Healing Begins in Colorado

Janet Chismar | Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer | Monday, December 17, 2007

Healing Begins in Colorado

December 17, 2007

Denise Dinofrio is thankful her children had the flu last Sunday. Otherwise, her 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter would have attended the 11 a.m. service at New Life Church in Colorado Springs where a gunman opened fire, killing two members of the congregation and wounding several others, before taking his own life. “My children are very sensitive and witnessing a shooting would have scarred their spirits irreparably," Dinofrio said in phone interview Friday. "In fact, even though they weren't at the church, they both are having nightmares from overhearing people talk and sneaking peeks at the news.

”But,” Dinofrio added, “I’ve been able to tell them that God loves them so much, He used sickness to protect them from greater harm.” The single mother has attended New Life Church since 1999 and has no plans to leave. “People get shot at malls, too, and I know that God has numbered our days. He knows where and when He will call us home. I have no fear.”

Lindsey McCormick also missed the fatal service, but lives close enough to have heard the sirens and seen the emergency vehicles speed by on the way to New Life. A former small group leader, McCormick started getting concerned calls and text messages while the shooter was still in the building. “News spread very quickly. Everybody called to check in with everybody,” McCormick told Crosswalk.com. "It seemed surreal.”

Dinofrio and McCormick are just two of the thousands of people touched by the senseless rampage that began in the early hours of Dec. 9 when Matthew Murray opened fire at the Youth With a Mission (YWAM) missionary training school in the Denver suburb of Arvada. There, he shot and killed Phil Crouse and Tiffany Johnson, and wounded Dan Griebenow and Charlie Blanch. Approximately 12 hours later, Murray showed up in Colorado Springs to attack the New Life congregation.

News and police reports since the time of the shootings paint a picture of a disturbed young man who apparently hated Christians. But, the very people Murray tried to damage have rallied together and are displaying God's glory to a watching world. The numerous Christian nonprofit organizations headquartered in Colorado Springs, along with members of New Life and other churches across the city, are praying, mourning, praising God and healing.

“The people I know are dealing with this fairly well," McCormick shared during her interview. She described how her friends are looking for lessons in the tragedy. “When anything like this happens and the Christian community gathers, we draw strength from each other. We recognize that God does not desire for us to go through this pain. That's not His natural design. Yes, it's hurtful for the family and hurtful for the people involved, but what are we going to take from this that will push us more toward being in the place Christ called us to be, loving and forgiving one another? How can we reach out better to people like Matthew [the gunman]?

”I think the message might be that we need to shift the focus off of ourselves and more on to the community around us and invest in reaching out," she added.

Other members of New Life Church gathered for a family meeting Dec. 12. Pastor Brady Boyd told his congregation: "What we are doing tonight is making a declaration and I want to make it early. As your pastor, I want you to look at me and I want you to hear what I am about to say. We will not be governed by fear. We are a people of faith, and faith brings hope and faith brings peace.”

Boyd urged the congregation to receive courage, strength and hope from one another and from heaven.

"My heart's been broken this week, like yours has, over the events that have happened,” Boyd said. “I know throughout the room there are 7,000 stories of where you were and the way you heard it and what you experienced. I hope at some point you'll get to share your stories because it's important in the healing process."

The congregation prayed for those who were injured, Larry Bourbonnais and Judy Purcell. ”Some of our pastors saw the Purcells’ car yesterday and the fact that Judy was the only one who suffered a shoulder injury, and it was not life threatening, is a miracle. Their car was shot to pieces. Bullets were all throughout the car and the seats. The police told me privately on Monday it that was a real miracle.”

They also prayed for David Works, the father of victims Stephanie and Rachael (right), who Boyd described as devoted followers of Christ. “I can tell you tonight I know they are in heaven rejoicing with our Lord and Savior.”

Boyd assured the congregation there will be Sunday services this week. “We will sing and make music to the Lord. We will not fear. This is a safe place to come and worship.” He closed the service by encouraging members to walk around the building, pray and anoint it with oil. “Throughout Scripture, when a temple has been desecrated, they always anointed it with oil to renew it and rededicate it to God.”

More than 1,500 people gathered Dec. 12 at Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada to celebrate the lives of the two YWAM staff members who were killed. Peter Warren, director of YWAM Denver, said Philip Crouse and Tiffany “embodied the spirit of YWAM with a gladness and joy to serve others.” 

Philip's pastor, Zach Chandler, traveled from Alaska to take part in the service. He described Philip as a passionate young man who, once he dedicated his life to Jesus, wanted everyone in the world to get what he had found. The overwhelming description of Tiffany was that she loved people. One of her YWAM friend’s said Tiffany was “patient and someone who loved to help others, persevering in difficult circumstances and full of laughter.” The members of Tiffany's family then took the stage to extend forgiveness to Matthew Murphy's family.

In return, at Murray’s funeral Dec. 14, his little brother Chris said, “Even though Satan attacked my brother, I truly feel God is going to save a whole generation of people through this.”

Community Rallies

Compassion International, located just up the road from New Life, has felt the impact of the shooting. Spokeswoman Julie Koshy said in a phone interview that a number of employees attend New Life Church. In addition, Compassion sometimes uses the New Life facility for special events. “As a ministry, we were obviously deeply saddened,” Koshy said. “Thankfully, none of the people affected by the shootings were Compassion employees or related to Compassion employees, although we have people who knew the victims.”

At the Compassion Christmas party Dec. 13, President and CEO Wess Stafford opened in prayer and mentioned New Life. “As an organization, we are remembering them as they go through this period of mourning,” Koshy said. “We were just devastated by what happened, but we’ve set aside time to pray for the church, the pastors, the congregation and the families who suffered loss. Prayer is how we are dealing with this ourselves.”

When Koshy first heard about the shootings, she was stunned. “It is a church. It's hard to accept that would happen. It's one of those situations where you are trying to make sense of it and ask God why. Then, I was thankful that Compassion employees were not hurt, but it still hits close to home because so many people from Compassion attend church there.”

Koshy added, “All you can hope for is that in the midst of this tragic event, people will really draw upon God's strength and upon each other as the body of Christ. That's where they will get their strength.

Focus on the Family, also headquartered in Colorado Springs, issued the following statement: "Focus on the Family was founded to help families and, during this time of crisis, we will continue to do that. We are working with area churches and pastors to provide counseling and support to those affected by the shootings."

In an e-mail to employees, Focus on the Family President Jim Daly said: We all share the “same mixed emotions in light of the tragic shootings this weekend, the joy of the Christmas season inextricably mingled with sadness and sorrow for the families who have lost loved ones, as well as disbelief over the depth of despair that must have led to such violent and desperate acts."

May we “continually hold out the hand of all hope, strength, and comfort to a fallen and hurting world.”

Shirley Dobson, chairman of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, said: “This is a disturbing and painful reminder of the culture of violence in which we live. During this time of deep sorrow, may God's comforting and loving presence sustain the many whose lives have been forever changed by this heartrending tragedy.”

The Navigators, a mission group with offices in Colorado Springs, posted a statement on its website extending its deepest sympathies to those affected by the shootings at YWAM in Arvada and New Life Church in Colorado Springs. “We join the rest of the body of Christ in prayer. At a time like this, we take comfort in the promise that the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express."