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After the Nightmare: Responses to the Littleton tragedy

When two teen-age gunmen opened fire on classmates in April, the eyes of the nation were riveted to Littleton, Colorado. Another all-American high school, another crime scene, another step in the death march that had already claimed Paducah, Jonesboro and Springfield, Oregon-cities synonymous with tragedy. Images were again etched into America's memory: students running from the school with their hands behind their heads ... parents panicking, grieving ... services memorializing the slain before the shock had worn off. A nation was again stuck in the pause between questions and answers, wondering why it had happened and when it would happen again.

In the weeks following the emotional shock wave emanating from Littleton, Christians and churches across America were moved to respond.

John Kenney, youth director for the Potomac District of the Assemblies of God, says the first thing they did at their district youth convention was pray for Littleton.

"We had a powerful convention this year, and a lot of it had to do with what happened in Colorado," Kenney says. "We delayed some of our sessions because our altar times were so powerful."

White ribbons were handed out and worn by students to declare that they are praying for peace in their public schools.

In Maine, 700 Assemblies of God young people attending the Northern New England District youth convention wrote poems and messages on a 30-foot banner that read, "We are one with you," before sending it to Orchard Road Christian Center (Assemblies of God), the church Rachel Scott attended.

"The reaction [of teen-agers here] was incredible," says Greg Randall, director of church ministries for the Northern New England District.

Countless congregations throughout America prayed for the grieving community, and Christians were emboldened to speak out for God with a particular intensity in the weeks following. Students at Columbine High School proclaimed their love for God on network news shows; speakers at nationally televised memorial services gave glory to God. Like a laser, the gospel of Christ cut through the avalanche of television reporting.

"I really can't live without Christ. It's like impossible to really have a true life without Him," came the voice of murdered student Cassie Bernall on ABC's 20/20.

"This could become a day that is remembered in history," said news analyst William Kristol on ABC's This Week. "The young girl in the library was kneeling and praying, and one of the gunmen came upon her and said, 'Do you believe in God?' And she said, 'Yes, I believe in God.' And the gunman killed her. That is such an amazing story. I wonder if there's going to be a religious revival in the country, and I think we may be at the beginning of one."

Paul Veliquette, pastor of Abundant Life Christian Center, an Assemblies of God church in Arvada, a suburb of Denver, says the event "ripped the security blanket off our community.

"We held a candlelight vigil the following Wednesday, and I met 50 or 60 people who had never come to our church before," he says. "It has gripped our city with fear. People want to find a safe place. I've been so emotional the past two weeks. I keep thinking of the Scripture that says, 'Work while it is still day, for night comes when no man can work.' There's a sense of urgency to reach as many as we can."

Chad Stafford, director of student ministries at First Assembly of God in Denver, was one of the first youth pastors on the scene.

"Parents were horrified," he says. "There were four or five helicopters in the sky. A lot of pastors were there — I gave a lift to one boy who helped save seven lives. I told him, 'Son, if you ever doubted that God has a purpose for your life, you've got no reason now.' "

High-school student Jason Veliquette, son of Abundant Life pastor Paul, felt moved to hold a rally at his school's flagpole to pray for the families involved. He received permission from the principal, and the school's security officer, Steve Dunnivan, asked if he could share the gospel. Three hundred students came to the rally and Dunnivan, a committed Christian, shared about the shields used in police work: the badge on an officer's chest, the bullet shield on his arm, and the shield of faith in his heart. At the close, students joined hands and prayed.

"He put his job on the line to do that," Paul Veliquette says. That night the church hosted a student-led "Hope and Healing" rally. "We are seeing our kids rise to the occasion," Veliquette says. "This is their time to do what God has called them to do. They are unafraid. They pray for kids in school and carry their Bibles."

"If we're going to win this battle, it's not going to happen just because we want it to," says Eddie Rentz, youth director for the Assemblies of God, who was in Littleton for Rachel Scott's memorial service. "It will only happen if we get down on our faces before God and cover our children with the power of prayer."

Phil Neely, Rocky Mountain District superintendent, says the issue was "front burner" at the district council gathering just two weeks after the shooting.

"The last several years there has been a real coming together of Denver churches, with weekly prayer meetings among the pastors and cooperative outreach efforts, not only with A/G churches but a number of evangelical churches," Neely says. "We are seeking God for genuine revival. Pastors are telling me they have open doors they've never had with school administrators."

The district has started a fund to bring A/G evangelists to speak at local high school assemblies.

"We've been in a time of intense spiritual warfare, and it may intensify," Neely says. "Prayer is going to be the key to the battle."

As one banner hanging at Columbine High School proclaimed, "Let the healing begin, and let it begin with God."


Joel Kilpatrick is an associate editor for the Pentecostal Evangel.

 

The Rocky Mountain District of the Assemblies of God has established a victims fund to help families involved in the Littleton incident. Donations may be mailed to:

Littleton Victims Fund

6295 Lehman Drive, Suite 202 Colorado Springs, CO 80918.

Make checks payable to the Rocky Mountain District.

 

Prayer Zone Partners

Prayer Zone Partners is a movement promoted by Youth Alive to encourage people to pray for schools every time they drive through a school zone.

"Instead of seeing it as an inconvenience, it becomes an opportunity to provide prayer covering," says Eddie Rentz, director of the national Youth Department.

People who sign up to be Prayer Zone Partners pledge to pray for students, teachers, principals, coaches and others when they encounter a school zone. There is no commitment other than prayer.

"We've seen the necessity of prayer as we have grieved over the tragedy in Colorado," says Rentz. "I hope many people will join us by becoming Prayer Zone Partners."

Youth Alive is a student-led ministry reaching junior high and high school campuses. Call (800) 545-2766 to report which school(s) you will be praying for.

 

 

 

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