Pastoral Commentary: My journey towards good trouble started with the Oklahoma bombing

The Rev. Sheryl White, Church of God-Anderson
Special to the Pratt Tribune
The Rev. Sheryl White.

Are you concerned about the trouble in our world? Do you desire to find good in the midst of evil, to see light in the midst of darkness, to find hope in the midst of despair? If so, I invite you to join me on my journey to good trouble. It is a series that will also be launched on YouTube later this fall. 

My journey begins 26 years ago. This story began on April 19, 1995. I lived in Oklahoma City. 

That morning, as I was toasting my Pop-Tarts in the microwave and the timer sounded, there was also a loud sonic boom. The microwave digital clock read 9:03. At the time, I thought well that’s strange. With Pop-Tart in hand, I stopped at a Kwik Shop to get a bottled iced tea. Inside the radio was blaring, and I asked, “Hey, what’s going on?”  

The attendant told me in broken English, “there was a bomb downtown.” Another person in line explained that a bomb had exploded at a government office. 

A sudden grip of fear seized me! Jumping into the car and flipping the channels on my radio ... every channel was covering this. Driving north of the city traveling east, I could see smoke rising towards downtown ... I’m sure I broke every speed law.  

Running into the church I served, the staff were all standing in front of a TV set up in the front office. I heard the reporter say the explosion was in the Alfred P. Murrah building, and I cried out, ”My friend Jill is in there.”  

Everyone groaned and asked, “Where did she work?”  

I said, “Third floor, Federal Employer’s Credit Union.”  

Everyone looked down, and the pastor said, “Sheryl, it sure does not look good for her. There is nothing left of the third floor.” With a prayer and a hope, they sent me off to do what I could to be with and support Jill’s family. 

Speeding to the southside of the city, I was scared to death and knocked on her family’s door. Her father invited me in, sat down, and with tears streaming down his face and distress in his voice, he shared how he had served in the Korean War, but had never seen anything like what he had viewed that morning at the Alfred P. Murrah building. He worked in an office building two blocks away and had walked around it circling the perimeter for what seemed like an eternity until first responders sent him home with the promise they would call if they had any news about Jill. He was clearly in shock, as we sat hand in hand with tears rolling down both of our faces. There were really no right words to say... all I could do was pray and squeeze his hand. 

The wait was a long siege; for 11 agonizing days, we prayed, cried and laughed when we could cry no longer.  

Then Jill’s mom had a dream in which Jill appeared to her and said “Mom, I’m fine.” She asked Jill, where are you?” 

She said, “where else would I be, I’m with Jesus ... and I love you. I’m so happy. Please don’t worry. We’ll be together one day.”  

Though this dream brought a great sense of relief, we still hoped beyond hope that she would be found alive. But the finality hit, the news came on day 11 from a coroner, who was also a family friend. Jill was the 105th body recovered … but here was the good news, the blessed news: Jill died instantly from a blunt blow to the head. She had no scratches except for a slight one on her knee. Her nail polish was perfect and there was no sign of scratching or suffering on any part of her body. In the shock of the revelation-that we now knew was true — it was fitting to learn that Jill was wearing a buff-colored suit that she had worn three days earlier on Easter Sunday. I could visualize it with her flowing blonde hair and beautiful smile. It was comforting to know. 

Following the new, everyone in the family disappeared into their private spaces I went outside in the backyard, and it was there that I sensed God’s comfort and presence. It was there that He whispered into my heart the words from one of my favorite Psalm, Psalm 113:8. “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.”  

He was saying, “I, the Lord God raised Jill from the dust, from the ash heap of the Alfred P. Murrah building to sit among princes, even the princes of his people!” Jill was truly blessed to be lifted above this world. Her eternal life had just begun. 

I really cannot articulate adequately the emotional toll Jill’s death had taken on me. Jill and I had planned to get an apartment together that fall. She had just passed her certified public accountant exam. She had a great job! Her life was ready to take off. Why had he taken her? Not me? On my knees, I asked, “Lord, what is my purpose in life? Life is short!"

Yet, Jill’s zest for life gave me the courage to go after my dream of being a college professor. So, when presented with the opportunity, I signed a contract to teach at Barclay College in Haviland, and off I went. 

Moving to Haviland was my pioneer adventure of a lifetime! Following the U-Haul on Highway 54, in my car that Dad had named Ronda the Honda, I arrived in Haviland where I was greeted by several wonderful people who helped me unload the truck. Once they were gone, my excitement melted into major culture shock. No Walmart, Costco, Starbuck, drive-thru fast-food windows, one-hour dry cleaning or debit card kiosks — I was in shock. There was a Corner Grocery on the highway that carried bread and milk, and the Willie Burger had the infamous Willie hamburger; but it was a drive to get anything I was accustomed to in Oklahoma City. I could feel my emotions shutting down.  

I locked myself in my bedroom for three days. Thankfully, my parents stayed with me, helping me settle in. They kept trying to woo me out to meet people and get acquainted — as they knew if I could make a friend, I would be fine. Heidi, the new college librarian, came by to meet me several times and to her dismay, my mom would always say — “She’s just not quite ready yet. Don’t worry, she’ll come out soon.” That was the last thing I wanted to do! Actually, I wanted to jump in Ronda the Honda and fly back to the big city … yet I knew that was not possible. 

Taking a deep breath and bound by a sense of determination, I set out to meet Heidi — the librarian, the people of Haviland and Barclay College. Never again did I feel that depression or sense of loss! The excitement had begun! One of my first experiences was a tour of the Quaker Room, filled with historical collections from the Evangelical Friends, and my first history lesson was when I asked about a picture of a bonnet clad little lady in the center of the display.  

I was told “This was Laura Haviland. She is the town’s namesake. The Quaker forefathers gave their school and town the name of Haviland because of Mrs. Haviland’s courageous work with the Underground Railroad and her role in the state of Kansas as a humanitarian and a nurse.” I really knew very little of Civil War history at that time (though I should have), but I would ask every class that I taught, “Can you tell me why Haviland is named after this tiny, 4’9” Quaker lady?” 

I would get the same response each time. “She helped slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad.” But, when I asked, what is the Underground Railroad and what does a conductor on it do? They were at a loss for words. 

I just knew there had to be so much more to this little lady’s story. Why had no one taken it upon themselves to write her story so that each generation would benefit from her passion, determination and faith? I felt compelled, even obligated, to discover just exactly what and who this Laura Haviland was, what she did, and exactly what made her life so purposeful and compelling that the Quaker colony established here in 1886 named their school and town for her. 

This was the beginning of my Good Trouble journey, and if you would care to follow along, I will share more about Laura Haviland and the Good Trouble in her journey next month.