I had just turned nine when the Columbine High School Massacre stunned the nation. It was April of 1999 at my elementary school, just three miles from Columbine, where in the middle of an ordinary school day my third grade teacher took a phone call that drained all of the color from her face. We spent the rest of the day in a room with the lights off and door locked, coloring instead of doing speed times tables while adults whispered around us. For the next weeks and months, every television in every waiting room, hair salon and gym ran new updates; we were steeped in stories of the confusion of the shooting. An event of this scale and type was the first of its kind in the nation, and all did their best to manage the chaos of grief in the midst of tragedy, especially for those who attended and worked at Columbine. We continued to sing songs in Sunday school, but somehow the God whose love was flowing “Deep and Wide” wasn’t the same God who knew what was going on in Littleton.
Ten years later, I had just turned 19, and was closing out my first year at the University of Iowa, far away from my Littleton home. April 20th came, and the day did not start like the ten anniversaries before it: there was no moment of silence that stretched across the whole city at once, no somber, aching quiet where all were still to remember or pray. Instead, freshman students around me were abuzz with jokes about the unofficial national marijuana holiday. I mourned alone.
Eleven years after the Columbine High School Massacre, I had just turned 21, and was sitting in a Statistics lecture. I glanced up from my margin doodles to see that the boy sitting in the row directly in front of me was using the tip of a butterfly knife to pick at the chipping paint on his desk. It felt like all of my blood had left my body. Why was the teacher doing nothing? Was it my job? Was I supposed to get the knife out of his hand? Was it up to me to protect those around me? Could I save them? Is this how we will die? I missed a quiz that day; I had a panic attack on the floor of the bathroom instead.
Seventeen years and one day after the Columbine Massacre, I sat in a meeting room, in a small-town Iowa coffee shop, listening and taking notes with other ministry leaders and pastors. Kip Hamby from Harvest Bible Chapel in Davenport was presenting to the Eastern Iowa Biblical Counseling Coalition about a Crisis Response Team plan and discussion outline, detailing how we can serve our congregations and communities well in the aftermath of unexpected tragedy or crisis. I had only begun to process in the last two years the effects of growing up in a community rocked by tragedy, and how the echoes of that had filled at least one small girl with ongoing fear. As I grew, I couldn’t reconcile my view of a good and all-powerful God with my own paralyzing fear and misplaced responsibility to protect and control. In the past few years, the Lord has been faithful and kind to teach me about His ultimate sovereignty that is beyond my understanding, His goodness, and His protection. There is such freedom in being able to see God for who He is: the God who uses tragedy for His purposes, who remains near to those whom He has called, and who has already conquered death, sin, and the powers of darkness when he rose from the dead.
A Crisis Response Plan is something that you develop hoping you’ll never have to use it, but helps us be ready to swiftly and lovingly come alongside communities in crisis with the hope of the same God who conquered death. It provides a space and structure to see Jesus in the mess of a broken world, an opportunity to trust Him for who He is regardless of vacillating emotions, a chance to hold fast to His constancy and the hope that we have in the midst of confusion.
I had spent over a decade holding the reality of Columbine in one hand and a good God in the other, trying to live with the reality of both without ever letting them touch, and I reaped the consequences of this dissonance in the form of paralyzing fear for years. This is not what I wish for my neighbors or community. I wish for them to see God for who He is in the midst of crisis, to wrestle well with grief in light of His character and promises, to cling tightly to the hope of the Gospel, and use it as the lens through which they process even the tragedies of life. Let’s be followers of Jesus who are prepared and equipped through His Word to serve Him faithfully in the midst of crisis, walking alongside our brothers and sisters in a broken and unpredictable world, pointing all eyes and hearts ever towards the hope of our conquering King. Let’s be ready.
Grace Community Church
For this meeting’s notes, and Harvest’s Crisis Response Team plan and Crisis Discussion Overview, please see the Past Meetings Tab and look at April 2016’s attachments.