Do you believe in miracles?
If you ask the more than 20 youngsters of Lawrence's First Christian Church youth group, the answer will be a resounding "yes".
One calamity after another befell the group after it left June 6 from the church at 1000 Ky. and headed for a leadership conference in Denver. The group returned Wednesday afternoon -- five days later than planned -- having survived repeated vehicle breakdowns in the mountains, then tornadoes.
"Everywhere we stopped there was somebody looking after us," said Becca Garrett, 18, one of the youths on the trip. She managed to take photographs of the tornadoes from the bus.
On the first afternoon of their journey, the group's 16-year-old school bus broke down "in the middle of nowhere in northwest Kansas," said Ben Harris, co-leader of the youth group along with Cindi Birney.
But the bus quit running near a garage that specializes in bus repairs, Harris said.
"To find someone open on a Sunday afternoon in northwest Kansas, well, that's pretty incredible," he said.
The bus broke down again a few days later after reaching Denver. The group was on its way to see the Great Sand Dunes National Monument, in southern Colorado's Sangre de Cristo mountains.
"Two of the students started praying, and 15 seconds after they stopped a little old man in a pickup truck pulled up," Harris said. "I was just joking and asked him if he'd pull us up the mountain pass. He goes and gets out these chains."
The man and his old V-6-powered Chevy truck pulled the youths and their bus through the pass and for 25 miles until they arrived at the town of Walsenburg. While the group was on a bathroom break at a gas station, the station's cashier called her husband, who was a police officer. He got townspeople to open a gymnasium so the group could spend the night.
The bus was repaired and the group went sightseeing at the dunes. But the bus broke down again in Walsenburg on the way back to Denver. Again, it was repaired by the service station. And more than $800 worth of repairs during both breakdowns was forgiven.
"He had a program called 'Cars for Christ' and he took the money out of that fund," Harris said. "All he asked was that we help underprivileged kids."
The bus had one more breakdown before the youngsters made it back to Denver. This time it was at Monument Pass.
"We were right in front of a World Mission Center," Harris said. "They let the kids stay there. A guy dropped like 20 calls to come and work on the bus."
In all, the bus had fuel pump, fuel line, fuel filter and carburetor work. Some repairs required that the gasoline tank be dropped.
The vehicle had been inspected in March and supposedly was cleared of any problems, Harris said.
"It runs great now," Birney said.
But the trouble wasn't over yet. Tuesday afternoon, an hour after leaving Denver, the group encountered bad weather. Group members took cover in a restaurant basement in Byers, Colo., after seeing four tornadoes in the distance. When they came out after the storm passed a Denver television crew happened to stop and ended up interviewing the youths on camera.
The group later stopped for the night in Limon, Colo., after truckers warned them of continuing bad weather ahead.
"Everywhere we went, people opened their arms to us," Birney said after the bus and its passengers returned to the church shortly before 4 p.m. Wednesday.
The youngsters agreed.
"At first it was really frustrating, but then God showed us we didn't have anything to worry about and that he was in control," Alissa Garrett, 16, said.