Cover Story

Daniels of the year

WORLD’s second annual “Daniel of the Year” designation goes not to one single person but to a generation of young people the editors have dubbed “Generation WWJD.” These are the courageous Christian youths who discovered in tough situations that asking the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” means more than just wearing a faddish bracelet.

Issue: "Daniel of the Year 1999," Dec. 18, 1999

Interesting though her talk on drunk driving was, the guest police officer’s presentation melted to a background buzz as Josh Weidmann gazed out at the classroom window. It was only April, but as the Arapahoe High School junior drank in the azure sky that arced over a riotous Colorado spring, he was already dreaming of summer. For Josh, an affable, sandy-haired kid with a light-up smile, summer meant more than indolent poolside days; it also meant having more time to concentrate on his student-centered youth ministry, Revival Generation. A montage of ways he might spend 90-something sunny, unfettered days rolled through Josh’s mind. But his reverie imploded suddenly when a teacher burst into the classroom.

“Don’t freak out,” the teacher said, his face a mask of constrained fear, “but there’s been a shooting five miles up the road at Columbine High.”

“I began to go nuts inside,” Josh says. “I didn’t believe him at first, then he went on to explain that the shooters could be at our school any minute, so our school was going under lock-down.”

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The guest police officer began to cry. Josh descended into shock.

“There was no way this could be happening,” he remembers thinking. “I started to think about what I could do. Should I go? Should I lie down because I was dizzy? Should I pray? Thoughts were flying around like crazy. I was trying to think of all my friends at Columbine, and trying to grasp what this would turn out to be.”

What it turned out to be was the worst link in a horrific chain of violent attacks against teenagers—the most recent occurring just last week at a Fort Gibson, Okla., middle school where a 13-year-old student opened fire on classmates, wounding five. After the Columbine shootings, in which two teens murdered 12 high-schoolers and a teacher, the media turned its spotlight on Christian teens. The story of 17-year-old Cassie Bernall’s courageous gunpoint proclamation of faith burned up the news wires. Media outlets also highlighted the death of Rachel Scott, a 17-year-old junior and visibly active Christian. At Rachel’s CNN-broadcast funeral, Bruce Porter, the evangelical pastor of Littleton’s Cellebration Christian Fellowship, attested to the faith of some of the slain, and delivered a crystalline gospel message that reached millions. Rachel’s younger brother Craig, who escaped the killers by feigning death in the library while lying in the blood of a dying friend, shared his faith on CNN, NBC’s Today, and other major news programs.

As the stories of present-day teen martyrs spread, the earth shook under Josh Weidmann’s worldview. The outlook that emerged—stark and galvanizing—was a version of a view formed simultaneously and nearly overnight by Christian teens across the country: “I had to realize that life was frail,” Josh says, “and in a second, in a place that I found safe, my life could end.”

That’s what 1999 was like for Christian teens, a group that might well be called “Generation WWJD.” Teen believers—perhaps for the first time en masse—were forced to ask themselves a question many never thought they’d have to as Americans: “If someone put a gun to my head and asked, ‘Do you believe in God?’ would I say yes?”

Today’s Christian teens face a more hostile cultural atmosphere than their predecessors did. Joe White—an author, Christian camp founder, and co-host of Focus on the Family’s Life on the Edge, a call-in radio program for youth—reaches and speaks with thousands of teens each year. He says the new climate is “unexpected, it’s sinister, it’s lethal. It’s like the American teen all of a sudden at age 13 finds himself in a war zone.”

The Columbine massacre occurred on April 20. Five months later, the killings were bookended when, on Sept. 15, Larry Ashbrook killed eight—including five teenagers—at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth. Once again, Christian teens had been murdered for their faith.

But, as in China and other countries, ill winds of persecution have fanned flames of revival. Teen outreach ministries like Youth on Fire, 180, and Teen Mania have exploded (for example, Teen Mania’s Day One Conference in Michigan’s Pontiac Silverdome drew 75,000 kids, the largest-ever gathering of Christian youth). Hundreds of student-led prayer groups—some aided by parachurch ministries like Josh Weidmann’s Revival Generation—have popped up at high schools across the country. More than 76,000 teens this year signed a Teen Bill of Rights, which includes a declaration of the right to behave morally without fear of retribution. Many high-schoolers—whether wearing the familiar WWJD gear or leading football prayers made controversial by a left-leaning judiciary—have become bolder about asserting their First Amendment right to on-campus religious expression.


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