Bruce Porter awoke with a start at almost 2 a.m. Gasping for air, Porter shook the bedroom with his guttural cries. His heart pounded. Sweat dripped from his body.
"Honey, what's wrong?" his wife, Claudia, asked.
"They were killing--no, slaughtering--young people!" blurted Porter, pastor of Celebration Christian Fellowship in Littleton, Colo. "Some of the kids were killing themselves! It was so horrible! So real!"
The date was Jan. 20, 1999. Exactly 90 days later, Porter's nighttime vision unfolded at Columbine High School. Fourteen students and one teacher perished April 20 in a hail of bombs and bullets. Twenty-three others fell wounded, two of them paralyzed.
Nothing, including the recent million-dollar renovations to the high school, will erase the horrific memories unleashed by Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17.
But amid the cloud of grief that lingers over this Denver suburb, Christian students returned to school with a prophetic burning in their hearts. A wave of post-Columbine salvations has generated an excitement that they expect will sweep more souls into God's kingdom.
This hopeful expectation, in fact, was part of Porter's vision, too. After seeing carnage, he saw young people, once filled with terror, stand up with steely-eyed looks of determination. The charismatic pastor believes he witnessed the fulfillment of this image at Columbine victim Rachel Scott's funeral, which he helped lead as her mother and stepfather's pastor.
There, he challenged students to take up the torch of Christ that Scott, the granddaughter of two Pentecostal pastors, had carried. Hundreds leaped to their feet and lifted their arms in response, a reaction that led to two "Torch Grab" rallies held last summer.
The rallies were designed to equip students with knowledge of their legal rights, as well as effective ways to witness and other spiritual tools. Similar gatherings sprang up nationwide in the wake of the tragedy.
Salvations were a common occurrence at them all--starting with several hundred at the victims' funerals. About 75 responded to Christ in May at a meeting sponsored by the student-driven group Revival Generation. A church in Delaware reported that 150 accepted Christ at a memorial service. In San Francisco, more than 1,000 indicated a desire to know Jesus as Savior during the "Pray for the Bay" rally in mid-June.
Other events stemming from the tragedy are expected to have an impact:
* In June, several members of Living Way Fellowship's youth group spoke in Olympia, Washington, on the lessons of Littleton. The audience took an offering as seed money for the church's new "U Turn" community center. The student-led effort will soon offer videos, food and recreation, as well as spiritually based small-group discussions.
"They were the shots heard 'round the world," says the pastor, who also edits a Christian newspaper. "I liken this to the American revolution. I've had kids coming to Christ ever since the [televised] funerals."
"We really feel youth revival is coming, and that's what we're preparing for," says Ken Henderson of the youth ministry Soldiers for Jesus.
A Slumbering Giant Awakens
Leaders across the country say a sleeping giant has awakened. Speaking in June at the Southern Baptist annual convention, Rachel Scott's father, Darrell, predicted a coming revolution.
Likewise, Porter thinks "revival" is too tame a word. He sees a new "reformation" engulfing America to ensure that those lost in last April's carnage didn't die in vain. And he sees youth spearheading this seismic spiritual shift.
Generation Xers and other young people are looking for something worth dying for, he says.
"There's an incredible opening for the gospel," says Josh Weidmann, president of Revival Generation, which started three years ago with one prayer group at Arapahoe High School near Denver. The organization now numbers more than 150 prayer groups across the metropolitan area.
A 17-year-old Arapahoe senior, Weidmann has many friends at Columbine. The evangelical ministry leader believes God is using the tragedy to reach out to youth in several ways: It has awakened lukewarm believers and forced many Christians to ponder their own response if they were to face--as Bernall and others did--a gunman asking the question: "Do you believe in God?" It has given young people "incredible strength" to stand up for their beliefs. It has helped adults turn a crucial corner.
Adults have been reluctant to embrace Revival Generation's interdenominational praise festivals, Weidmann says, but many now say they will back these twice-a-year gatherings.
"That was a hard barrier," he says. "Some adults said, 'We should have denominational meetings,' but the youth were saying, 'No, we want to come together around the absolutes of Christianity.'"
