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Tragedy in Littleton

I have heard the words Littleton. Colorado on my television and radio more this week than I had in all my 22 years in Denver. I love the community of Littleton, Colorado. You may hear that it is a rich suburb of Denver filled with snobs and problem kids. Don't believe it.

I live in Aurora, which is the eastern suburb neighbor of Littleton. My primary connection with the city is through the Littleton church of Christ. This church has been busy loving folks who have needs and problems for as long as I have known them. Mike Meyer and others have intensely worked with teens there for over 22 years. Mike has stayed with the hard work of turning youth group members into adult workers. The Littleton Church of Christ encouraged two of the hardest working youth workers in our congregation, Jim and Shelley Hines, in their work with kids.

When Mike Meyer moved into another phase of ministry with the congregation they hired my nephew, Alan Wishard, to work with them. He also is a blessing in my life. He had ministered to youth and adults in Oklahoma City prior to moving here. He had already gone through the trauma of that town. He had experienced the loss of his beloved sister, Gena. Two days ago he called and told my wife he had a desire to work and comfort those kids who had special needs coming out of this tragedy.

Littleton folks are the kind of people that don't walk away when people have problems. They walk to the people and say, 'How can we help?" They have comforted people who were going through severe church problems. They have said, "How can we help?" They sent Mike to preach at SE when the congregation was just beginning. They have people who live all over the Metro area and drive to this congregation because of the balance they try to strike between firmness and stability of the Word of God and the need to reach out with mercy and grace. I love the Littleton Church of Christ.

Now, about the community of Littleton. Some are going to say that this happened because of the town being one of the richest suburbs in Denver. Some are going to say the athletes were rich and snobbish. Some are going to say the parking lots at the school are packed with BMW's. Some are going to say both parents are so busy with their jobs that they don't have time for their kids. Some are going to say the culture of secular materialism is what caused this tragedy. I would be cautious about thinking and saying such.

What we know is that a couple of teenagers killed 13 people and themselves. What we know is that several teens and adults were heroic and showed unusual courage under fire.

Yesterday, Charles Gibson, ABC, was asking some of the kids who had been in the Columbine High School library what they had seen. One told him that one of the shooters walked up to a girl and asked, "Do you believe in Christ?" She hesitated for a moment and then said, "Yes!" He said, "What for?" and then he shot her.

Because Cassie Bernall did not get a chance to answer the question, I would like to try and do so. Yes, I believe in Christ and here is "What for?"

Because Christ knew a way to change violence and hate into forgiveness and love. Christ was killed on a cross not just by Jews or Roman soldiers, but also by every human being in existence. Christ died on the cross according to the purpose of his loving Heavenly Father as a sacrifice for all our sins. In the midst of the mysterious plan, he looked out over the mob killing him with a most cruel death and said, "Father, forgive them for they know no what they do." This should not surprise us because in his life he had taught, "You have heard it said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,' but I say to you, 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.'"

People in this world don't know how to do anything but turn hate into more hate. The kids at Columbine are great kids. If it is true that they have cliques in their school that don't get along at times, they are certainly not alone. This is not the only place in town where people group off and say things they shouldn't about another group. I have heard ministers and churches without even the courtesy of doing so to their face do the same thing. I believe in Jesus because he knows how to turn hate into love and forgiveness.

I believe in Jesus because he knows how to build family love. Many stories of love for family came out of this tragedy. Jesus loved his mother even as he was dying. He said to John, "Behold your mother!" Students were holding Dave Sanders as he was dying. He wanted to look at pictures of his family. His funeral was Monday at 10:00 a.m. at the Littleton Church of Christ. One young man was trapped in a room with 17 others students and was talking on the phone through the whole ordeal to a police officer who knew his dad. He told the police officer that he didn't think he was going to live so please tell his dad that he loved him. I believe in Jesus because he knows how to build family love.

I believe in Jesus because he knew that tragic cruel death is not the end of life but the beginning of growth of the church. After cruel death there is a resurgence of hope. Just as the cross led to the development of the church for the last 2,000 years, so it is true that this tragic event will add to the development of the churches that follow Jesus. The Littleton Church of Christ is only one of the churches that was busy in ministry to kids and parents this week. The Columbine, Englewood, University, Metro, Eastside and Lakewood congregations and many other churches have been busy in prayer ministry to teens and adults in this difficult situation. I believe in Jesus because he knows how to build churches that can be there for people in the hard times. He has been building churches for 2,000 years who have a motto of "How can we help?"

Does this mean that the Littleton Church of Christ and the community of Littleton have no problems or problem people? Of course not. Does this mean there is no temptation to materialism and such that causes them problems? Absolutely not. If you asked the Christian folks in that community, "What is the basis of your power to do good?" They would tell you that any good that comes out of their lives is because they are sinners who have been saved by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. To Him be all the glory and praise.

Larry Wishard
Southeast Church of Christ
Aurora, Colorado
April 24, 1999