FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–When Kevin Pratt saw the suffering of teenagers and children in Kosovo, he knew his life would never be the same. “In the most profound way, I’ve been changed,” said the 15-year-old survivor of the Wedgwood Baptist Church shooting.
Pratt, who recounted his trip on NBC’s “Today” show Dec. 21, and 16-year-old Lisa Jackson, along with their parents, traveled to Kosovo the week of Dec. 13 to help deliver more than 400,000 gift-filled shoeboxes to children in that war-torn region. The project, called Operation Christmas Child, is a part of Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse ministry based in Boone, N.C.
Crystal Woodman, 17, a survivor of last April’s shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, joined the Wedgwood teenagers from Fort Worth, Texas, to represent young American victims of violence in the Samaritan’s Purse outreach.
“Several months ago, we received a letter from Franklin Graham and he mentioned taking two students from our church to Kosovo,” recounted Jay Fannin, Wedgwood’s youth minister.
Fannin’s task was difficult — who would represent the church’s youth ministry on the journey? “I wanted to find two kids who had good presence about themselves and had a strong faith,” he said.
He settled on Pratt and Jackson, both of whom were in the church’s auditorium on Sept. 15, the night a lone gunman would murder seven people at a youth rally. While Pratt and Jackson escaped physical injuries, Pratt said the shootings impacted his life. “We were all so terrified,” he said. “I remember hiding under a pew, praying to God. I told him that my life was his life no matter what happened.”
Pratt, a member of the Crowley High School marching band and the Civil Air Patrol, kept his word — when Fannin offered him the opportunity to go to Kosovo, he accepted.
“I was very impressed with how Kevin carried himself through the tragedy,” Fannin said. “He has a very strong prayer life. You can tell he’s been given strength by the Holy Spirit to endure this.”
Jackson, a senior, is an active member of the youth ministry at Wedgwood. In addition to the youth choir, Jackson is a member of Acteens and the youth creative ministry team.
“I knew she would do a great job with this,” Fannin said. “Her family is a great family to have in the church. They are very supportive of the ministry here.”
With blessings from the church, Pratt and Jackson, along with Pratt’s mother and Jackson’s father, left for Kosovo on Dec. 16.
Pratt said he had no idea what would happen during the trip to Kosovo. “They wanted someone to relate to the kids in Kosovo,” he said. “Once we were there, I realized that the shootings in Columbine and Wedgwood couldn’t compare to the suffering in Kosovo. We just went through minutes of terror. They’ve been living with it for months. We have no idea what it’s like for them to live there.”
In Kosovo, the Wedgwood teens delivered shoeboxes filled with Christmas gifts to the Kosovars. Through a team of translators, the pair shared their faith in Christ with boys and girls, some of whom had lost both parents in the region’s fighting.
“I talked to one little kid named Elvis. He was about 4 years old and his parents were dead. Our translator didn’t even know if her father was still alive,” Pratt said. “I know where my family is. But that’s not something the people in Kosovo have.”
Pratt said he returned home from the journey with a changed heart. “First and foremost, after talking with Crystal about the shootings at Columbine and at Wedgwood, I realized that these things will continue to happen in America. I realized how much faith it’s going to take to make it through the coming times.”
Through Operation Christmas Child, the Graham ministry hopes to deliver 3 million shoeboxes to needy children in 60 countries this year.
Operation Christmas Child is a unique “kids helping kids” project of Samaritan’s Purse. Since 1993, the ministry has delivered gift boxes to almost 6 million underprivileged children in war-torn and crisis areas.