We didn’t know what to expect. Our team had travelled several hours south to pray with, and for the Parkland community. It was our intent to prayer-walk the high school campus. We arrived to hundreds of milling people, standing, huddled in some places, arms around each other. The scene spread several football fields long. On a fence, that was supposed to protect, were faces, words of eulogy, flowers, teddy bears, and spilling from it, a kind of angry grief, the sentiment of those left behind wondering how this unspeakable act could have taken place. Nothing in Ginnette and my 35 years of ministry prepared us enough to walk into this kind of moment. Few words could be heard, like a collective holding of breath, in the light of the senseless slaughter.
Images are hard to shake: Students huddled, wiping tears, staring vacantly through the chain link, where just beyond they remembered running, screaming, shots fired, and the sound of chaos. Seventeen crosses on a hill, pictures of the slain, piled up around them, heaps and heaps of flowers, now dying in the hot sun, but a tribute, a memory, something tangible when hands can do nothing but pray. We stood among this grief, this palpable roiling mass of emotion, and we prayed, and we prayed, and we listened.
We met Wendi and her son Kody. Cody had run for his life. It took an hour, the longest hour of life, before Wendi knew he was ok. A group of us tightened around her, and we prayed for both of them, but more for Cody. I had my hand on his shoulder, felt the quiver of emotion, knew the terror etched on his soul, and prayed God to heal it, mend the rift of unimaginable confusion, fear and hopelessness. Others, we did not know joined our cluster, now perhaps 20 strong, all silent except the voice that tried to pray, but would falter for words. Hands; hands connected to everyone, a symbol that nothing mattered, no background, no belief, nothing but our common moral outrage, distilled to tears.
We learned that another high school 12 miles away, had a contingent marching toward us. They had defied the principal that morning, gotten up from their seats in solidarity and left. The first to climb the locked gate cut his hand badly, so the administration opened it, and the march, organized through social media, began it’s trudge. When we looked up and heard their chants as they approached us, I thought this is why we work with teens. When their energy, creativity and passion are channeled, there’s no telling what they can do. Hundreds of students began to arrive, and I thought, God, you’ve brought us here for this. The gospel is here!
For the next two hours we milled among them, and began to talk about how they were coping, shouldering this tragedy that had erupted on the landscape of our nation. I met Whitmire and Lewis, sophomore football players, and the conversation quickly turned spiritual. When I told Whitmire I had not always been a Christian, he shot back, “well what happened to change that?” Lewis had questions, too, but also faith. “Perhaps God has a plan in all of this,” he said. “Yes,” I responded. “God is in control, no matter how impossible it may feel to believe. Evil is held by a leash, and that leash by the hand of God.” We prayed with those two young men, and by all accounts it was a watershed experience for both.
At the end of the afternoon, it was time to leave. Suddenly, I heard rhythmic chanting in the distance. ‘What is that,’ someone asked? “That’s a local middle school” Middle school? Sure enough as I peered into the distance, fresh faces of 11-13 year olds all pressed together on a sidewalk were marching, belting out in soprano as loud as they could, a kind of lilting song, doing something, sharing the loss, dividing the sorrow, and adding to a movement of voices, that has taken everyone by surprise.