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Bush’s comfort to Columbia families reaches students with open hearts

HOUSTON (BP)–These past few days have given many people pause. In the silence of the sanctuary at Bay Area Christian Academy, students had time to reflect on what life meant to them.

They had gathered shortly before noon to hear President George W. Bush address families and a nation grieving for the loss of the crew of STS-107 Columbia. Shuffling into the room that serves as the school’s chapel and the sanctuary for Bay Area Baptist Church in League City, Texas, the intermediate and high school students chattered away, laughed and caught up with the latest school buzz.

But when school headmaster Freddie Cullins stepped up to the podium and gently reminded the students that this was no ordinary assembly, silence quickly fell. When confronted with sudden and horrific death, even teenagers and pre-teens are forced to think beyond the here and now.

Prior to the memorial service to be televised from NASA’s Johnson Space Center 10 miles away, the students held their own service Feb. 4. In the opening prayer, junior Josh Mascorro asked God, “Show us that life can be short and we need to live each day for you.”

Sara Langston prayed for wisdom for President Bush so he would know what to say to the people who gathered for a word of comfort.

And it was comfort that freshman Brittany Pitlik asked God to give the families who were hurting and had many trials ahead of them. She also asked that before their end came, mission commander Rick Husband and mission specialist Michael Anderson were able to share their now-well-proclaimed faith in Jesus Christ with their fellow crew members.

The students’ service ended as the one at NASA began. The students watched it unfold on large recessed screens behind the pulpit.

They listened quietly as the Navy Sea Chanters sang hymns and Rabbi Harold Robinson, a retired Navy chaplain, read poetry and Scripture in Hebrew in honor of Israel’s first astronaut, Ilan Roman, who died aboard Columbia.

NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe and Chief of the Astronaut Corps Kent Rominger recounted simple, touching stories of the astronauts. But it was not until President Bush spoke that the faith of two of the astronauts was mentioned.

Of Husband, the president said the commander’s greatest desires were to “love his family and serve his Lord.” He then quoted from one of Husband’s favorite hymns, “How Great Thou Art”: “I see the stars. I hear the mighty thunder. Thy power throughout the universe displayed.”

Husband and Anderson not only worked together. They worshiped together at Grace Community Church in the Clear Lake area of Houston. President Bush said Anderson served as a role model to his two daughters and the many school children he visited. Before leaving for the STS 107 mission, President Bush said Anderson told his pastor, “If this doesn’t work out right, don’t worry about me. I’m just going on higher.”

The president continued to extol the drive and dedication of each of the seven Columbia astronauts. They did what they did not out of choice, Bush said, but because it is ingrained on the human heart to explore and search the unknown. “We are the part of creation that seeks to know all creation,” he said.

The best and only way to truly honor the memory of the Columbia and her crew is to continue that search for knowledge, to keep focused on the mission ahead, Bush said.

For the benediction, Rabbi Robinson returned to the podium with Capt. Gene Theriot, a Navy chaplain, and together they read from the 23rd Psalm, in English and Hebrew. A navy bell tolled seven times as jets flew overhead in the “missing man” formation.

Following the ceremony, the Bay Area Christian Academy students lingered in the sanctuary, discussing what they had seen, heard and what they did not hear.

“The speeches were well-given,” said senior Jacob Hodges. Robert Jackson added, “They got to the point.”

What was the point?

Sophomore Christina Adams immediately responded, “These people had such passion to do what they wanted to do.”

Anna De Young, a freshman, said the speeches did what they were meant to do — honor those who lost their lives on Feb. 1 aboard Columbia. “NASA,” she said, “will still go on.”

The fact that the faith of two of the shuttle astronauts was clearly mentioned, but no testimonies of faith regarding the remainder of the crew was not lost on these high school students. Adams said of President Bush, “I think it’s so evident — his faith.”

Each of the students said the people living around NASA take the program — like life — for granted. Successful launches and return flights have become expected, Hodges said. Many people, the students said, did not even know there was a mission taking place until it ended in tragedy as Columbia broke apart during its fiery descent into the earth’s atmosphere. Freshman Heather Scott said, “We don’t realize how much they put their lives on the line.”

“God,” Adams said, “has a reason for everything.”

If anything, through the events of the past few days God has made these students more introspective. Jackson said it makes him appreciate how short life really is. And, he admitted, sometimes we take for granted that people we care about will always be with us. “You care more when they’re gone,” he said.

Scott said her heart breaks for the children whose parents died aboard Columbia. Not knowing the spiritual condition of five of the seven crew members, Scott grieved that the children may never see their parents again.

When asked if the Columbia tragedy has made them want to be bold in sharing their faith, each answered, “Yes.” Hodges shared that he was not certain of the salvation of someone very close to him. It’s not that he doubts the person’s salvation, Hodges said, but just that he doesn’t know for certain. The teen said he wants to talk to the person but the subject of salvation is not easily broached.

Bravery and boldness have been frequently used to describe the lives of the Columbia crew. The determination and hard work exerted in the effort to push back the boundaries of human endurance and knowledge can be applied to the life of the Christian and the mission of sharing the gospel.

Such a task takes great effort, forethought and determination to see it to fruition — characteristics teens are often accused of not having. Referring to the astronauts, President Bush could have been speaking words of encouragement to these teens of faith: “Each knew great endeavors were inseparable from great risk.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: PRESIDENT’S COMFORT, CLOSE TO HOME, IMAGINING, WITH FAITH and CALL TO PRAYER.

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  • Bonnie Pritchett