Monday, August 13

The Wakeup Call - "Think About It Series"

The Wakeup Call

(Excerpt from his book – “Evil Invades Sanctuary”)

“Get your people out of the building or I will bring it down -- I have the explosives, and I will do it now!” As his profanities boomed through the big lobby, I saw the initial expressions of bewilderment from those around him. Then they began running out of the building as he undressed, revealing ominous ink scribbles on his bare upper torso -- instructions to the coroner regarding his body when the day was done.

As I witnessed his rage, I kept a watchful eye on the Walther pistol in his right hand and a pile of stuffed green military packs on the floor in front of him, in which he claimed were enough explosives to destroy the building. I could see what appeared to be small white wires going from the loaded pack material to a trigger device in his unstable left hand. He had taken two female receptionists hostage; I will never forget the way the women trembled. It was obvious this was no joke, and equally clear that my day’s priorities had just been changed.

It wasn’t the kind of scene one would typically see or hear in the normally peaceful lobby of Focus on the Family, a non-profit ministry intended to provide hope to families through biblical principles.

I worked for Focus through the development and construction of their campus in Colorado Springs. We had just finished the installation of a new panic alert system when this incident happened. When the alert sounded on my radio, I thought a receptionist was checking to see what would happen if she activated it.

Life is full of details which may not fit the larger narrative. Adrenaline burns some things into memory, distorts some, and loses some after a significant emotional event. That morning I had ripped my pants out. Too busy to go home, I called my wife to bring me another pair. Laughing, she discretely picked me up behind one of the buildings. After changing clothes in the mini-van, we went to lunch. We kissed goodbye as she dropped me back off at Focus at 1:10 PM.

Seventeen minutes later, my radio alarm sounded.

I am sure there are many who can recall similar stories of what they were doing before the day changed. In Colorado Springs, many were going about their business with no clue that an angry man awoke that morning, deciding “this is the day.”

Perhaps as he lit the first marijuana joint in his apartment, the receptionists – who would later become his hostages – were straightening the reception counter so it would look nice for the day’s guests. As he began writing those eerie messages on his skin, Focus employees in accounting, shipping, broadcasting and other departments were assuming their normal routines. As he was walking the last miles from where the taxi dropped him off, parents were walking their children through the Focus on the Family story-book rooms filled with pictures of “Mr. Whitaker” and the other familiar child entertainment characters.

He walked past a gardener who smiled and greeted him as she was weeding a flower bed. He passed by without a word as the soundtrack of “Natural Born Killers” hammered his mind through his Walkman’s earphones. None of us had any way of knowing what plans were developing against us.

Just because we didn’t know the details didn’t mean we were unprepared. Procedures were in place, initial responders trained, and an automatic alert system established. Most importantly, we were not na├»ve about the possibilities.

Though the investigation revealed he had planned the attack for years, there were some things the gunman did not know that day. He did not know about a memo that had been written exactly one year earlier, on May 2nd, 1995. Prompted by an internal investigation following the April 19th Oklahoma City bombing, that memo requested some simple security upgrades. The panic alert system was one of those upgrades.

And the gunman did not know that this day -- May 2nd, 1996 -- was the National Day of Prayer.

Think About it:

  • Attacks start on an otherwise normal day.
  • Focus didn’t look like “security central” then and it doesn’t now. You do not have to resemble Fort Knox to have a good foundation of readiness.
  •  Pay attention to things happening to other congregations. An abuse scandal in Texas, theft of air-conditioning copper on the west coast, or a shooting at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin should get your attention just as the Oklahoma City bombing had gotten ours at Focus. Consider them as lessons learned.
  • Don Francisco was a popular Christian singer for a while. He sang a song about Jehoshaphat in which he ended with a claim that God “could have used the dog next door if He’d been so inclined”. Whatever level of readiness you accomplish, always understand that your safety will truly be from God – not accredited to your finest accomplishment. But let Him use you.

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