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Lodi, Galt religious leaders pray for Columbia astronauts

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Posted: Monday, February 3, 2003 10:00 pm

Saturday's space shuttle Columbia tragedy that killed seven astronauts became part of Sunday's religious services throughout the Lodi-Galt area.

"We gave a prayer for the families who were left behind and the nation as a whole over the tragedy of the loss," said Steve Jarrett, pastor of New Hope Community Church in Lodi.

Pastors throughout the community echoed similar sentiments.

"With God, the rain falls on the righteous as well as unrighteous people," said Pastor Ralph Silva of Berea Baptist Church of Morada. "This world will always have sorrow and tribulation."

Bill Cummins, pastor of Bear Creek Community Church in south Lodi, said he started both his Sunday services by talking about society taking for granted the dangers that astronauts endure.

"We easily get lulled into the routine in life," Cummins said. "How many people stopped 16 days ago and paused and gave a prayer when they took off?" Cummins said.

"Not even churches did," he added.

Several pastors said God doesn't guarantee that anyone will live for a long time.

"Most of us have come to an understanding that God says his thoughts are not our thoughts," said Jarrett, the New Hope pastor. "He knows the whole picture and we don't.

"We may never know why these things happen until we ask him ourselves when we're with him in heaven," Jarrett said.

Two other Lodi pastors, Dennis Fakes of St. Paul Lutheran Church and Wayne Young of English Oaks Seventh-day Adventist Church, agreed.

"God's ways are way above our own ways," Fakes said. "Some things we have to let go and say we just don't know or understand."

Young said, "I think we live in a world where a lot of bad things happen to good people. There are some things like this that happen that are beyond our explanation."

Two religious leaders from non-Christian faiths, Imam Mohammad Adil Khan of the Lodi Muslim Mosque and Rabbi Jason Gwasdoff from Stockton's Temple Israel, were out of town Monday and unavailable for comment.

However, Lodi resident Lauri Merrill, who serves on the Temple Israel board, noted that Gwasdoff talked about Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon during the Jan. 24 service.

Gwasdoff remarked about how important the Jewish faith was to Ramon, adding that Ramon took on the ill-fated space flight a miniature-sized Tora given to him by a Holocaust survivor, Merrill said.

Taj Khan, an active member at Lodi Muslim Mosque, said Saturday's tragedy is worldwide and transcends nationalities and religion.

Referring to Ramon, the Israeli astronaut, Khan said, "I think he was human being just like the others, like the woman from India (Kalpana Chawla)."

Silva, the Berea Baptist pastor, and Rob Patterson, pastor of Galt First Baptist Church, noted that President Bush quoted the prophet Isaiah during his address to the nation Saturday about the Columbia tragedy.

"The president is a religious man," Silva said. "He was very comforting, very spiritual and gives us hope."

Patterson said Saturday's tragedy made him think about how sudden death can hit anyone.

"Was it 13 minutes before the anticipated time of arrival?" Patterson said. "What if my life disintegrated 13 minutes from now? Would I be ready to meet my Maker?

"My message to those who want to become ready is to receive the gift of God - eternal life in Christ Jesus," Patterson said.

"The size of our God determines the size of our problems," said Cummins, the Bear Creek pastor. "Tragedies will happen in the future. If you have big God and powerful God, his power, his plan always shrinks the size of the tragedy or problem. We don't always see it right away."

Alan Kimber, pastor of Lodi Fire United Methodist Church, said the nation will learn as it grieves together.

"Out of this sacrifice will come greater safety and new advances that will be of benefit to those who follow in their footsteps," Kimber said.

At Galt's Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, Pastor Mary Sanders focused on Saturday's tragedy in the portion of her Sunday services devoted to children.

Sanders showed a large beach ball with the earth painted on it, explained how astronauts see the world from space and said that God sees it the same way, said Lynn Enloe, an intern from the Lutheran seminary, said Monday.

After discussing the sadness of the families the astronauts left behind, Sanders gave each child plastic globes the size of a tennis ball, Enloe said.

Sanders was out of town Monday and unavailable for comment.

St. Paul Lutheran Church has a tribute to the Columbia astronauts on its Web site.

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