It was a test all of us would hope to pass, but none of us really wants to take. A masked gunman points his weapon at a Christian and asks "Do you believe in God?" She knows that if she says "yes," she'll pay with her life. But unfaithfulness to her Lord is unthinkable. So, with what would be her last words, she calmly answers "yes, I believe in God."
What makes this story remarkable is that the gunman was no communist thug, nor was the martyr a Chinese pastor. As you may have guessed, the event I'm describing took place last Tuesday in Littleton, Colorado.
As the Washington Post reported, the two students who shot 13 people, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, did not choose their victims at random—they were acting out of a kaleidoscope of ugly prejudices.
Media coverage has centered on the killers' hostility toward racial minorities and athletes, but there was another group the pair hated every bit as much, if not more: Christians. And, there were plenty of them to hate at Columbine High School. According to some accounts eight Christians—four Evangelicals and four Catholics—were killed.
Among them was Cassie Bernall. And it was Cassie who made the dramatic decision I've just described—fitting for a person whose favorite movie was "Braveheart," in which the hero dies a martyr's death.
Cassie was a 17–year–old junior with long blond hair, hair she wanted to cut off and have made into wigs for cancer patients who had lost their hair through chemotherapy. She was active in her youth group at Westpool's Community Church and was known for carrying a Bible to school.
Cassie was in the school library reading her Bible when the two young killers burst in. According to witnesses, one of the killers pointed his gun at Cassie and asked, do you believe in God?" Cassie paused and then answered, "Yes, I believe in God." "Why?" the gunman asked. Cassie did not have a chance to respond; the gunman had already shot her dead.
As her classmate Mickie Cain told Larry King on CNN, "She completely stood up for God. When the killers asked her if there was anyone who had faith in Christ, she spoke up and they shot her for it."
Cassie's martyrdom was even more remarkable when you consider that just a few years ago she had dabbled in the occult, including witchcraft. She had embraced the same darkness and nihilism that drove her killers to such despicable acts. But two years ago, Cassie dedicated her life to Christ, and turned her life around. Her friend, Craig Moon, called her a "light for Christ."
Well, this "light for Christ" became a rare American martyr of the 20th Century.
According to the Boston Globe, on the night of her death, Cassie's brother Chris found a poem Cassie had written just two days prior to her death. It read:
"Now I have given up on everything else
I have found it to be the only way
To really know Christ and to experience
The mighty power that brought
Him back to life again, and to find
Out what it means to suffer and to
Die with him. So, whatever it takes
I will be one who lives in the fresh
Newness of life of those who are
Alive from the dead."
The best way all of us can honor Cassie's memory is to embrace that same courageous commitment to our faith. For example, we should stand up to our kids when they want to play violent video games. We should be willing to stand up to community ridicule when we oppose access to Internet pornography at the local library.
For the families of these young martyrs, I can only offer deep personal sympathy and the hope that they might take strength from the words Jesus spoke to the woman who honored Him by pouring ointment on His head. "Wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her" (Matthew 26:13).
"Well done, good and faithful servant. Now enter into the joy of your Lord" (Matthew 25:23).
Copyright (c) 1999 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. "BreakPoint with Chuck Colson" is a radio ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.