As their pastor sat in custody Sunday, facing three charges of attempted murder, congregants of a downtown Merced church gathered for fellowship and were reminded that, while they may be in the middle of a great storm, they are not alone.
More than two dozen members of Victory Outreach church offered prayers of support to the family of pastor Raul Diaz Moreno, who was arrested Friday after allegedly shooting and wounding three people, including two young women whom police described as relatives.
Many in the crowd clapped spiritedly to music performed by the church band, singing “Nothing is going to stop my praise,” and lifted their hands into the air. As the song ended, many worshippers dabbed at their eyes and reached for tissues.
“There is no guarantee against the sudden in life,” said guest pastor Anthony Sanchez, visiting from Fremont. “There are some things for which we have no control.”
Moreno, 52, is believed to have shot a 21-year-old man, a 19-year-old woman and a 17-year-old girl Friday afternoon in the 4600 block of Beckman Way. The three victims were taken to hospitals with injuries police described as non-life-threatening. No further information was released as of Sunday afternoon.
After the shooting, police said Moreno holed himself up in his home for about 2 1/2 hours before he surrendered.
On Sunday, he was being held at the Merced County Main Jail on three felony counts of attempted murder. Bond was set at $1.5 million, according to Sheriff’s Office records.
Victory Outreach International was founded in Los Angeles in 1967 with the mission of “evangelizing and discipling the hurting people of the world,” according to its website. It has more than 700 churches across the United States and 30 countries, becoming one of the largest ministries focused on inner cities, it says.
On Sunday, Sanchez said he had been sent by the church’s leaders to Merced to provide support during this time of crisis. He told the congregation about his own path to recovery from addiction and said that, nearly two decades ago, he was begging in front of a 7-Eleven with his young daughter. Soon after, he said, he was arrested, a word he quickly replaced with “rescued.” While in jail, he said, he asked the Lord for help and promised to devote his life to God’s service.
Job and other “spiritual giants,” he said, were also tested with challenges. He then pointed to the writings of Mark to remind them of God’s presence during moments of turmoil.
Sanchez read from the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 4, which recounts that Jesus and his disciples were sailing in a ship as a storm threatened to sink them. Jesus, asleep, did not stir until they urged him to help, he said.
Jesus, he said, asked why they were fearful. Had they no faith?
“No matter what kind of storm happens in your life, I am with you,” Sanchez reminded the parish.
“I am here to tell you, Victory Outreach, you have never been closer to God than you are right now.”
“Storms don’t last forever. This, too, shall pass.”
Many of us have faced storms in our lives, Sanchez said. Many of us know people who did not survive the storms, or who are still caught in them, he said. “Why did some not make it out, but you did?” he asked. “We’re just simple people – who love God.”
Returning to the story of Mark, Sanchez said, “You see, the storm eventually ended. And, Jesus remained on the boat. ... The storm was meant to rebuild their faith.”
“You, too, will go forward, Victory Outreach,” Sanchez said. “You will move forward.”
Michelle Morgante: 209-385-2456