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Fear No Evil
By Brady Boyd
ZondervanCopyright © 2011 Brady Boyd
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Day Nobody Hoped Would Dawn
We may not understand why a good God would allow terrible suffering. But this merely establishes that if there is a God, we do not know everything he knows. Why should this surprise us? — Randy Alcorn
Christmastime had come to Colorado Springs. Kids were getting out of school for holiday break, shopping centers were decked out with ornamented trees and lights, carols flooded the radio airwaves, and because of the spike in church attendance that always seems to accompany Christmas and Easter, New Life was experiencing a packed auditorium at every weekend worship ser vice that month. Plus, Pikes Peak had just been covered with a fresh blanket of snow, my wife had dusted off her bison-chili recipe, and the NFL season was in full swing. What wasn't to love about December 2007? It was my family's first Christmas in Colorado, and all was going well.
In 2005, New Life debuted Wonderland, a theatrical production put on by more than three hundred volunteers. In addition to ushering in the Christmas season, the performance also reaches out to people from the community who don't know God, inviting them to contemplate the message of Christ. It's a time to celebrate and rejoice and laugh, but also a time to worship the one true God.
On Friday and Saturday, December 7 and 8, 2007, New Life hosted thousands of people who had chosen to kick off the period known as Advent with this spectacular event: live performers ice-skating along a forty-foot catwalk, ballroom dancers twirling, animated fountains skipping, a drum line doing an incredible rendition of "The Little Drummer Boy," choirs lifting up all the familiar carols, actors in festive costumes portraying the traditional nativity scene — all culminating with a brief sermon and a candlelight closing.
My friend Dr. Jack Hayford was in town to speak at our Sunday morning ser vices. I'd first met him when I was an elder and pastor at Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, and for many years I had been impressed by his longevity in ministry — he began pastoring more than four decades ago — and by his great love for God and for God's people. Behind his back I referred to him as the apostle Jack. He has that sort of presence and power in a place, that of someone who has been sitting at the feet of Christ for many years.
Upon arriving at New Life as their new senior pastor, I discovered that Dr. Hayford had several connections to the church. He had served as a guest speaker on several occasions, he had dedicated the new sanctuary a few years prior, and the college that he founded and where he now serves as chancellor, King's College and Seminary, had an extension campus on New Life's property. But it had been a while since he had been back in Colorado Springs. I couldn't wait to give him a call, invite him to join us for a weekend soon, and reintroduce him to the people of New Life.
In addition to asking Dr. Hayford to come speak on the weekend of his choosing, once I had him on the phone I also inquired as to whether he would consider serving as one of our church's overseers — leaders from other churches and ministries who provide oversight and godly wisdom during both good times and bad. The role of overseer had become even more crucial recently because of the removal of New Life's founding pastor. It told me a lot about Dr. Hayford's character when, despite his taxing obligations with King's College and Seminary and as president of the Foursquare movement that serves more than fifty thousand churches around the world, he responded with, "Whatever you need from me, you just let me know." He serves as a New Life overseer still today.
We decided that Dr. Hayford would fly in Saturday afternoon and then speak at both our nine o'clock and eleven o'clock ser vices on Sunday morning, December 9. Afterward he and I would enjoy lunch together, and before he headed back to California, he would address a group of the King's Seminary students who meet at New Life, in order to provide some encouragement for overcoming the various challenges seminarians face.
On Saturday night I would deliver the brief closing sermon at Wonderland, and knowing how much Dr. Hayford loves music and performing arts — often as he heads down Interstate 405 in Los Angeles traffic, he has been known to "air conduct" whatever orchestral arrangement is on the radio with whichever hand is not on the wheel — I invited him to join me. He enthusiastically accepted even before I finished giving the rationale for why I thought he would enjoy it.
As expected, we both loved the performance, and as we were leaving the building to head to our respective cars in the parking lot, we bumped into the three wise men, still in full costume from the show. We all had our photo snapped together, and then I wished Dr. Hayford a good night's rest. I knew he was anxious to get to bed so he would be fresh for the next morning's activities. It had been a great evening, and as I drove to my house a few miles from the church, I had the distinct sense that we were in for a wonderful Sunday.
What was already a joyous season felt even sweeter, because we had begun to turn a corner. The church had suffered a major blow with the scandalous departure of Pastor Ted Haggard thirteen months prior because of moral misconduct, but now we could finally move on. Christmas is a time of birth and new life, and we as a body were ready for something great to be born. Certainly, there still were issues to tend to. But it felt as though we were all inhaling fresh air for the first time in almost a year.
