National Walkout Against Gun Violence: How One School's Prayer Approach May Bring Lasting Change
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On Wednesday, March 14 at 10 a.m., thousands of students from across the country walked out of their classrooms to remember those killed during the Parkland, Florida, shooting massacre last month and to call for gun control.
However, one school in Chesapeake, Virginia, is cutting through the high-strung political climate with a different approach.
Greenbrier Christian Academy also participated in the national walkout, but instead of calling for political remedies to a tragic situation, they honored the victims with a memorial and prayed for their families, the alleged shooter, the nation's schools and asked God to heal the United States.
"We just wanted to give our students a way to honor the victims and be a part of the national discussion," Danielle Gullickson, the school's community director, told CBN News.
The school set up a memorial of 17 empty chairs, each with the photo and name of one of the victims. A white carnation with a white ribbon tied around it accompanied each photo. Approximately 200 students in grades 7-12 were divided into 17 groups, and each group was assigned one of the victims.
"They don't want to be used for a political agenda but to do something to honor the people who were involved and suffered from this tragedy," Gullickson said.
Around 10 a.m the students walked out of their classrooms and filed past the 17 empty chairs to different parts of the campus. There, each student group had a discussion and time of prayer for 17 minutes.
"We all came together as a school body and took a moment just to remember the victims and to pray for their families and friends and everyone affected by the incident," Dylan Buyrn, a senior, told CBN News.
"I think that prayer is an amazing tool; I think that prayer is part of the heart, and I think that there's a time to mourn and to take time out of your day to respect the families," Jessica Ferebee, a senior, told CBN News. "But I also believe that faith without works is dead... there also needs to be something done to put the prayers into action."
"I think that it's very important to treat people with kindness; I think that a lot of things like this could be avoided," she continued. "Seeing those students was devastating; I saw their personalities, their smiles in the pictures, and it made it so much more real than 17 names on a piece of paper."
"I think that if time had been taken to comfort the kid (the alleged shooter) at a younger age, then something could've been done," Ferebee added. "So I think it's an issue that needs to be worked on, but I think that we can fix it."
"I was raised in a school locally that was a public school, and we had prayer every morning, and I don't remember mass shootings during that time," Dr. H. Ron White, the superintendent of the school, told CBN News.
"So I think the idea that prayer is not effective is incorrect," White continued. "I think prayer is powerful, and I think students need to see prayer being prayed; they need to see answers to those prayers."
And like Ferebee, White believes it's important to follow up those prayers with action.
"You were in the hall a few minutes ago; you know there were some tears being shed by students and faculty," White said. "And so we just feel like that now our job is to reach out."
"Last week we talked about this about a student who may sit at the table by themsel(ves); it should never happen," he continued. "We should reach out, bring them in...."
He summed it up like this: "Change the heart; change the plan."
"We believe if the heart can be changed, then the results of that person making a plan to do something like (what) happened; that's gonna change as we reach their heart," he explained. "So that's our goal."
The school's younger students did not participate in the walkout, but their teachers emphasized to them the importance of being kind and emulating "Jesus' model of loving our enemies and people we have conflict with," Gullickson said.
Before the walkout, school authorities sent a letter to parents encouraging them to take part from home.
"Please pray for our students, our faculty, and our administrative team as we attempt to model to our student body how to serve others and respond correctly to our civil authorities," White wrote.
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