Four former Columbine students worshiped with Virginia Tech's New Life Christian Fellowship (NLCF) yesterday. It was the church's first Sunday worship gathering since the April 16 massacre that claimed 33 lives, including gunman Seung-Hui Cho.
Christians were among the victims. Two NLCF members died, and 10 other victims were connected in some way to the church. Church leaders honored the dead, prayed for their families, and addressed why-and-how questions that went beyond forensics.
The four Christians who as adolescents survived the massacre at Columbine High School almost eight years ago traveled to the southwestern Virginia campus to guide church leaders and minister to students processing grief, anger, and sorrow.
Wendy Chinn, a counseling graduate student who leads NLCF's women's ministry, acknowledged that everyone is weary of the question, "How are you doing?"
"Some lost someone extremely close. Others lost an acquaintance," Chinn said to the almost 400 people and network television cameras in the full auditorium. "Others still had a class in Norris, lived in A-J [West Ambler Johnston dormitory]. We remember where we were when it happened. We all grieve very differently. We're all going through it together. We know this is hard, know it's going to take time."
Chris Backert, one of three NLCF pastors, referred to Mark 4, where Christ's disciples were caught in a boat during a storm. "We have all been through a storm. Why was it her? Why was it him? It could have been me." Backert noted that Jesus did not cause the storm. All the world's evil, he said, is sin that results when people choose to rebel against God. "When that tragedy strikes us, it also strikes God."
Congregation members submitted written questions asking whether Monday's massacre was part of God's plan, what forgiveness of Cho would look like, and what the church is doing to help. One student asked whether he could have prevented Cho's actions by being more in-tune with God. Another asked whether it was okay to be mad at God.
Pastors answered the questions by explaining that God gives each person free will. Forgiveness, they said, would look different for each person. Concerning whether the massacre could have been prevented, co-pastor Matt Rogers said that each person is responsible for his or her own action. However, he told the congregation, "Not one verse of Scripture says you're responsible for what happened."
Concerning anger at God, co-pastor Jim Pace referred to Job, who responded at first with praise and then with anger to the calamity that befell him. So, where was God when the Virginia Tech massacre happened? Pace answered, "God was in us, being heroic in the face of incredible fear."
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Christianity Today articles on the shooting at Columbine High School include:
Editorial: The Long Road After Littleton | There are no quick fixes for our culture of violence, but that's no excuse for doing nothing. (June 14, 1999)
Videos of Hate: Columbine killers harbored anti-Christian prejudice | Columbine killers harbored anti-Christian prejudice. (February 7, 2000)
Marketing Martyrdom to Teens | Merchandisers not only are banking on teenagers believing in God, but also on their desire to buy the T-shirt, do the Bible study, and wear the bracelet. (December 6, 1999)
Pop Culture: Elegy for a Jesus Freak | "These are the ultimate Jesus Freaksthe people who are willing to die for their faith." (December 6, 1999)
Cassie Said Yes, They Said No | The mainstream press unquestioningly accepted Salon.com's flimsy debunking of the Columbine confession. (November 1, 1999)
'Do You Believe in God?' | Columbine and the stirring of America's soul. (October 4, 1999)