From the smoke and rubble of the Oklahoma City bombing have risen stories of courage and faith as residents - LDS and non-LDS - reach out to those in need and help to begin to rebuild lives.
Immediately after a terrorist bomb ripped off the front of the nine-story Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City April 19, the community rallied. Some of those pulling away chunks of debris to help survivors had moments before been working at their desks in the building."Volunteers just came like you wouldn't believe," Jerry Lojka, a member of the Church and a fire inspector and public information officer for the Midwest City Fire Department, said in a Church News telephone interview. "The bad times often bring out the best in people."
Brother Lojka, a member of the Midwest 1st Ward, Oklahoma City South Stake, added that despite the devastation and sorrow, "it was heartwarming to see what a community can do."
According to the Associated Press, at least 96 were killed in the blast as of April 26, with more than 100 still missing. Among those missing is one Latter-day Saint, a member of the Edmond 2nd Ward, Oklahoma City Stake, who worked in the building. Several other members also work in the building, but were either not there when the bomb exploded or escaped with minor injuries.
The First Presidency issued a statement April 21, asking members of the Church throughout the nation to remember, in their personal prayers as well as in their worship services on Sunday, April 23, "all who have suffered as a result of this tragedy. We pray that peace and healing may come to the survivors and to the families and loved ones of all of the victims," the First Presidency said.
U.S. President Bill Clinton proclaimed Sunday, April 23, a national day of mourning for victims of the bombing.
More than just prayers, however, have been offered as many, including Church members, have reached out to offer their time, skills or relief supplies to help those affected by the tragedy. Brother Lojka was one of the first on the scene. Within an hour of the explosion, he was assigned to a nearby command post to help direct the logistics of the rescue effort.
In speaking of the devastation, he related: "Television just doesn't describe it. It was unbelievable to see that glass fragments had traveled through vehicles. You could see the entrance and exit holes. It was like a gunshot."
He added that buildings up to three and four blocks from the blast were severely damaged.
Local Church leaders encouraged members to reach out to their stricken community. Members responded by donating blood for victims; helping non-profit relief organizations, such as the Red Cross and "Feed the Children," in collecting supplies, food and water for rescue workers and victims; and helping with "critical incident-stress debriefing." According to Brother Lojka, stress debriefing is counseling services set up near the bomb site for victims and rescue workers.
LDS leaders, such as bishops, have also been working in the ministerial pool to provide support to those whose loved ones have been identified as victims.
Robert Allen, president of the Oklahoma City South Stake, who is also chairman of the regional welfare council, explained that the local bishop's storehouse has donated some $4,500 worth of supplies to aid rescue workers.
Not only have local members reached out, but also those from throughout the country. Gary Newman, president of the Oklahoma City Stake, told the Church News, "On Saturday (April 22) alone, I probably fielded 50 to 60 phone calls from all over the United States - bishops, Relief Society presidents and stake presidents wanting to help in some way."
One of the most touching moments he related was during a stake priesthood meeting Sunday evening, April 23. During the meeting, an announcement was made about the missing member. "We had a visitor just passing through," Pres. Newman said. "This man came up and gave $200 to my counselor
for the familyT. We don't even know who he was."
Also joining in relief efforts were full-time missionaries. Oklahoma Oklahoma City Mission Pres. Grant M. Patch explained that missionaries have been donating blood and helping relief organizations fix food and transport supplies.
For one local member, helping was a two-way street. As ward Relief Society president, Yvonne Bonebreak of the Midwest City 2nd Ward, Oklahoma City South Stake, directed her education counselor and compassionate service leader to supervise gathering relief supplies. However, throughout the morning of the bombing, she was the focus of compassionate service herself. Her husband, William, worked on the fourth floor of the devastated building. Relief Society sisters quickly gathered by her side as she waited for any word.
"He called home 21/2 hours after the explosion. It was a long morning," she related.
Moments before the explosion, Brother Bonebreak was sitting at his desk talking with his supervisor. "My office faced out the side that blew up. All of a sudden the world went black. There was a loud explosion. I got under my desk. There was debris falling around. After a little bit of time, I got out from under my desk. I went to take a step and there was no floor. The floor stopped about two feet from my desk. My chair was in the rubble four stories below."
After hearing cries for help, he and others helped rescue several of the injured.
Brother Bonebreak was later treated for lacerations and abrasions on his back, arms, legs and ankles. He and Sister Bonebreak expressed gratitude for the comfort of the gospel; they also expressed deep concern for the families of victims who didn't survive.
Stake Pres. Newman most likely summed up what many here are feeling. "At times like this, you know what Christ means when He says His yoke is easy. His yoke makes the things of this world bearable."