Having a guest speaker take the pulpit on Sunday morning is like being handed a vacation day. I get to serve as host and hang out with the teacher who graciously has agreed to let me off the hook for a few hours. Talk about relaxing! Don't get me wrong; I love my job. But I also enjoy a break every now and then. If all went according to plan, I would enjoy Dr. Hayford's message (twice), I would pelt him with my latest laundry list of ministry-related questions over lunch in my office, I'd see him off to the Colorado Springs airport, and then I'd head home to watch my eleven-and-one Dallas Cowboys demolish the Lions while my family and I relished a snowy, lazy afternoon.
But all would not go according to plan.
The morning of December 9 began routinely enough: I woke before my wife, Pam, or our kids, Abram and Callie, had gotten out of bed. I showered and dressed and then headed to the church offices around 7:00 a.m. After pouring a cup of hot coffee, I sat down to spend a few moments of solitude with God and ask him for wisdom for the day. Eventually my thoughts drifted to the introductory comments I would need to make for Dr. Hayford before he took the stage at each ser vice. As I jotted down a few things I didn't want to forget to mention to the congregation, I heard a rapid knock on my office's heavy wooden door.
Opening the door, I found the head of our church's volunteer security team standing in the hallway. He wondered if I had heard about the deadly shootings that had taken place the previous night in Arvada, Colorado, a town about sixty-five miles north of New Life. Evidently, just after midnight two young adults — Tiffany Johnson, aged twenty-six, and Philip Crouse, twenty-four — were shot and killed at a missionary training center for Youth with a Mission (YWAM) by a man who reportedly had been asking for a place to stay for the night. When the man was refused entry, he opened fire.
I intentionally avoid all media on Sunday mornings so I can stay focused on our gatherings as a church. The news came as a total shock to me.
"I think we should beef up security, just in case," the security officer said, to which I responded, "Good idea."
I didn't blink at consenting to the extra security presence; this is just the reality we live in today. If you're my age or older, you likely grew up in a setting where churches weren't preoccupied with protecting against gunmen who might burst into a church building ready to kill. But these days? It's a very real concern.
One Wednesday night in September 1999 — the same year that the Columbine High School tragedy erupted in Littleton, Colorado — a man walked into a worship ser vice at Wedgwood Baptist Church in southwestern Fort Worth, Texas, and began shooting at the congregation. Seven people would lose their lives and seven more would be hospitalized — some with life-threatening injuries — before the gunman would turn his nine-millimeter on himself.
In March 2005, the eighty-member congregation of Living Church of God gathered at the local Sheraton Hotel in Brookfield, Wisconsin, their regular meeting space, for what was to be an ordinary Saturday evening worship ser vice. Moments later one of their own congregants — a forty-four-year-old man said to have been suffering from depression — opened fire with an automatic weapon and killed the pastor, the pastor's son, and five other church members. Four other church members were wounded before the shooter took his own life.
Fourteen months later, in May 2006, an estranged husband and father named Anthony Bell stepped inside the Ministry of Jesus Christ Church, which met in an old warehouse in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, shot four people dead, kidnapped his wife and three children, and fled. An hour and a half later another shooting was reported at a nearby apartment complex. When police arrived on the scene, they discovered that Bell had shot and killed his wife in her own home.
Because of an ugly history when it comes to church shootings — not to mention the YWAM shootings the night before — I knew we couldn't be too careful. The security guard excused himself, I presumed so that he could go call in volunteer reinforcements for the morning's ser vices, and I went back to preparing my remarks.
As I consider the day in hindsight, throughout that entire morning I never gave the Arvada shootings another thought. I had a couple of sidebar conversations with a few of the key pastors during and between worship ser vices, but that's about it. I didn't know the people who had been killed at that YWAM center, and while I felt awful that innocent people's lives were taken from them in such a senseless act of violence, it wasn't an event that had any context for me. I liken it to when you come upon a terrible car accident on the other side of the freeway as you're cruising along at seventy miles an hour. For a split second, you feel the sting of sadness over what obviously just happened, but within a nanosecond your thoughts are trained once more on getting wherever it is you are going. Plus, the security team at New Life is as sharp as they come. Why fret about the hypotheticals, when our folks were already unflinchingly prepared?
