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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Small towns no haven

Gunshots that killed four schoolgirls and a teacher in Jonesboro, Ark., shattered anew the myth that violence by and against children is only an urban problem. And along with their city counterparts, rural pastors are concerned about reaching children before violence does.

Peace in Jonesboro was shattered March 24 when two boys fired rifles at teachers and classmates at Westside Middle School as they filed outside during a false fire alarm.

Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11, face murder charges. The incident has left Jonesboro heartsick, along with the communities in southern Minnesota where Johnson grew up.

"Everybody knew Mitchell. He was part of this community," said Norman Bauer, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Ostrander, Minn. Mitchell's grandfather, Buster Johnson, is Trinity's president, and the family is well-respected.

Mitchell attended school in neighboring Spring Valley. His parents divorced in 1994. Two years ago Mitchell moved with his brother and mother to Jonesboro, where he joined a Baptist church.

While the communities heal and search to understand "why," clergy are reflecting on how society fails to support children. They're also looking at ways churches can better love and nourish youth.

"Our children are acting out our corporate anxieties in many ways," said Laird Duran, pastor of Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Jonesboro. In the last few decades America has become a less secure, more dangerous place, and children have suffered greatly.

"We've been too silent, too long," Bauer said.


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September issue

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