TAMPA, Fla. (BP)–“We can’t help but speak about what we have seen and heard. It changed our lives,” the minister of youth at Wedgwood Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas, told 5,300 teenagers attending YouthLink 2000 in the Tampa, Fla., Ice Palace.
Jay Fannin and four teenagers, backed by 41 other teens and adult sponsors from the church, spoke Dec. 30 about the tragic shooting that took place at their church Sept. 15 in which eight people were killed and seven wounded. They described changes in their lives in the three months since Larry Gene Ashbrook burst into the Wednesday night “See You at the Pole” rally, killing seven persons and then taking his own life.
They wore T-shirts emblazoned on the back with “September 15, 1999. The darkness had no victory over the light.”
Glenn Bucy, 18, said he has been asked by many reporters how he could go back to church after witnessing Ashbrook fire at least 10 rounds through a glass at him as he sat on the back row of the sanctuary.
“Being Christians in America has been so easy for so long,” Bucy said. “Church is not as innocent as it used to be. Christians have to put up or shut up for our faith.”
Rebekah Gillette, 15, said she realizes “God left me on this earth to do something really special.” She described the shooting as a “wake up call.”
Today, “I live my life to the fullest,” Gillette said, praying for friends who are not Christians and sharing her faith with them.
“I don’t want to be the reason you’re not going to heaven, and I know you don’t want to be the reason someone else doesn’t go to heaven,” she said.
Sarah MacDonald said she had “always known God had a plan for my life, but I never knew his plan would be for me to be at Wedgwood Baptist Church on Sept. 15.”
For six weeks after the tragedy, MacDonald said she felt separated from God, lonely and isolated.
While attending a concert at Wedgwood, “I realized God had been with me the whole time. He came down and wrapped his arms around me. That peace that passes all understanding came over me.
“God has a plan for you, too,” MacDonald continued. “He will never leave you.”
Matt Henson, 17, said, “If you’re not going to let your light shine in a positive way for God, then don’t do it at all. You’ll just give the rest of us a bad name. You have to represent Jesus until they have to shut you up.”
The challenge Fannin issued to YouthLink participants was the same one he had planned to issue Sept. 15. He urged them to take their faith and their witness from the school flagpole to the locker, the classroom, the hallways and throughout their schools.
He called on teens to commit to enlisting two other Christian youth and finding a place in their schools to meet twice weekly to pray for their school, three Christian friends and three non-Christian friends.
“See what God will do when you pray for your school,” Fannin said to the hushed crowd. Several hundred teens stood to indicate their commitment to praying in their schools.
“I’ve been part of a shooting, and I don’t want to see any more take place. The only way we can stop this is to pray. When you pray in your school you’re in a sanctuary because God is there,” he said.
In an interview, Fannin said the Wedgwood group had made plans almost two years ago to attend YouthLink in Tampa. In November, he met with youth and sponsors to decide whether to go forward with their plans.
“The kids were scared about being in big groups,” Fannin said. “The parents were scared for them to be so far from home.”
Some decided not to make the 1,200-mile bus trip, but others stepped forward to fill their slots.
Fannin said YouthLink was an “opportunity for his youth to see people who’ve been praying for them for three months. I’m hoping they see that and receive even more power.
“I want my kids to go back and be another stoke in the fire that’s been lit,” he said.