Janet and I returned from Newtown, CT, Sunday night after a weekend that was at once poignant, meaningful, and very full. I hope to post a full report after I’ve had time to process all that happened. Let me simply mention a few lasting impressions:

  • Newtown is worthy of a Currier and Ives print: a classic New England town of Victorian frame houses set among rolling hills blanketed in snow.
  • candlesThe memorials—sputtering candles, teddy bears and stuffed animals (more than 60,000!) soggy from snow, flowers now brown and drooping—are being removed, TV satellite trucks have disappeared from the streets, and life will soon find its “new normal” in Newtown. Nothing will ever be the same.
  • We will never forget a session with two sets of parents. Each lost a daughter, and the daughters happened to be best friends. They were amazingly articulate about their emotions through the grief process. They choose not to watch news or fixate on any details of what happened. Rather, they want their last memory to be kissing their daughters goodbye and putting them on the school bus. Every day brings new, stabbing reminders: They reach out to hold hands around the dinner table and one is missing…they gear up to send their surviving sons (who heard everything in a nearby classroom) back to school and try to answer the haunting question, “Will I be safe?”
  • We talked with a nurse who waited in the trauma unit with dozens of beds prepared for the injured, only to find they were unneeded; to a fellow teacher who followed the principal out of a meeting as they heard a commotion, then heard the principal yell, “Go back—it’s a shooter!” just before she lunged toward the gunman and got shot; to counselors who waited for four hours with anxious parents in a fire house just across from the school until the state’s governor finally announced, “There are no survivors” and wails of grief swept through the hall; to first responders who burst in while the shooter still lived, probably saving scores of lives, but are left with horrific visual images that can never be erased.
  • bigstock-cry-boy-26662673At least among those we talked to, there was no spirit of revenge. Anger flares up, of course: one little girl draws pictures of the shooter and stabs them with her pencil. Mostly, though, we sensed bewilderment and deep sadness. No one has a clue to the “Why us?” questions, and evidently the shooter left none.
  • Despite bad weather, 600 people showed up in the community meeting on Friday night and several hundred more braved a snowstorm on Saturday. Bowl games and normal festivities around New Year’s weekend didn’t have the same appeal in Newtown this year. The questions they submitted showed their concern with more serious matters: Why doesn’t God intervene? Where can I find comfort? Why do such things happen?
  • Newtown memorialJanet and I both felt good about the time we spent in Newtown and very good about leaving followup in the hands of the church that hosted us. They certainly did not ask for this calling, yet they know they are strategically placed to provide healing and comfort over the months and years to come. On Sunday I spoke directly to the challenge of that church, in two services.
  • We are so grateful for your prayers and emotional support, shown by the many notes and emails. We felt like the emissaries of many others. “A healthy body feels the pain of the weakest part,” Dr. Paul Brand once told me, and indeed we sense health in your outpouring of concern for Newtown. So many want to help, and we sensed that in such gestures as my publishers providing free books and United Airlines offering us free tickets. We’re deeply grateful, and felt honored to be invited into a bereaved community at such a time. Even the local liquor store displayed a sign that can be a reminder for all of us: “Pray for Newtown.”Newtown sign

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16 responses to “Notes from Newtown”

  1. maxine Sanger says:

    I know that you must have felt unprepared for being called to minister to the grieving people of Newtown, but God does not call you to do a job unless he has fully prepared you for it. Note: Moses was 40 years in Pharoh’s court and then 40years in the desert. (Sometimes it takes a while). And my own personal experiences in making life changes for which He HAD prepared me. Thanks for responding to His call. A fan of many years: Maxine Sanger

  2. Jerome Ellard says:

    Thanks to you and Janet for being willing to go to Newtown. Presence is so important in times of tragedy. And the mystery of suffering creating community.

  3. barb willcox says:

    Hi Janet and Phillip

    We thank you both for sharing yourselves with these grieving folks.
    May God continue to bless your time with them and a safe rturn to

    Barb and Gill

  4. Philip,
    Touched to tears…and thank you for allowing us a glimpse into your heart wrenching trip. A fresh reminder of the need and impact of prayer. (Just reading your book again this week.)
    The greatest New Year to you and Janet,
    Bobbe and John

  5. Pamela Wood says:

    Thank you for standing in as a representative for us all. Thank you for giving the support, encouragement and physical presence that all of us would like to have provided. Thank you for being our LORD’s hands and feet, and physical loving arms to a community that needed it desperately. May our LORD bless you richly.

  6. Profound images and words. Your gifts of service are matched by your words that touch hearts. Thank you for what you and Janet do for people in the name of Jesus.

  7. Thank you Philip and Janet for this note. Thank you for being our eyes and ears in Newtown. We do agree with Dr. Paul Brand :“A healthy body feels the pain of the weakest part,”. We feel hurted with you and all the communitity involved in this poignant drama. We pray all together with you and for your community.
    Gerard and Martine, from Chateau de Joudes Saint Amour

  8. Tammy Carter says:

    Wow, Philip, I can’t imagine the pain and tears. In the midst of all they are dealing with…I see that sign in that photo that says, “We are Sandy Hook. We choose love.” How they have the strength right now to do that, I don’t know. God bless you and Janet for your love for Newtown.

  9. Craig and Margaret Sutherland says:

    So moving to hear your update, and will continue to pray. Thanks for going to Newtown, dear Philip and Janet. Our love and prayers for you as well as you continue to process your time there.

  10. Karen C says:

    I would like to ask that we hold each other accountable to continuing in prayer for this community and for those ministering to them. As our lives return to normal and theirs never do, we will forget to pray. At least I will. Let us continue to remind one another of the need to pray for Newtown.

  11. Steve Carroll says:

    Thank you for ministering to the community in Newtown CT. It’s comforting to me, to know you were Christ’s ambassador to these grieving families.

  12. Robin says:

    Reading this with a heavy heart. I, like everyone will continue to pray for this hurting community.
    So thankful that you and your wife went to Newtown and when the pieces begin to fall into place I look forward to hearing your perspective on your time there.

  13. Carol Benson says:

    Jim and I have been praying for the Yanceys as they traveled to Ct. It was a comfort for us that they were going somehow representing so many of us that grieved for those who had lost loved ones, yet were powerless to personally touch their lives. We had just met a teen-ager from Evergreen who has stayed in the house across the street from Sandy Hook Elementary and had seen the children playing on the playground many times. She, too, was touched that the Yanceys, also from Evergreen, were going to minister to those so far away!

  14. Thank you so much for sharing these updates with us. Dr. Brand was absolutely right – “A healthy body feels the pain of the weakest part.”

    We’re praying that your presence and influence will continue to resonate in the lives of those who are grieving and questioning God.

  15. William (Bill) Zeeb says:

    Hi Philip, I was your colleague at CBC in the sixties before going to Brazil serving as a missionary for 40 years. Am part of the Nancy Ponder CBC prayer group. I put out a prayer request to all on my contact list for prayer for you and Janet for this past weekend and will now share info from your blog on that weekend. Would love to hear from you…went to Maranatha Tabernacle, Pastor George Mundell when your mom was supported by them, Bill Zeeb

  16. Ragaa Abdallah from Egypt says:

    Our dear Janet and Philip,
    Thanking God for you.

    Your Egyptian friend
    Ragaa Abdallah

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