DENVER, COLO. One year after a gunmandisgruntled over Christianitykilled two young people on the Denver campus of Youth With A Mission, students, staff, family and friends gathered Dec. 9 for a midnight celebration of their lives.
After the mission killings, gunman Matthew Murray, headed south to Colorado Spring where he killed two sisters at New Life Church, before killing himself.
Just as it had been a year ago, snow was falling and the temperature was bitter at the celebration. But there the similarities ended. This year, hope prevailed over sorrow as the lives of Tiffany Johnson and Philip Crouse were remembered at the exact time and place of the shootings.
"Today we are celebrating a birthday," said YWAM Denver Director Peter Warren. "It is Philip and Tiffany's first birthday in heaven with Jesus."
A palpable joy permeated the gathering, which was attended by YWAM Denver staff, students, families of the victims and members of the Arvada Police Department. Police officers began the evening at 10 p.m, on Monday by running 3 and 1/2 miles in cadence through the snow to the YWAM Denver training center, their way of "grieving and paying our respects to the lost," according to Arvada Police Chief John Wick. He also said that their participation in the evening program "was about coming to a resolution about what happened."
The march was followed by a reception and a time of worship and prayer.
Many of those involved in last year's rampage have walked through a process of healing and forgiveness since the shootings last year. Priceless lessons have been learned. Michelle Connor, YWAM Denver hospitality director, said that staff members have grown closer and rely more on each other as a result of the shootings.
YWAM staff and students weren't the only ones affected by the shootings, however. Susan Medina, Arvada Police Department media director, said she was surprised how deeply police officers were impacted by YWAM's response to the shootings, and that police offers have grown closer as a result.
"I saw such an overwhelming abundance of forgiveness, even just hours after the shooting," Medina said. "I was at Columbine and Platte Canyon when those shootings happened, but this is very different. I've never seen anything like it."
The Denver facility, founded in 1984, is a training center for young Christians who have a deep passion for evangelism. It runs 11 training programs annually, include six Discipleship Training Schools. The international ministry, launched 48 years ago, operates 1,000 locations worldwide, with nearly 16,000 full-time workers.
In keeping with the ministry's statement of faith of "presenting Jesus personally" to each generation, those at the celebration service extended forgiveness to the troubled gunman. Participants also prayed for the families of Murray and Tiffany Johnson, who were also present at the service. As friends and family shared stories about the impact that Tiffany and Philip had on their lives, it became clear that the two had left a powerful legacy, one that has challenged thousands of people around the world.
The night ended with a candlelight service held outdoors, each person in attendance passing the flame on to the next, symbolizing the enduring legacy of the victims.
"We could (dwell on) the lost potential of their lives, but now we see how God has worked through this for good," Warren said. "We look back and see that it was all God. Only He could give us this peace we have now-a peace that surpasses all understanding."