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May 3, 2000         GC-009

Church offered healing after Oklahoma bombing, exec recalls

CLEVELAND (UMNS) — The tragedy that rocked Oklahoma City five years ago brought a community together that was once fragmented, said a woman whose husband was killed in the bombing.

In a poignant moment on the first full day of the 2000 General Conference, church executive Anne Marshall told delegates and visitors how the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building changed her life, and how the United Methodist Church helped in the healing process that followed.

"On April 19, 1995, my life was changed forever," said Marshall, a member of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference and a staff member of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns. "I lost my best friend and spouse." Her husband, Raymond Johnson, a volunteer in the Social Security Office, was one of the 168 killed by the bomb that destroyed the building.

Sometimes tearful, Marshall described her late husband as a man who liked to remain in the background helping people. She thought it ironic that his place in the erected memorial garden is first row and in the center. The bombed building was removed and a garden filled with chairs was erected to "help with the healing and reconciliation of families."

The years since the bombing have been difficult, but Marshall said God has provided her with numerous opportunities to fill the "void" in her life. "Because of my church community, I have not walked alone. God has walked through you."

The recent five-year anniversary ceremony of the bombing affected her differently than previous commemorations, she said. The community is changed, and a memorial has been erected that will help a community that was once fragmented, she said. 

"I left with a sense of peace that I did not have before," she said.

In the wake of the tragedy, something good occurred, she said. An institute on domestic terrorism was established to try to ensure that such a bombing does not happen again on American soil or anywhere else in the world. "Oklahoma City became the model for mass destruction and how to respond to that," Marshall said.

In the midst of everything, Marshall said the church was present and will remain there to help people become healed and reconciled through God's grace. 

The 168 chairs of the memorial light up and can be seen from a distance, she said. "It is a beautiful sight but also reminds us of the high loss we all suffered."

Marshall voiced thanks for the support that she received following the tragedy, particularly from Bishop Dan Solomon, who was bishop in Oklahoma at the time of the bombing. She also thanked the church at large.

"As a member of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference and a member of the Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, you don't know the impact you had on our lives with your quick response.”

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-- Linda Green            

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