SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — As seats filled up outside Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church, some members reflected on a time the congregation felt empty.
The Sutherland Springs Ladies' Bible Study was missing most of its members a year and a half ago, explained Mary Dykeman. "Before the tragedy, all the ladies at that time went to the program. In fact - they were the backbones," she said.
However, at the Tuesday meeting after the tragedy, Dykeman was one of three women at the meeting.
It was just days after 26 members of the church were killed in the deadliest mass shooting in Texas. On November 5, 2017, the entire congregation felt the pain.
John Holcombe was one of the heartbroken. He lost nine members of his family that day. "You can say they're in a better place, but you still miss them a lot. It comes to you occasionally," he said.
A year and a half later, it's still not easy for members of the church who lost family, friends and neighbors. But the people in the small town said they've realized the loss has brought something extraordinary to many people.
"A whole lot of people have come to know the Lord because of this," said Holcombe. "People around the world, not just Sutherland Springs, not just Wilson County, not just Texas, not just the United States. It's affected people all over the world."
The tragedy has grown and strengthened their family in Christ. From people reaching out over the internet, to an increase in attendees, and more members in the Ladies' Bible Study.
"We've gone up from three. There's maybe 20. There's a lot of ladies coming now; we're really enjoying it," Dykeman said.
Sutherland Springs has also used their spotlight to spread a message from their newfound international pulpit.
"Satan didn't win on this. He's tried, but he didn't win," Holcombe said. "It almost backfired, you could say."
As some people set foot onto the property for the very first time, the church hopes they all return. Their new space has a capacity nearly twice as big as their original space.
Elizabeth McGargill said the members are all prepared and eager to grow their family in Christ. "They can come back any time, and fill not only our arms - our physical arms - but God's spiritual arms as well," she said.
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