Faithfully yours - The day the world changed


Neil Strohschein
Neepawa Banner & Press

April 28, 1999 was the day Rev. Dale Lang’s world changed forever. It started with a phone call. The message was short: “Jason (Lang’s 17 year old son) has been shot.” As Lang would later share: “I didn’t ask any questions. I didn’t need to. I knew it was serious.” It was, in fact, very serious. Jason subsequently died from his wounds.

The shooting that cost Jason Lang his life took place at W. R. Myers High School in Taber, Alberta. It came roughly two weeks after the school shootings in Columbine, Colorado that left 12 dead and 21 injured. “This,” as one observer put it, “was a Columbine-style copycat High School shooting by an angry, bullied boy.” How sad. How very, very sad.

Lang’s response to his son’s death earned him the title of a national hero. His first act was to publicly forgive the shooter. “My family and I felt we had to,” Lang said. “That’s what Jesus asks us to do.”

The day of Jason’s funeral began with a public memorial service in the Myers School gym. It was open to students, staff, community members and national media. After a few opening speeches, Dale Lang came to the podium. With Bible in hand, he talked about the love of God, the power of forgiveness and the need for all people to feel loved, accepted and forgiven. He didn’t preach. He just spoke as a grieving dad to a grieving community.

Then he did something that hadn’t been done in an Alberta public school for years. He looked at the assembled multitude and said: “Folks, we are going to take back our school.” He asked his family and a few others to join him at the place where Jason died and they offered a prayer, calling on God to cleanse the school of the evil that had caused this tragedy and make W. R. Myers School a place where every student felt welcome, safe and secure.

Nineteen years have passed since Jason Lang’s death. But his father’s words mean as much today as they did back then—especially in the wake of the senseless killing of 10 pedestrians on a busy street in downtown Toronto. We can only imagine what’s going through the minds of the victims’ families—the shock and grief they feel and the questions they have—questions for which there may never be any answers.

There is, however, one question that we must keep asking until we find an answer—“What must we do to keep tragedies like the ones in Humboldt and Toronto from happening again?”

Dale Lang’s words can help us here. Nineteen years ago, he urged students and staff in W. R. Myers High School to take back their school. Since then, he has devoted his time and energy to helping people across Canada who have experienced similar tragedies take back their lives and not let the things they endured determine what they do with their remaining years on earth.

As I pondered the impact of the Toronto tragedy, I asked myself two questions. First, what has our society lost that is contributing to the carelessness we show in our activities and in our treatment of others? Second, how do we take back what we have lost so that, with God’s help, we can build a world in which people love, accept and forgive others as we have been loved, accepted and forgiven by God?

Step One requires us to look deep within ourselves. That will be the subject of next week’s column.