Pastors Near Buffalo Crash Site See Hope in Midst of Tragedy

Eastlack is the lead pastor at Eastern Hills Wesleyan Church in Williamsville, N.Y., which hosted a community prayer service Monday for the victims of Flight 3407. The commuter plane crashed late Thursday night in the Buffalo suburb of Clarence Center, about two miles from the church.

Eastlack’s 2,000-member congregation has been directly affected by the tragedy with three members having been killed on the plane, one man and two women. A memorial service is being held Saturday for the man, whose wife Eastlack and his staff has helped counsel.

“The first feeling she expressed on Friday and Saturday was of how she was going to go on living,” Eastlack explained. “Now, the other day when I spoke to her she was expressing what I would call more healthy behaviors, like trying to figure out where the mortgage is and having to get on the computer and pay it. She is beginning to see that there is still life and there is still a routine to maintain.”

The emotions expressed at the Monday interfaith service and at Christian services at the church on Friday and Saturday have begun the slow unfolding of the community coming to grips with the tragedy.

“There is a real sadness hovering over western New York right now,” Eastlack explained. “We have entered a season of grieving and how long that will be remains to be seen. This is a very tight community.”

Eastlack, however, sees God in the midst of the tragedy, particularly at the crash site.

“You have many, many families in that neighborhood,” Eastlack explained. “In any normal neighborhood like that, how do you explain plopping down a plane on just one house like that?

“You had a husband, a wife and a daughter in that house. The mother had a broken collarbone and daughter had a scratch that was treated by a Band-Aid. When you realize that plane could have crashed and skidded down that street and the destruction that could have been caused, you see God’s hand in that.”

Randy Milleville knows well how densely populated the area is. Milleville, the senior pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Clarence Center, lives about a quarter-mile from the crash site on Long Street. The church is 200 yards from where the plane went down.

Milleville recalled what he thought sounded like “distant thunder,” when the crash happened, although he admitted only giving slight pause to how out of place thunder would be on a cold winter night before his phone started ringing with news of the crash. Within the Zion Lutheran congregation are families who live on the street where the plane crashed and some of the first responders who were at the site. Milleville said he has deliberately steered clear of the site.

“After the crash, one of the first responders told me very directly ‘Pastor, do not go up there.’, ” Milleville said.

The outpourings of support from the congregation and the community as a whole have been beyond what Milleville would have otherwise imagined.

“The reaction of people after they got over their initial shock and disbelief was this overwhelming feeling of, ‘What can we do?’ When you see people wanting to do whatever they can in a situation like this, you see God’s imprint. People wanted to do anything for people at the crash site, something as small as providing Chap Stick for the first responders.”

Zion Lutheran has held memorial services and is planning a series of events focusing on recovery and counseling.

“Now that we are over the initial hump of reacting to the crash, the long term effects could be something not unlike PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder),” Milleville explained.

Eastlack echoed those concerns.

“We have had firefighters contacting us saying, ‘I can’t sleep at night,’ from seeing the images in their minds of the crash. The needs that we have now are much different from what those needs will look like two weeks or six months from now.”

“An event like this will disrupt people’s lives in ways that wouldn’t happen in a normal situation,” Milleville said. “It gets people talking about beliefs. I haven’t heard one person say, ‘Why did God let this happen?’

“It provides an opportunity for our community to embrace and support one another.”


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