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Cedar Springs mission group weathers British youth in bombing aftermath

When a group of 16 high school students and graduates from Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church left for London Thursday, June 30, it was a smooth beginning to another of the church’s many transcontinental mission trips.

They could never have known that terror would become a part of their trip.

As ambassadors of American Christianity, the group was traveling to Sutton, England, a suburban district of London, to speak with British students about their experiences of faith and American culture.

Midway through the trip, four bombs were detonated in London — three on tubes, or subways, and one on a commuter bus — and the questions posed to the mission group from their audience changed.

Following the July 7 attacks, [London students’] questions changed from general faith-based questions to “things like ‘how could God let innocent people die like this?’” mission member Kelly Kohlbusch, a 2003 Bearden High School graduate, said. “Kids were worried about parents or family in the city, too.”

Kohlbusch added that up to that point, questions from the British youth were fairly normal and the Knoxville youth presented a multitude of interactive and visual activities to promote their faith and its importance in their lives as Americans. Youth events were planned for the students from the two countries to interact.

“I was excited to see a new place as great as London,” she said. “I was excited about our team and what we would be able to share with the students in London.”

Following the bombings, questions of faith become more heated for the students of the United States.

“They started to ask questions like, ‘why would a loving God kill innocent people,’” Kohlbusch said.

It was in response to these questions that Cedar Springs high school youth leader Damon Kelly felt that his kids shone.

“The responses to me were incredible,” Kelly said. “As the week went on, the questions got harder and as the kids got stretched out of their comfort zone, I felt like they continued to do a great job in answering the questions head on.”

Kelly added, commenting on the strength of resolve in one of his students, Kiely Concannon.

“I was just in awe of how honest and refreshingly winsome Kiely’s answer was to questions like, ‘how could God let something like this happen?’

“She also pointed out to the British students that if everything were perfect, we would have nothing to compare goodness to.”

Kelly ended with his reflection on the tough questions. “Trials and suffering are what God gives us to give a proper view of what he truly is.”

Lucinda McKay, a youth leader at Cedar Springs who accompanied the group, had different concerns.

“I was worried about being responsible for other parents’ children,” McKay said. Generally, you don’t have to worry about the threat of bombings when you are in with a group of kids in the states.”

For some of the group, the July 7 bombing brought back some ill memories of tragedy closer to home.

“I had put nine-eleven kind of in the back of my mind,” Kohlbusch said. “Being so close to the violence makes you think again that we are in a war. It is much more real when it is around you. My mind just went straight back to nine-eleven when I heard about the attacks. I found myself sympathizing with those kids.”

After their short tenure with the schools, the students did some sightseeing with caution. “We did a lot more walking,” McKay said. “We didn’t want to be on the tube or any buses much with what had happened earlier.”

The Cedar Springs group returned to the United States late Thursday, July 14.


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