Americans are now forming impressions, based upon the unfolding news accounts, of the deadliest school shooting rampage in our history, a carnage that left 33 people dead on the Virginia Tech campus Monday. The questions that we generally raise are almost always the same: Why didn’t the school stop this sooner? How did the police, the counselors, the teachers, the dorm directors, all fail? How did the shooter’s parents fail? How can we stop this random violence in the future? And where can you go, or allow your children to go, and be truly safe? And, as with other tragedies, even non-believers often ask, “How could a good God allow such an act of senseless violence?”

Two questions interest me this morning. These are both questions that require you to dig a little deeper into the news cycle to get any resemblance of an answer. First, who was Cho Seung-Hui, the shooter? What do we know about the life of this 23-year old that might reveal to us why he began these random shootings, ending his life with suicide? And, second, how do ordinary people respond to these shootings and how will they make sense of this day for the rest of their lives?

First, Cho Seung-Hui, the shooter himself. He was a South Korean immigrant who arrived in the United States with his family in 1992, as an eight year-old boy. His parents worked at a dry-cleaning business in suburban Washington, D.C. He had been writing plays for some time and the content was dark and evil to say the least. He also left an eight-page note that has not yet been released to the public. An official, speaking on condition of anonymity, quoted the eight-page note as saying, “You caused me to do this.” Seung-Hui indicated in this same letter that the end was near for him and there was a deed to be done. Most striking of all he indicated his deep disappointment in his own religion, making several references to Christianity in particular. This makes me want to know so much more. What experience of Christianity did Cho have and how did it impact him, embitter him, or disappoint him so very deeply? We can’t know until more information is revealed but I want to follow this story with real interest. I would like to see what it might tell us about how we as Christians might face the real truth about how our communities of faith often fail our own people who are deeply troubled. How did Christians respond to this young man’s pleas and depression? What happened that made him so angry with faith? This I do know, there are a lot more like him who have experienced deep disappointment with our communities and actions. Disillusion runs high among young people who have been touched by various versions of Christian faith and practice.

Second, there are always stories of heroism and intense personal pain that fill our newspapers following such an event. One such story is that of one shooting victim, 30-year old Garrett Evans of Chicago. Evans was shot through both of his thighs and will survive. He describes in our daily newspaper this morning the feelings that he had as he dove under a desk just as he was hit. He expressed the typical emotions of victims by saying, “Dang! This is real.” He also says he saw the gunman’s face and played dead so he would not come back and finish him off. He described the classroom scene as “a war zone.”

With what may be incredible understatement, Evans added: “Man, the devil entered him. I know he did. The way he shot, this guy knew what he was doing. He was total fierce concentration, a very high level of seriousness about what he was doing. When he came in the door, he certainly had a purpose in mind. He wasn’t erratic at all.” (I wonder how many Christians take this comment seriously since we tend to act as if the devil doesn’t even exist most of the time.) When Evans saw the photo of the killer he added, “I could tell by the look on his face, he was dealing with a world of hurt.”

During the bloodbath Evans said he prayed. What is amazing is that he prayed for the gunman himself, demonstrating that people of faith do find strength, even in the midst of the worst tragedies, to pray and find hope. He said, “I made time to pray that I’m all right and that everybody else was all right. I was hoping he (the killer) was still alive and he’d get some help. I pray for everybody. I pray for me friends and enemies.” (In a most interesting side note, Evans even adds that had he listened to the spiritual promptings he experienced earlier in the day he would not have gone to class on Monday.)

What an amazing commentary on Matthew 5:43-48 Evans provides for us. Jesus says: “Pray for those who persecute you.” And repay evil with good. This is the mark of real faith. And it is the mark that will determine, to a greater or lesser extent, how those directly touched by Monday’s tragedy learn to live the rest of their days on this earth. They cannot, of course, ever forget this day. But they can take a Christ-like attitude of mercy toward a person like Cho Seung-Hui. They can also pray for his family and perhaps even seek to help them as they deal with their own pain and grief, which is likely beyond our imagination. At times like these we begin to see how the body of Christ can rise above the anger and rage of so many people and surprise us again by kindness and goodness.

