'The torch has been passed from Columbine'
___By Mark Wingfield
___WHITE SETTLEMENT--To some, the shooting death of seven worshippers at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth Sept. 15 may have been an unlucky coincidence. But Pastor Jim Gatliff of First Baptist Church in White Settlement sees things differently.
___In his mind, gunman Larry Gene Ashbrook was acting out one more chapter in an ongoing spiritual struggle between darkness and light.
___The suburban Fort Worth church sent two carloads of youth to the Wednesday night rally at Wedgwood. One of those youth was killed, and another is paralyzed from the mid-
section down, a bullet lodged near his spine's upper reaches.
|GARY MCMASTER, a freshman at Brewer High School in White Settlement, is consoled by other classmates as he grieves for two classmates gunned down Sept. 15. (REUTERS)
___To understand Gatliff's perspective on the tragedy, however, you have to start well before the ill-fated trip to the citywide praise service coinciding with "See You at the Pole" day. In his mind, the story begins a year and a half ago, when members of the White Settlement Ministerial Alliance began intensive focused prayer for local school students.
___This prayer focus led the ministerial alliance to plan a citywide youth revival, which was held April 28. The results of that rally were headlined in a front page news story in the Baptist Standard: "300 came forward, and the preacher hadn't spoken."
___Gatliff and others described the rally as resulting in an unusual movement of God, prompting 300 young people to rush to the altar and make spiritual commitments before the guest youth evangelist ever took the podium.
___That event was a turning point in the community, Gatliff said in an interview Sept. 16. But it also has sparked a period of "spiritual warfare," he added.
___"The forces of darkness have tried to kick them in the teeth every since," he said of the teens and adults who organized the event. It's not that any one bit thing has happened that can be tied to the event, the pastor said, but a series of smaller things he and others don't think are coincidental.
___"It's a thing you intuitively sense. Some of the congregations that have been involved in it have had odd things come along. Individuals who were involved have had various difficulties."
___And now there's the plight of Justin Laird.
___The freshman offensive lineman for Brewer High School turned 16 the day of the shooting. Before the day was over, however, he had taken two bullets in the back, one passing through his body and the other lodging near his spine.
___Both he and his family were instrumental in organizing the youth rally last April. Laird made a point of bringing many of his football teammates to the rally, and several make commitments to Jesus Christ as a result.
___On one hand, Gatliff wasn't surprised that someone as influential in the community as Laird became of victim of the gunman.
___"When we had our first meeting of the school year, to have a prayer walk around the school, we really sensed there was going to be a time of going through the fire," the pastor recalled the day after the shootings. "We met last Monday, and that was the whole theme of it all."
___Gatliff readily connects the church shooting with the martyrdom of Cassie Bernall and others at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., last spring. Bernall was the student who was approached by one of the high school gunmen who asked whether she believed in God. When she replied that she did, he shot her point-blank.
___The Columbine shooting was part of what sparked the youth revival in White Settlement last spring, Gatliff recalled. And now the tragedy has hit closer than anyone imagined.
___"The one thing we want to focus on as Christians is to make sure Christ is lifted up," the pastor said tearfully. "The torch has been passed to us from Columbine, and we want to carry it well."
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