Tragedy during the Christmas Season

As we celebrate Christmas together under one roof, we have so much to be grateful for as we look back at the amazing things God did in our lives this past year in Ukraine. Our family has so very much to be thankful for.

Sadly though this Christmas season we saw a terrible loss of life that fell on fellow staff members serving in YWAM. Below is a letter that was sent to all staff worldwide to reflect on during this Christmas season. Join us this year as we pray for all those involved in the tragedy, their friends and families.

May the blessings of this Christmas season be full for you and your families as we celebrate the birth of Christ,

The Colker’s
Jeff, Pam, Greg, Steven, Emily, Jennie, Alison, Hannah, Elizabeth, Sarah, Paul & Grace

December 12, 2007

Dear YWAM Family,

Many of you will have heard already some of the news from our YWAM centre in Arvada, Colorado, where two YWAM staff members lost their lives in a shooting incident. We thought it was important for you to get an accurate picture of what happened.

What Happened in Denver?

Very early on the morning of Sunday, December 9, a lone gunman entered the YWAM training center in the Denver, Colorado suburb of Arvada. The staff were clearing up from a Christmas party, and a young man, now identified as former DTS student, Matthew Murray, arrived to ask for a place to stay. Hospitality director, Tiffany Johnson, a 26-year old from Minnesota, offered to help him find somewhere more suitable to stay, and Matthew pulled out an automatic handgun and shot her. He then shot three other young men and fled the campus. Tiffany died later in hospital, as did Philip Crouse, a 24 year old from Alaska. Dan Griebenow, 24 was shot in the neck but his injuries are expected to heal. Charlie Blanch, 22, was shot in the legs and is also recovering in hospital. All four were staff members at the Arvada base.

After the shooting in Arvada, Matthew fled 70 miles to the city of Colorado Springs. He arrived at New Life Church, a prominent ministry in the area. He opened fire in the parking lot, shooting and killing sisters Stephanie Works, 18, and Rachel Works, 16, and injuring 3 others as they were leaving church. Stephanie and Rachel were involved with a summer outreach organized by New Life Church and a ministry of YWAM which rents office space in the New Life campus. An older sister from the Works family participated in a DTS at our centre in Colorado Springs. However, this family was randomly targeted at the church, their association with YWAM was coincidental. Matthew was challenged by a New Life Church security guard but refused to drop his weapon, he was then shot and brought down by the security guard. The coroner has determined that Matthew then fatally shot himself.

Matthew was briefly a student at the YWAM Arvada training centre in 2002. He was enrolled in a Discipleship Training School (DTS) but did not complete the program, as school leaders felt he was not prepared to participate in the outreach phase. He is remembered as a troubled young man from a caring Christian family. Matthew left the Arvada training centre and no one at the base recalls that he has made any other visits or had any communication with the centre since that time.

The Arvada campus is currently running a DTS and the 80 people living on the campus were transported to our centre near Golden, Colorado while police did their job at the YWAM buildings. They have now returned to the base. International YWAM leaders have arrived from around the world to support the team in Arvada at this time. Crisis counselors are also there, and local churches are being very supportive. A memorial service for those who died will be held later today.

Our Response:

Those are the facts, but how do we respond to all this? Our European field director, Jeff Fountain, recently wrote some very helpful, Biblical thoughts. I quote from them:

"Why do such things happen? And why at Christmas? Isn't Christmas all about peace on earth? Wasn't that the meaning of the coming of Jesus, the Prince of Peace? Didn't Jesus come to defeat sin, death and the devil? So why all the evil around us still? Why Iraq? Why Afghanistan? Why Darfur? Why Zimbabwe? Why Kosovo? Did Jesus fail in his mission??!

Sometimes we forget the violent side of the Christmas story. It disturbs our warm, cozy, sentimental family celebrations. But there is a dark side to Advent. And it reminds us that we remain in a deadly serious battle. We have a deadly adversary. And we are all infected by a deadly virus. That was the reality two thousand years ago. That is still the reality today.

At this time of the year, we love to quote such verses as, For unto us a child is born... from Isaiah's ninth chapter. And rightly so! But we often forget the context of violence of this verse: references to the rod of the oppressor, the warriors boot and garments rolled in blood. Somehow the birth of this child is linked to the defeat of such very real enemies.

Yet in Revelation chapter 12, we read of a dragon waiting to devour this new-born babe, this male child, the son who was to rule all nations with an iron scepter (v.5). Matthew gives us insight into this scenario. He describes Herods fury at the news of the birth of a rival king, and his order to murder all male babies. The evangelist in turn quotes Jeremiah 31:15, prophesying a sobbing, lamenting Rachel, weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted because they were no more.

Jesus himself warned us that we could expect violence, persecution,
Imprisonment and even death when we followed him in obedience. Following him would mean the path of suffering. For creation would remain in its fallen state; sin, death and the devil would continue to wreak havoc; wars and persecutions would keep on disrupting human life until the Day of the Lord, when the books of history are finally balanced.

His first coming, as a vulnerable babe, began the redemption plan for the human race indeed for the cosmos. The God-child was the one solution for sin, death and the devil.

Our mission is to take this message to everyone everywhere. That mission was what Tiffany and Phil committed their lives to do. It is the one solution for violence at Advent or any other time of the year. And we continue to live in the expectancy, the hope, of that day when the angel's proclamations of peace on earth will be fulfilled.

Lets take comfort in today’s reading from the Moravian Daily Texts:

"By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." Luke 1:78,79"

In Christ,

Lynn Green, along with Peter Warren and the leaders who have gathered in Denver