Let us pray for the numerous victims in Blacksburg, for their families and for everyone else touched by this incredible tragedy. But let us also remember that tragedies like this occur every day, in far away places that Americans pay little or no attention to at all. Our media shows interest only in our American tragedies, unless they involve a war that we are upset about in Iraq and even then the focus is on us. (If you read newspapers outside the United States you see immediately how America-centric we really are as a people.) These non-US tragedies are just as real, just as painful, and just as evil as what happened in Blacksburg on Monday. Compassion is required every day, not just in the wake of another tragic school shooting. And realism about sin and evil are needed in abundance in modern America.   

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  1. ex ubf member April 18, 2007 at 4:42 pm
    According to this Korean news paper article, Cho was autistic from ealry on. Cho attended a Korean church in Centerville, VA for 2 years beginning in 2000 when he was a freshman in high school. The pastor who taught Cho said that Cho’s mom started to come to the church together with Cho to pray for her son to become more cheerful. She thought taking her son to a church might help his son. She always prayed for Cho to become more cheerful. But after 2 years later he moved to other church although his mom stayed at the same church.
    Seung-Hui always stayed in his room playing computer games too much. His mom was concerned about this so she made him go to the youth club on Saturdays. But he never hung out with the kids in the youth club. He never started conversation. Whenever the paster asked him a question, his answer was always either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and nothing more. The pastor could not carry on conversation with him. The pastor and Seung-Hui’s mom tried very hard to help him make friends with no success. He was always by himself. The pastor’s daughtor and Seung-Hui went to the same high school. The pastor’s daughtor said that Seung-Hui acted the same way in school too.
    The pastor also says that Seung-Hui never did anything violent. He was a good boy. He was very smart and an excellent student. Seung-Hui was quick to understand what was taught from the Bible. But the pastor says that Seung-Hui was about 20% sincere with his faith.
    The pastor met Seung-Hui’s mom in April at a grocery store. He asked her how Seung-Hui was doing. The mom said that Seung-Hui was going to VT and he wasn’t changed much.

  2. John H. Armstrong April 18, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    Thanks for this amazing and extremely helpful story. What a tragedy and how it makes me want us to better understand autism too. The church can be helpful or hurtful in dealing with such people. It sounds like these people really did try and that they should not be blamed at all. Blaming doesn’t solve the problem anyway.
    I wonder if your account will get out into the full story. I pray it does. Thanks for informing all of us who read these comments. We are in your debt.

  3. ex ubf member April 18, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    It seems that Seung-Hui had the problem of connecting to the world outside him even when he was in Korea. When he came to America which might have been totally a new world to him, (new culture, new people, new language, and his mom was not at home any more for him) what must it have been like to the 8-year-old Seung-Hui?
    Since the Cho family had to wait for 8 more years to come to America and Seung-Hui was 8 years old when he came to US, Seung-Hui must have lived the bad part of the family life while the family was living on their savings waiting to go to US.

  4. John H. Armstrong April 18, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    I think I accidentally deleted a part of your full post because I thought it was an repetition of what appears above. If this is the case would you put it up again if you have the time? This is so important for everyone to read.

