When All Hell Breaks Loose

Columbine High School
Columbine High School screengrab via Google Maps

It’s been 25 years since the Columbine massacre.

It wasn’t the first school shooting in America, but the shocking scope and sheer evil of it made it the measuring stick by which all future shootings would be gauged.

It also radically changed my life. Here’s why:

MY LIFE BEFORE COLUMBINE

As I was growing up, a youth ministry had deeply impacted my life. As a scared, scarred, fatherless kid raised in the inner city, I was terrified of life. Between the violence of my family and the neighborhood we lived in, every day was a struggle.

But then a hillbilly preacher nicknamed (for some unknown reason) “Yankee” shared the Gospel with my toughest uncle on a dare. To everyone’s surprise, my uncle Jack came to Christ. Then the dominoes began to fall, and one by one my entire family came to faith in Christ.

RELATED: When all hell breaks loose… reflections on the Columbine High School massacre 20 years later

Getting involved in Yankee’s youth ministry was a game changer for me. Suddenly I had identity (as a child of God), belonging (with the people of God), and purpose (for the mission of God).

Over the course of my middle school and high school years, I transformed from a nervous Young Sheldon type into a bold evangelist. As a teenager, I went out sharing the Gospel every Friday night, led a bus ministry on Saturday, preached in church from time to time, and led outreach ministries.

And I wasn’t the exceptional kid. I was one of many ordinary teenagers equipped with extraordinary evangelism, theology, and discipleship training.

Yankee took teenagers seriously. He knew they came to Christ quicker and spread the Gospel faster than adults. Perhaps it was why his youth ministry had 800 teenagers, and his church had only 300 or so adults.

This strategic focus on youth stayed with me when my lifelong friend Rick Long and I decided to plant a church on March 12, 1989—a church that focused on reaching young people.

Eighteen months after starting the church, I launched Dare 2 Share—a nonprofit ministry with the goal of equipping teenagers to share the Gospel—with my former theology professor Jonathan Smith. I had an itch that needed more scratching. The church was great, but it wasn’t enough.

Dare 2 Share started with a simple mission statement: To energize teenagers to evangelize their world. And that’s exactly what we did.

We equipped teenagers across the Denver area, the Rocky Mountain region, and eventually the United States to share the Gospel.

In that first decade of ministry, we did a lot of training throughout the Denver area. Lane Palmer, a college roommate and good friend, was the youth leader of a church whose high schoolers attended Columbine High School. I’d gotten to know many of these teenagers through Dare 2 Share events and doing retreats and camps for Lane from time to time.

That brings us to April 20, 1999.

HOW COLUMBINE ROCKED MY WORLD

When I heard the news, I was in the youth room of a church in my hometown of Arvada, Colorado, promoting an upcoming Dare 2 Share conference on spiritual warfare and evangelism. There were six youth leaders who’d said “yes” to attending our free lunch so I could share with them about the upcoming event.

The theme of the conference was “When all hell breaks loose…strike back.”

As I unpacked the theme of the conference to these youth leaders, the pastor of the church knocked on the door and interrupted the meeting. He said, “Sorry to interrupt, but it looks like all hell has broken loose at Columbine High School. You all may want to stop and pray.”

We did.

But we had no idea until later that afternoon how bad it was.

Two teenagers had walked into Columbine High School at 11:21a.m., armed to the hilt with guns and bombs and the sinister intent to kill hundreds of their fellow students. They’d felt bullied and marginalized and now were taking out their anger on as many people as possible in the form of bullets and shrapnel.