Prayers, even for the gunman, begin the healing

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 11, 2007 - 1:18 AM

Students and staff at Youth With a Mission's Minnesota campus search for forgiveness.

BUFFALO, MINN. -- At Youth With a Mission's Minnesota campus, missionary students prayed for the gunman who shot and killed two of their Colorado colleagues, searching for forgiveness in themselves and hoping that one day they can glean something positive from the tragedy.

News of the shooting spread quickly Sunday among the 16 students and 27 staff members on the Buffalo campus, the only one in the state. Students spent much of the day in prayer for the victims, their families and the suspect. It lingered in their minds Monday, growing no more understandable as their organization's formerly low profile rose with national publicity.

"I didn't have any anger towards the man who did it," said staff member Becky Johnson, 22. "My heart goes out to him. God loves him as much as anybody at this [campus], and as much as the victims."

Youth With a Mission is a missionary training program with more than 1,000 locations in more than 149 countries, according to its website.

Tiffany Johnson, 26, of Chisholm, Minn., and Philip Crouse, 24, of Alaska, were killed on the suburban Denver campus Sunday. Burnsville resident Charles Blanch, 22, and Dan Griebenow, 24, of South Dakota, were injured.

The Minnesota campus is located in rural southeast Buffalo on a former dog-breeding operation. The sprawling main building, a converted house, includes dormitories with common space, offices, a cafeteria and a classroom. Students from around the country and world attend classes there before embarking on overseas missionary trips.

Several students said Monday that the Denver shooting shocked them and was an affront to their extended family.

"I was surprised that it would happen at YWAM because YWAM is an organization that's always helping people," said Andrew Wirth, 25, of Braham, Minn.

"It's really hard right now," said Scott Shaw, 22, of Marshfield, Wis.

But there was no apparent anger at the gunman, fear for personal safety or frustration at the many unanswered questions, mainly: Why did this happen and is it at all possible that anything positive can come from it? First thing Monday, students and staffers started on that road to understanding with an hour of prayers and devotions in remembrance of the victims and gunman.

"There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered," said staff member Amber Perlberg, 22, of Milwaukee. "Maybe we'll never know. I think sometimes we have to give our questions up. I have to trust in God."

David Clark, director of the Buffalo campus, said that although the shootings highlighted the reality of violence in everyday life, he doesn't believe that his campus or the organization is at particular risk. No new safety precautions have been implemented, he said.

"It's difficult to fathom why we would be a target," Clark said. "I don't consider us a controversial organization."

Calls to Minnesota congregations found that the possibility of an armed attack has been considered so unlikely that prevention plans weren't considered -- at least until now.

"Maybe this is a wake-up call," said Dennis McGrath, director of communications for the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. "An attack during a service is just such an aberration that we don't even think about it. We have crisis plans ready for other things, like natural disasters. Maybe it's time that we need one for this, too."

At Youth With a Mission's Buffalo campus, staff are using the shooting as a tool to teach about outreach and the perils of missionary work.

"This young man [was] living on the edge," instructor John Sanny said of the gunman. "These are the people we need to reach out to. This isn't a safe world, but God is here to help us."

Staff writer Jeff Strickler contributed to this report. Chao Xiong • 612-673-4391

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  • To learn more about Youth With a Mission’s campus in Buffalo, Minn., go to www.ywam-mn.org. The national website for the group, which was founded in 1960, is www.ywam.org.
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