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What do you say to help survivors of a horrific tragedy? Pastor Gino has recently faced this tough question, not once but twice.
Gino Geraci, pastor of Calvary Chapel in South Denver, Colorado, USA, was serving as a local police chaplain in 1999 when two young men shot and killed twelve fellow students and a teacher at Columbine High School, Denver, USA. Gino was later asked to minister at Ground Zero, New York City, in September 2001, after the Twin Towers were demolished by terrorist attack.
He shared his sobering experiences in a recent broadcast interview with AiG’s Ken Ham.
Voted “most likely to go to hell” in high school, Gino’s life was in a tailspin until God showed him that His Word is true from the very first verse. “In high school I was not just a pagan,” he told Ken, “I was an antagonist of Christianity. I would find Christians and figure out ways to humiliate them because I was so anti-Christian.”
Gino explains that his “paganism” grew out of the lack of belief in absolute truth: “When children are left on their own, if there are no rules, if anything goes, anything will go.”
At the root of his relativism was evolution. He says his indoctrination into evolution occurred at a very early age. His fourth-grade teacher took him to see the famous paleontologist Louis Leakey1 at a fossil dig in the nearby Mojave Desert. That was where Gino found his first fossil, an experience that began his “love affair with evolution”, reinforcing the idea that there is no God and you can do anything you want.
Gino’s church is about three blocks south of Columbine High School. He was serving as a chaplain at the county police department when the infamous shooting occurred. He arrived on the scene as events were unfolding.
Not widely publicized, he says, is that one of the student killers was wearing a T-shirt that read “Natural Selection”. Based on the killers” own Web site, Gino says we now know that they were deeply committed to evolution. They believed that if they shot or killed people, they would be simply scattering their molecules.
One of the other pastors (along with Gino Geraci) at Ground Zero was Skip Heitzig. He remembers:
“The air was thick from the pulverized cement of the fallen towers of the World Trade Center as the fireman pointed to a cross (photo opposite). It hadn’t been placed there by any person. Rather, it was formed by the massive metal support beams that had been violently ripped apart but which now stood as a seemingly stark reminder of another death. The huge firefighter who showed it to me was adamant, ‘It was a sign! I was pulling corpses out of this debris. No signs of life! No hope! Then I looked up and there it was!’ Five of us stood there studying it—two FBI agents, a local police officer, the fireman and me.
“In this solemn place of mass murder and senseless death stood a reminder of the One who came to bring eternal life. Such a moment couldn’t be more poignant. What’s more is that this same fireman who showed us the cross was determined to remove it and preserve it as a memorial. We all locked arms, bowed our heads and prayed—can you imagine? Four emergency services professionals and a preacher praying that this cross and the One who gave His life on one like it two thousand years ago would not be forgotten—even here at ‘Ground Zero’!”
When the superintendent came up to Gino later that day, weeping and asking why it had happened, Gino blurted out, “You have taught our children that they come from nowhere, and that is where they’re going, and that life is a point of pain in a meaningless existence. And they believed you.”
The superintendent’s response was shocked silence.
Certainly the shooters were responsible for their own actions, but Gino says this generation must come to grips with the consequences of living in a Western culture that has adopted the philosophy that evolution is fact. When evolution is taught as “truth” in schools, it has real consequences. Of course, students don’t suddenly wake up one morning and say, “Oh, I’m a product of evolution, I think I’ll go and kill someone today.” Evolution increasingly pervades the thinking of the society, from generation to generation. Eventually, young people no longer have any concept of Christian morality, of right and wrong; just doing what is “right in their own eyes” (cf. Judges 17:6; 21:25).2
“The whole evolutionary mindset is breeding a militant atheism and an antagonism towards Christianity,” Gino concludes, “where any talk about God in a public setting becomes unacceptable. I believe that we as Christians have to contend for the faith—firmly and forthrightly reminding people that there is a God. We must be salt and light in a decaying culture.”
Gino and his church have been actively showing people the clear connection between evolutionary assumptions and society’s decline. Pastor Gino has talked to many police officers who see this connection, as they fight evil “on the streets”. They recognize the need for trustworthy information that counters the so-called “facts of evolution”. Several police officers have come to Christ as a result of Gino’s ministry.
Gino explains the biggest lesson from the Columbine tragedy, for him personally: “It’s given me a certain boldness and assertiveness, along with a sense of urgency—we can no longer be squeamish about presenting the truth of the Bible.”
Evangelist Franklin Graham was with US President George Bush during the terrorist attacks on New York City’s Twin Towers, 11 September 2001. The President approved Graham’s request to bring a team of pastors to Ground Zero—and one of them was Gino.
After hurrying to New York, and seeing first-hand the rubble 14 stories high, Gino was struck by the fact that something so big and expensive as the Twin Towers could become so worthless so quickly.
There Gino saw a repeat of Columbine—shock and dismay, as the rescue workers went about the grim duty of trying to find people and recover bodies. People were asking, “Why?” and “Is there a God?” A recurring theme, as Gino walked through the rubble and met with officers and firefighters, was “What happens when you die? Where has my loved one gone?”
