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Big News – The Columbine Travelling Road Show

Big News – On Tour With The Columbine Travelling Road Show

Well, much has been made of the trip of eight school students affected by the world’s worst school shooting at the Columbine High School cafeteria on 20 April 1999. The graduates have just concluded a ten-day trip to NZ aiming to speak with Kiwi students at school assemblies. They planned to share stories of hope and courage in the midst of tragedy. Fifteen people died in the shootings, but although two guns went off, the 91 bombs that were planned to blow up the building didn’t.

However, not all of the students went to Columbine. Not all the touring party was students. All were Christians, though, but say they came to teach, not preach. One of the touring party was a traumatologist, who told me he was brought over in case students “fell over” with the strain of telling their story two years later. He didn’t say he planned to distribute his 38-page booklet on how children process life change, death and divorce loss on his “speaking tour of NZ” with the Columbine kids. As far as I could see, the students were coping very well, and quite enjoying the trip. One of the students came from Chetford High school, about 3 kilometres from Columbine. He was here to tell his story – but the only way he was affected was knowing his fellow Christians and attending the school that took in students when Columbine closed. That’s no small thing, but it is not in the scale of getting shot while you’re quietly having lunch. Tour organisers couldn’t find any students that got shot and wanted to come to NZ – because none of the injured were Christians. Three of the dead were, though, but obviously others had to tell their story- and many have said that some of these Christians were martyrs.

The tour was at the wrong time of the year. Students didn’t have much success talking to school assemblies as it was exam time and senior schools were at home studying. Bob Scroggins, head of YWAM (and an American) wasn`t aware that it was exam week until too late, so in most cases the team had to be content with talking into microphones with media, in staffrooms to teachers, and to Christians in packed churches. Some school assemblies were addressed, but not as many as anticipated. “Schools didn’t come to the party,” Scroggins told me.

Only one of the touring party was in the cafeteria at the time of the shooting. She escaped upstairs. She didn’t talk much. Another lost his best friend. Taylor Kennedy, who didn’t go to Columbine, was keen to talk. At the afternoon meeting I went to, the traumatologist talked the most. He maintained one of the touring party knew the killers but I couldn’t find anyone who did when I spoke with them. Media want to talk with people who was close to the action, but the one closest to the action didn’t say much at all. The ones who didn’t even witness the shooting loved to talk, and talk, and talk. Many of them were Christian adult leaders. Weird.

All people who came to NZ paid their own way. The tour was organised with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) in conjunction with a similar Christian mission group called Young Life in the US – which has grown in popularity at Columbine since the shootings. The van they travelled in advertised National Atheists day (April 1). “The fool says in his heart there is no God” and all that.

So why did they come? “To provide hope,” said Ben Oakley, who became a Christian after the shootings. He used to be into cocaine, mushrooms, dope and alcohol, but not any more. He said the suicide rate amongst NZ teenagers is “getting pretty high” (in fact it’s the highest in the world). He was affected – he lost his best friend. He said he wouldn’t have been a Christian if it wasn`t for the shootings and subsequently joining Young Life.

Some groups have criticised the tour as sensationalist and irrelevant, including sections of the print media. TV and radio wanted to speak with them, though. Holmes dedicated a whole show, The Christian stations interviewed them, but Kim Hill was turned down. I was fortunate to spend the day with them. But you can see why people see the irrelevance of the tour - after all, nobody has pulled a gun as a NZ school, so school shootings just don’t happen here…yet. But there have been 54 school shootings in the States (or 192, depending on whom you believe) since 1976.

However I can’t help thinking that the reason these kids have “hope” is less to do with the school they came from and more to do with their Christian faith – just like any other Christian kid.

Bob Scroggins: “The question for NZ is that if these kids have found some sense of hope and future and purpose, is there anything we can learn from that and of course the answer is yes”.

And he’s right. But what YWAM are attempting to do is draw a link between school shootings and Christian faith, adding that Christian faith can be found in the midst of school shootings. Obviously…. That happened to at least one student I spoke with. But some say the Columbine travelling road show is sensationalising Christianity, maintaining any link between school shootings and Christianity should be weakened, or even snapped. At least they’re not drawing a link between Marilyn Manson and the killings, as some have tried to do.

But YWAM want to strengthen that Christian/shooting link. Two more tours of students of other US schools where students have been gunned down are planned next month and August. Mind you, they’ll be in trouble if they plan to speak with school assemblies during the first half of July. Exams will be over – and so will school, as it is school holidays.

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