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youth minister reflects on shootings

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Jay Fannin had been the youth minister at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, for a year and a half when a gunman walked in and killed seven people during a youth rally.

Looking back 10 years later, Fannin is still the church’s youth minister, and he has seen firsthand how the youth ministry has evolved.

To some extent, the topic of the shootings doesn’t come up much because most of those kids are not in the youth group anymore, he said. One woman who was a senior in high school at the time now serves on the church staff, but others have moved on.

“You’ve got to stop and think that my seniors were 7 years old when it happened, and you get down to the 7th graders and you’re looking at kids that were 2 and 3 years old if they were even at Wedgwood at the time,” Fannin told Baptist Press.

But it has affected Fannin’s life, and he keeps in touch with some of the youth who were there in 1999 and has found that they still struggle with the event.

“I would say I’ve had probably 10 or 12 kids that I’ve talked to that were in the youth group then that have had issues over the last couple of years with it,” he said.

“One of the things that I’ve learned in the last couple of years is that post-traumatic stress kicks in between seven and 10 years,” he said. “I’ve been interested in how many kids are having struggles and difficulties with it over the last couple of years.

“Part of that is, because it happened in the teenage years, you frame it sort of in your teenage years, and then the next major step in life you have to reframe it in who you are now. I’ve had kids that have graduated from college or gotten married, and it’s been interesting how difficult of a time they’ve been having seven, eight, nine years removed.

“It’s just part of the dynamic of framing it in an adult mindset as opposed to a teenage mindset. I’ve talked to some counselors trying to get more information on that, but almost every major step of life — because it happened in adolescence — you may have to reframe it,” Fannin said. “When you become a parent, it may change even again. It’s just interesting how all of that intertwines.”

Wedgwood was Fannin’s first youth ministry position, and he said what affected his approach to youth ministry most was helping teenagers through the grieving process after the shootings.

“It’s opened my eyes on a lot of things like how people deal with things so differently,” Fannin, a graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said. “My wife and I went through a very difficult time after the shooting, and that was hard. But God works things out and we’re stronger today than we were eight years ago. That’s just what God does.

“I’ve been sitting back and watching all the different things that God has done from this horrific event. He redeems and He restores, and I can say that I’ve seen that in countless lives over the last 10 years.”

Fannin described the shootings as being part of his rearview mirror rather than in his forward thoughts as he serves at the church.

“As you drive down the road, you check the rearview mirror all the time, so you’re aware of it,” he said.

In addition to youth ministry being by nature transient, Fannin said the church body as a whole has changed a lot in the past 10 years because it’s so close to Southwestern Seminary, where students come and go as they finish degrees. Also, about half of Wedgwood’s current staff wasn’t even employed there when the shootings occurred.

“So you don’t want to be in a mindset of, ‘You weren’t here. You don’t understand.’ You want to include people and you want to spend more time talking about how great God is and how He brought us through it all,” Fannin said.

With the approach of the 10th anniversary, Fannin said he was asked to sit down and write something that would be helpful about how the shootings have impacted him.

“One of the things that has impacted me the most is strangely a prayer by a priest who shared a prayer at the memorial service we had,” he said. “It was the most profound prayer that I’ve ever heard in my life, and in the last five or six years it’s really been more profound to me the more I think about it and the more I view life from being older.”

The line he remembers was simple: “God wastes nothing.”

“It’s just amazing how simple that prayer is but how profound it is in its truth and how everything that happens God will use for His glory and for His purposes,” Fannin said. “It may be difficult to get through it, but He doesn’t waste it — just to do it for the sake of doing it. I’ve seen over and over again how those words have rung so true.”
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.
For complete Baptist Press coverage of the 10th anniversary of the Wedgwood shootings, go to http://bpnews.net/BPCollectionNews.asp?ID=158.

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  • Erin Roach