When Ted Haggard was leading the church, his national status as president of the National Association of Evangelicals warranted extra precaution in and around the campus. At the time, the security team was all volunteer, but the men and women who served — some of whom were ex-military and many of whom were ex-law enforcement — were well-trained officers who took seriously their role of protecting the entire church from anyone who might be interested in disrupting a Sunday morning.
In addition to Ted's prominence, New Life was and is a very big congregation. At its height, attendance crested fourteen thousand worshipers every Sunday morning, which is roughly equal to the population of places such as Galena, Illinois, or Siloam Springs, Arkansas. When you're dealing with a small town's worth of people week in and week out, situations always crop up. A toddler gets a scrape on his knee running around in the nursery. A kid falls off a piece of playground equipment and breaks an arm. An elderly woman slips and fractures a hip. An ailing man suffers a heart attack between stanzas 1 and 2 of "Awesome God." There is always something going on that requires immediate attention, and our security team was fully equipped to manage such circumstances.
But they also had done drills to prepare for more serious events. They had plans in place in case a fire broke out, a tornado struck, or — heaven forbid — a gunman set foot on the campus. They trained regularly on defensive tactics, they shot together at local practice ranges, and they talked openly about what they would do if an armed person ever threatened the well-being of New Lifers. "Part of our strategy," one of the team members later explained, "was that in the face of an active shooter, we all would assemble in a diamond formation, and whoever was in uniform would take the lead. We then would move swiftly through the building, focused solely on taking out the gunman, in order to prevent any further damages."
They also determined that in such a scenario, once Colorado Springs police officers arrived on the scene, all New Life security team members were to comply fully with official orders. Despite their solid training and in some cases vast experience, they knew to defer to our city's formally sanctioned personnel.
So, as I say, this group knew their stuff. They had an entire list of contingencies to walk through in the event that the worst unfolded at New Life. I just don't believe that anyone on that team thought they'd actually be asked to walk through those plans anytime soon.
The crowds on Sunday morning were thinner than usual. It had snowed the night before, and while we certainly weren't experiencing blizzard conditions, it was cold and messy enough outside to cause some people to choose their down comforters over the warmth of Christian fellowship.
Dr. Hayford delivered a powerful sermon during both ser vices, and afterward four of us — Dr. Hayford and his assistant, Bill, as well as Pastor Ross Parsley and me — sat down at a small table in my office to eat lunch. We barely had blessed our meal when my assistant, Karla, rapped on the door, rushed into the room before I had time to answer her knock, and said, "Pastor Brady, there is gunfire in the building."
Karla Leathers is a steady woman; for me to hear alarm in her voice and see a flash of terror in her eyes meant that something was urgently wrong. What's more, as soon as she'd opened the door, all of us inside could hear the rapid pop, pop, pop of gunfire a floor below.
Like most boys raised in the wetland parishes of northwest Louisiana, I became a hunter shortly after I learned to walk, and therefore I know my way around guns. Handguns, shotguns, rifles — you name it, and I can tell you what it looks like and what it sounds like. My office at New Life is on the second floor, just over the main corridor of the children's wing, and when Karla had flung open the door, I knew that the bursts cracking the air were those of automatic gunfire.
I didn't have a lot of fright-filled moments on December 9, but one I did experience occurred immediately as I took in those sounds. My wife, Pam, is typically one of the last people to leave the building on Sunday mornings. She attends the late ser vice and afterward seems to always get pulled into long conversations, which she loves to be part of. But what it means is that when everyone else has already left the campus, driven away, and sat down at a local restaurant, Pam is still meandering around the halls of New Life Church. The single question that crossed my mind was, "Is my family in that hallway right now?"
Rushing to my desk to retrieve my cell phone, I was having trouble regulating my breathing. I punched the speed-dial key that would connect me to Pam's phone, and when I heard her say, "Hello?" I felt my lungs exhale at last.
"Honey, where are you?" I asked as my heart settled into a steadier rhythm. In a drive-through lane, she replied. She had pulled away from the campus five minutes earlier and was getting the kids something to eat. The information relaxed me. Air filled my lungs, clarity returned to my mind, and all was well once more. Except that it was not.
"Pam, listen," I said. "Please do not come back to the church, but I need you to know that there have been shots fired on the campus. Please go straight home. I'm going to send someone to stay with you until I can get there."
Excerpted from Fear No Evil by Brady Boyd Copyright © 2011 by Brady Boyd. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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