit HUG… through…OUT the day and night…. even when we slept.
Your prayers kept us focused when we also noticed, in a very real way, the very LACK of REAL care by the community as a whole. EXCEPT for the “one” night of “vigil”, the impromptu memorial was only sparsely visited by the community at large. It was as if ….. “we care… but we are soooo busy….. we don’t have time….” The spiritual ears in the area at large … falls MOSTLY on deaf ears. Except for the “one” day … for a few hours … some of the Calvary Chapel San Jose teens showed up to pray … the church as a WHOLE … failed to visibly respond.
With this background …. I want to introduce to you …. OUR …. new Brother In Christ …… Andrew. A young man who IS ….. a street person. Yes … that’s right…. a street person. The street people showed MORE concern than many. THEY showed up… to pay their respect. Andrew came up to me on Memorial Day mid-afternoon. His 1st words were …. “wow… do you see all those flowers?? and why are there pictures up there?” I knew that something seemed amiss as Andrew talked. That’s when the prompting of the Holy Spirit was ….”keep HIM …focused ON your eyes…. use your 2nd grade experience that I taught you back then… I will remind you what to do.” OK…. Well Lord … I will … Here we go……………….. The Lord had me share with him …. “Steps to Peace With God” gospel tract. The Lord also reminded me how to KEEP Andrew focused by using “repeat the verses” or “repeat the concepts” … AND … many times …. use hand motions. The Lord also prompted me with ….. USE BIG motions WITH the verses …. so that Andrew can focus.” Little did I know … that 2 other Chaplains had shared with Andrew for 2 days in a row. They had planted the “seed” … then “watered” (they told me afterwards). With MUCH prayers … and patience … the Lord GAVE the INCREASE. Andrew received the Lord Jesus as His Lord and Savior. Andrew was just 1 of 5 salvations that took place for this deployment. These “God moments” of salvation happened 5 times for the team. The 3 of the 5 salvations were those who were the street people. Luke 14:21-23 – “(21) So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. (22) And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. (23) And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.”
THEN … “a moment in time” happened …. again …. a “God moment” that the Lord showed us … that brought MUCH tears to the whole team. One of the victim’s son … arrived with a friend. They came to see the “impromptu memorial” that was setup at City Hall. The Lord prompted me to go up and ask ….”how are you holding up??” …. with their hollow eyes …….. for several moments … just stared at the memorial …… and then ………………… THEY WEPT !!!!!! I HUGGED THEM BOTH … WE ALL WEPT and WEPT. Romans 12:15… “(15) Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” YES … it IS good to weep with them that weep. Compassion WILL always be the key to the heart. After …. MANY … moments … and some with only silence … the Lord prompted me to pray. Again … we ALL wept as I was barely able to pray. The heaviness was overwhelming. I even cried out for the Lord to LITERALLY hug the 3 of us….. I NEEDED the HUG !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Later, we found out … that … the father that was murdered in that rail yard … had saved SEVERAL lives …. “he literally threw people in the ‘safe’ room…. as he went down the hall and yelled …’close and barricade those doors!!!!!’…..” He was killed just a few moments after saving many lives. Thank YOU ALL … for your prayers and faithfulness in our Lord and Savior … Christ Jesus.
Here is a link about the deployment:
From the BGEA RRT site: https://billygraham.org/video/healing-in-the-wake-of-san-jose-tragedy/