Cover Story

Daniels of the year

"Daniels of the year" Continued...

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

At Wedgwood, at least two teens were willing to lay down their lives for their friends and their faith. As shooter Larry Ashbrook fired on Christian teens attending a youth rally there, 19-year-old Jeremiah Neitz fired back with the gospel, telling Ashbrook: “What you need is Jesus Christ.” A pew to the right, Marybeth Talley, 18, used her own body to shield her mentally handicapped friend from gunfire.

Many cultures throughout history have gained inspiration from visible, heroic martyrs. “Christian kids around the country have used Columbine as a battle cry,” Mr. White says. “It was like throwing gasoline on a small fire, and that small fire has become a forest fire. It’s brought out a sense of challenge in kids. Now they’re rebelling for the right, rather than for the wrong.”

Shortly after the shootings in Littleton, Christian teens staged a peaceful lunchroom rebellion at Sapulpa High School near Tulsa, Okla. That day, a Columbine copycat threat had surfaced at the school: At least one note, naming students who would be killed, had been found in a restroom. According to Sapulpa senior Julee DeLong, who is now president of the school’s Christian club, administrators approached the matter cautiously that day, not wanting to incite panic. But Ricky Watkins, 17, a lanky former drug dealer who had recently converted to Christ, decided it was time to tell his schoolmates about Jesus.

“He came to me after second hour,” remembers Julee, 17, an all-conference soccer goalie and this year’s Sapulpa homecoming queen. “He told me he felt like we should give an altar call in the cafeteria. I thought, ‘This is it, God! This is what I’ve been waiting for!’” The pair rounded up about a dozen other Christian classmates and convened an ad hoc prayer meeting in the school gym. The little band of prayer warriors then marched into the lunchroom.

“Ricky stood up and called for everyone’s attention,” says Julee, “but teachers came and immediately carried him out because we had had that threat and they didn’t know what he was going to do.”

Teachers may have removed Ricky from the lunchroom, but the gospel message remained. At least three other students—Caleb Howard, 15, Lizzie Cameron, 18, and Alex Kocheshnov, a Russian foreign-exchange student who could barely speak English—stood in Ricky’s place and declared the love of Christ. Some students jeered at the young evangelists, but according to Julee, most just listened. Teachers, administrators, and the school superintendent (present on campus because of the bathroom note) entered the cafeteria and watched from the periphery. At the end, five students declared faith in Christ.

Sapulpa administrators let last spring’s lunchroom mini-crusade unfold. But when Caleb tried again this fall, Sapulpa’s principal stopped him with a preemptive warning: One-to-one evangelism was fine, but commandeering the cafeteria would be disruptive and unfair to listeners who might feel captive. The principal’s action still chafes at Julee: “You look out and see 300 people you know are probably going to hell. How can eating lunch and not disturbing the peacefulness be more important than saving eternal souls?”

Her passionate response is typical of many teens, says Tom Gill, 20, a student at Victory Bible Institute in Tulsa who spent three years working with Teen Mania, one of America’s largest youth mission organizations. “Teenagers have something no other part of the church body does,” he says: “It’s something like Timothy had—they aren’t willing to believe there’s something they can’t do. Tell a teen he can’t dye his hair green and he’ll say, ‘Yeah, right.’ If there’s a Christian teen seeking the heart of God, there’s nothing that’s going to stop him.”

Christian researcher George Barna told WORLD he believes “teens are into spirituality, but they do not limit themselves to Christianity. They believe it is important to believe in some deity and to integrate that faith into their life, but they also believe that any faith will do. They are very much into inclusiveness and tolerance, and such pluralistic attitudes cover the faith realm.” Indeed, only 26 percent of teens surveyed by the Barna group said they are “absolutely committed to the Christian faith.”

Lindsay Beth Giolzetti, a 9th-grader with a “Got Milk?” grin, is a 26-percenter. A student at Scripps Ranch High School in San Diego, Lindsay Beth says she’s very open about her faith, and regularly drops breadcrumb-trail hints about church, youth group, and Sunday school for her unchurched friends. “All my friends know I’m a Christian,” she says. “There’s no one who doesn’t like me because of it.” Lindsay Beth says some kids gently tease when she opts for a church activity over, say, a sleepover. But her feathers aren’t ruffled: “That may bother some people, but it doesn’t bother me.”


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