Although the circumstances of this tragedy were totally different from Columbine, there was a striking similarity. The tragic truth is that people were trying to understand the events through the filter of what they had been taught about evolution. If we evolved from bacteria, what hope do we have?
Gino Geraci reflects:
The Scriptures say that when the righteous rule, the people rejoice. And the New Testament says that what a person sows, he shall also reap. I believe that the application isn’t just to individuals but to nations.
If you sow the wind, how can you not reap the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7)? Especially if you’re constantly isolating and then alienating God from your thinking, from your school system. We have to ask ourselves a very important question, and that is, do ideas have consequences on a national scale? And I think that the answer is yes.
Something dreadful is happening. There is a group—even within the Christian community—which has abdicated the truthfulness of what’s contained in the Word of God. In other words, they’ve really reinforced the relativism and said, “Well, you know, the Bible doesn’t really mean what it says and it doesn’t really say what it means.”
Gino said his understanding of a literal Genesis “definitely helped me” in ministering to those people, because “the account of the literal Genesis points to a future Saviour who’s going to redeem us”. He often directed people to the counsel to Christians in 1 Thessalonians 4:13: “I don’t want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.”
What is the basis for this hope? Gino continued with these telling words:
“I really believe that what people are looking for in the most tragic circumstances of life is an authoritative, credible source of information. That’s why the attack on the credible, authoritative information in the first 11 chapters of the Book of Genesis creates such problems in our culture and society….
“One of the things that I found in common with Columbine and Ground Zero is that people in crisis, people in the worst circumstances of their life, want to know: Is there something real? Is there something true? Is there something that they can hold onto that’s going to be true in every single circumstance?”
The answer is a resounding “Yes!” We can trust the Word of God from Genesis to Revelation. This certainty allows us to speak with loving authority when ministering to people in crisis—a time when people really want more than ever to know the truth.
Gino prayed beside one young girl, named Val, who had multiple gunshot wounds and was lying in a pool of blood. In February 2003 he met her mother, and discovered that Val is now in college and doing well. Her mother told him that she was so thankful that God sent someone in her place to be with her daughter. But for a young lady named Cassie Bernall, the story ended differently, as Gino explains.
“You know, that young girl, Cassie Bernall? I had the privilege of meeting with her mother and father, and going to her funeral. Many people don’t know that a couple of years before the Columbine incident, she was deeply involved in witchcraft and black magic—stumbling down an occult road. Her desperate parents, taking the advice of a church youth pastor they contacted, they yanked her out of her school circumstances and put her in a Christian school. Through the church youth group and the Christian school, Cassie was exposed to the Gospel and got gloriously saved. But when her old friends began to harass her, driving by and throwing things at her house, the Bernalls sold their house and moved to a new home near Columbine High School, where they decided it would be safe for Cassie to enrol. Cassie became more and more active as a Christian, carrying her Bible to school every day.
“You probably know the story that during that fateful day, one of the gunmen put a gun to her head and said, ‘Do you believe in God?’ People have said, well, that never really happened. There were students who survived the incident, and those students indicated to me that not only did she say yes, but when she said yes, she looked up. She didn’t just look at the gunman; she looked up. The forensic evidence shows that when the gunman discharged his weapon, the shot in her face went upward, because she was facing upward.
“It’s one of those powerful realities. Not only do ideas have consequences, but—more and more Christians are going to have to come to grips with this—when you stand for the truth in a wicked age, sometimes it might involve sacrifice. We have to be willing to literally live out the consequences of what we believe, that the Bible is true, that Jesus Christ is the Lord and that He offers the only satisfying solution to the problem of sin.”
Pastor Gino became a Christian without initially abandoning evolution. He gives, in his own words, an account of his “conversion” to the authority of God’s Word, beginning in Genesis, which took place in a so-called “Christian” college where, ironically, his teacher challenged him to accept evolution unequivocally. He says:
“One of the most heart-wrenching circumstances of my life was the so-called Christian community’s commitment to the evolutionary model. I was shocked at the science department’s commitment—and I do mean commitment—to the evolutionary model.
“One of my teachers asked me, ‘Well, Mr Geraci, now tell me, what came first, the chicken or the egg?’
“And I replied, ‘Sir, with all due respect, I believe that the Bible teaches that God created the chicken, and the chicken laid the egg.’
“And he said, ‘Okay, Mr Geraci, Mr Smarty-pants, what came first, the Bible or the church?’
“And I said, ‘Sir, again, with all due respect, I think you’re making a gigantic mistake. You see, certainly Jesus authored the church, but the church didn’t write the Bible. The Bible claims to be an authoritative document written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The record can’t be true and evolution true at exactly the same time.’
“It was at that point that I fully and finally dismissed evolution.
“The Genesis Flood book, which had become popular in the mid-1970s, proved not only helpful, but was the grist that gave me the courage to make this stand.”