However, there are signs that adults are getting the message. Southwest Connection, an assembly of nearly 20 youth pastors, plans to start a series of breakfasts for Christian middle and high school teachers to help them establish supportive relationships at work.
Members from 500 churches across Colorado participated in solemn assemblies about a month after Columbine, repenting for their failures and asking God to heal the state.
Still, this doesn't mean the battle is over. Del Roberts, who leads a weekly pastors gathering in Denver, admits the Mile High City lacks a comprehensive, coordinated plan.
"For too long everyone in the community has been too individualistic," says the president of the Metro Denver Ministers Association. "The body of Christ must be united if we're to bring healing to the city."He believes the attack represents more than a blip on society's radar screen and declares that school administrators nationwide are concerned that similar violence could break out anywhere in the country. Because of such threats, the church must work together regardless of location, says Doug Stringer, founder of Turning Point Ministries in Houston. "From a Christian perspective," Stringer points out, "there's a sense that [the church's focus] can't be business as usual. We can't get together and navel-gaze. We're the watchmen on the wall. We have to look at tangible ways to serve the community."
The heroism of students and teachers caught in the Littleton tragedy is legendary. She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall was written by Bernall's mother.
Dave McPherson is youth pastor at West Bowles Community Church, where Bernall was one of four dozen Columbine students in the youth group. He says the 17-year-old's affirmation of her faith has become a double-edged sword piercing the souls of those who compromise.
"With one simple act of obedience, she jolts us comfortable Christians to get real about our faith and live in the light of eternity," McPherson says.
Rachel Scott is another victim whose witness seems destined to outlive her 17 years on earth. She was planning to go on a Teen Mania mission, hoping it would be to Africa.
Her older sister, Bethany, had been to Europe and South America with the Texas-based ministry. The dramatic change Rachel saw in her sister convinced her it was worthwhile.
Teen Mania enlisted hundreds of teens to go in Rachel's place this summer. The ministry plans to unveil a recruiting video about her life that will feature music by Christian modern rockers Audio Adrenaline.
"The enemy bit off more than he could chew by attacking the Christian element in Columbine," says Rachel's mother, Beth Nimmo. "He's going to pay far more than he thought he'd pay by taking these kids. He's going to be sorry because it's producing a whole generation who are taking a stand for the gospel."
Still emotionally tender as she speaks nearly two months after her daughter died, the mother of five wants others to remember that Rachel was sold out to God.
Her daughter didn't compromise her convictions in the face of peer pressure and other influences, she says.
"I think it's an open door for us to impact families and the home," she says. "There's a platform to say: 'Parents, reconnect with your children and rebuild the family unit. Commit to our children.'""We will always remember them," says Shannon Myers, a 15-year-old sophomore who was so terrified she lost her shoes fleeing from the school. "They're heroes to all of us. I want to live on to show what they would do."
Protection and Proclamation
Helping to propel the bold witness of Christians around Denver is another element of the Columbine story: the hand of God protecting hundreds and preventing a tragedy of worse proportions. The Denver Post reported that a 20-pound propane gas tank was found hidden in the school kitchen two days after the killings. The newspaper said the propane was wired to a gasoline tank and surrounded with nails and BBs. "I think it's a miracle only 15 people died in the shootings. It was supposed to be 500," Weidmann observes. "We see the work of Satan, but we also see the work of God. There was so much ammunition left on [the killers] and so much more damage that could have been done."
Nimmo believes the Lord hid her son, Craig. The weight lifter was seated in the library between victims Isaiah Shoels and Matt Kechter. After they died, he lay motionless until the killers left. Then he sensed the Holy Spirit saying, 'Get up and get out of here and take anybody you can with you.'"
"I believe God knew that was more than I could bear as a mother," she says, voice trembling. "I also believe it's because Craig has a great destiny and work the Lord has called him to, so He spared his life."
Johnson, youth pastor at Orchard Road Christian Center, received a spiritual boost watching students go before TV cameras. They spoke with such eloquence and calm that it reminded her of biblical passages.
"It was like Jesus was standing there talking," she says. "I can't put into words how amazing it is to watch God."