By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Every night before Donald goes to sleep, he says a prayer for his family. He asks God to protect his parents, his six siblings and his grandparents. And he tries to block out all the things he was told would happen to his family, all the images of hell with the faces of his loved ones behind the flames.
The fourteen-year-old, whose blond hair is tucked beneath a Colorado Rapids baseball cap, has wide, trusting blue eyes. "Donald," who did not want to be identified by his real name, is soft-spoken and agreeable. He's the kind of kid who does his chores without any prompting, who's disappointed if a "B" blemishes his report card. He just completed his freshman year at Green Mountain High School, and he's looking forward to spending the summer doing what he loves best--playing sports. Donald almost always wears sports attire--one day it's a Denver Broncos Super Bowl T-shirt, the next it's a blue shirt with a red Nike logo and white satin Nike shorts. His basement bedroom walls are covered with posters for car racing, the Broncos and the Avalanche. Ice hockey is his favorite spectator sport, and the player he admires most is Theo Fleury--"The shortest hockey player at 5'6" and one of the best in the NHL," says Donald, who is proudly one of the smallest freshmen in his class.
When he's not in school on the sprawling, modern campus in Lakewood--where his favorite classes are math and science--Donald is on the field, playing soccer with the Green Mountain team or roller hockey for a league outside school. He doesn't want to be an athlete when he grows up; instead, he wants to treat his heroes--as a doctor of sports medicine.
Donald looks out on a warm evening from the front steps of his home in the quiet neighborhood near his school. Some of the residential streets end in cul-de-sacs; others, like his, are situated on continuous streets that wind through the hilly area. The lawns are well-tended; basketball hoops hang above garage doors. Donald's one-story gray house with white trim is home to seven kids, a golden retriever and a friendly gray and white cat that rubs against the boy's legs. Although it will be a couple of years before he's behind the wheel, Donald already has a favorite car--a blue Dodge Viper with a white racing stripe.
But he's not too eager to drive, nor is he interested in having a steady girlfriend, though he "knows girls that want to go out with me." He went to homecoming and to a Sadie Hawkins dance. Dating may come later, but for now, he says, "I have other important things in my life to do."
Things like spending time with his family and friends, making good grades, perfecting his kick and studying the Bible. "'For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son...' You know that one, from John 3:16? That's my favorite verse. I've known it ever since I was little. It really shows what the Bible is about and what Jesus is about. It shows that if you believe in Jesus, you'll have eternal life," says Donald, who can recite John 3:16 and about ten other passages without faltering. The words comfort him, make him feel safe.
For five years, Donald was in a youth group at his parents' church, Bethel Baptist in south Denver. Sometimes only three other kids would attend; at most, ten would come to the Bible studies on Sunday mornings before church services. If they had good attendance, the kids earned trips to the Cherry Creek Reservoir or to Laser Quest or Fun Plex to play laser tag. Memorizing Bible verses could also win them outings, but there were no strict rules--their youth group leaders just wanted them to have fun.
In January, one of Donald's friends at Green Mountain High invited him to join a new youth group with about seven high-schoolers in the suburbs west of Denver; about 25 students from other parts of town would attend the church services. The friend who invited Donald had attended a Bible camp, where he met other high school students who are part of the youth group. Donald's stepfather, Steve, and his mom, Debra, were happy that Donald would be joining a bigger group of young Christians.
In the beginning, Donald studied the Bible with the three other Green Mountain students for about thirty minutes, and then they would play Nintendo or jump on his friend's trampoline. Soon the youth group's adult minister asked Donald to reserve a room at Green Mountain High so the kids could meet there after school. They met in the library once a week and outside when the weather was warm. The meetings were brief--30- to 45-minute studies on different topics in the Bible. One week they studied Bible verses dealing with sin; another week they read the parts about friendship and "how friends need to stick together and always have a close relationship," Donald says.
After a couple of weeks, the youth group started meeting more often. Donald went to church services on Sunday nights, Tuesday nights and Friday nights. In between, he went to Bible studies--where boys and girls met separately--and to devotionals, where the youth minister went over the sermons from the last church service. "They told us that to be a true disciple, we had to get together and study the Bible every night," recalls Donald, who was with his church group from 6 to 10 p.m. most nights.