  5. ex ubf member April 18, 2007 at 5:44 pm
    This article is an interview of Seung-Hui’s grandfather from his mom’s side. When Seung-Hui was still in Korea, the grandpa says that Seung-Hui was so shy that he never wanted to be hugged by him. Unlike his sister who was so bright (She was accepted to Harvard but decided to go to Princeton because it offered her more scholarship), Seung-Hui was so quiet that the family worried that Seung-Hui might have speech problems.
    Seung-Hui’s father went to Saudi to make money before he married Hyang-Im, Seung-Hui’s mom. She was 29 years old when she married Mr. Cho. They started a used book store with the money Mr. Cho earned in Saudi. The business was not so bad that they soon baught a small house. Mr. Cho loved the two children dearly because they were born to him in his old age (The interview doesn’t say how old he was at that time).
    One day Mr. Cho’s relatives in US sponsored him to emmigrate to US. Mr. Cho and his wife decided to go to America that their children might have a chance to have better education in America. So they sold their house and business. But they could not go to US immediately because they didn’t pat the extra money that could have made them come to US right away. So they had to wait 8 more years. In the meantime they had to live on their savings. So by the time they finally came to US, they didn’t have much money with them.
    Mrs. Cho was a full time housewife in Korea. But she now had to work togeterh with Mr. Cho to survice in America. In the beginning they had tough time to settle down in US. They workd very hard night and day. But when they thought about their two children, they were happy to suffer everyday.

  6. Gene Redlin April 18, 2007 at 10:53 pm

    Wow, I learned more in a 3 minute read here than in watching hours of CNN.
    Thanks everyone.
    He was a sadly disturbed young man.

  7. jls April 19, 2007 at 8:33 am

    The Cho family must devastated by this horrible event. In all the U.S. media frenzy, we have not seen them yet; they must be in hiding. But someday they will have to emerge and try to carry on with their lives. Satan, the relentless accuser, is surely attacking them without mercy right now. They need our prayers.

  8. JDY April 19, 2007 at 3:00 pm
    Let us keep the Cho family in our prayers as her sister prepares a public statement on behalf of the grief-stricken family.

  9. ex ubf member April 19, 2007 at 7:36 pm

    “More students than ever are arriving on campus with a history of mental illness. How schools are coping with a growing problem.” ( )
    Here is an excerpt from the article:
    “By all accounts, in the last decade the number of students arriving on campuses with a history of mental illness has increased. According to the latest survey conducted in 2005 by the American College Health Association, four out of 10 college students reported having “felt so depressed it’s difficult to function” during the prior 12 months. One in 10 had “seriously considered suicide.” Experts cite a litany of causes for the apparent increase. Adolescence seems more stressful today, some say, with students facing more academic and social pressure. Some claim a generation raised by “helicopter parents” seems somehow less independent and less resilient than the students who arrived on campuses in decades past.”

  10. ex ubf member April 19, 2007 at 8:25 pm
    According to this article, Mr. Kim, Seung-Hui’s maternal uncle, said that Seung-Hui was diagnosed with autism in US.
    “언젠가 설날에 전화를 한 조씨의 어머니는 걱정스러운 목소리로 ‘아들 승희가 자폐증 진단을 받았다’고 말했다고 김씨는 기억을 더듬었다.”
    “Mr. Kim recalled that Seung-Hui’s mother called him on one New Year’s day and told him in concerned tone that Seung-Hui was diagnosed with autism.”
    After Seung-Hui was diagnosed with autism, she began to go to church with Seung-Hui thinking that attending a church might heal his autism although she was never a Christian before.

  11. ex ubf member April 25, 2007 at 11:18 pm

    There was a father who brought his son to Jesus. His son was possessed by a spirit that had robbed him of speech. This story about the father and the son is very similar to the story of Seung-Hui and his mom who brought her son to the church. The disciples at that time could not help the father and his son. It is interesting to see that Seung-Hui and his mom were not helped 2000 years later either.
    One thing that looks very interetsting in the story is that the father applealed to Jesus personally when his disciples could not help him. He was extremely lucky because Jesus was physically around him at that time while Seung-Hui’s mom was not as lucky as he was. Only if Seung-Hui’s mom or the pastor or anyone else had done what the father did in the story…
    Jesus said, “O unbelieving generation…” It doesn’t seem to be fair to blame the whole generation. But he did. Maybe this generation is not Generation X or Generation Y but Generation U, unbelieving generation. We are unable to heal a boy like Seung-Hui.

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