Recent natural disasters and this week's mass shooting in Las Vegas are expected to heighten the significance, relevancy and poignancy of Thursday's fourth annual "Bring Your Bible to School Day."
"Students will be participating when the nation is really hurting," said Candi Cushman, education analyst for Focus on the Family and founder of the observance. "Christian students rely on Jesus' words in the Bible for comfort and hope, and through this event they'll be able to share that with peers."
Focus on the Family, an evangelical Christian organization headquartered in Colorado Springs that promotes biblical principles worldwide, sponsors the event, but students lead it, Cushman said.
The organization expects some half a million students nationwide, including students in Colorado Springs, to join this year's effort. Kids also will be using the hashtag #BringYourBible on social media, to explain their reasons for being involved.
Palmer High School student Ethan Willard said he was motivated to sign up because it gives him a chance to share what Jesus has done in his life.
"Christians shouldn't be afraid to bring their Bible to school and share who they are and what they believe, but sadly, many are," he said. "This day provides comfort in knowing that other people will be doing it, too."
Ethan, 15, said he prays that people who bring their Bible to school will be "a light in a dark place and show love, compassion and kindness to people around them."
Participation can be as simple as a student bringing a Bible to school Thursday, placing it on their desk and reading it during free time, Cushman said.
Other students use posters and cards to promote the event and organize activities at lunch or breaks. They may gather in groups and discuss a favorite Bible verse or take turns reading their favorite chapters, she said.
"For students, it provides a visual reminder of their basic First Amendment and freedom of religion rights," Cushman said. "They don't have to leave their faith behind when they walk through the school doors. They don't have to be ashamed of their core faith-based beliefs."
The event has rapidly gained popularity, from 8,000 students taking part in 2014 to 356,000 in 2016.
"The fact that it has grown exponentially took us by surprise," Cushman said. "That tells us students are finding it meaningful and encouraging."
Nationwide, Christian students have reported difficulties in being open about their faith at school, she said.
Those include being told to put Bibles out of sight, not pray before they eat lunch and not use the words "God" or "Jesus" in a classroom, as in the case of an Indiana elementary school teacher at the start of this school year.
Such incidents prompted Cushman to create "Take Your Bible to School Day."
"We knew those things weren't correct," she said.
Students who join the observance receive information about religious freedom rights, which if challenged, they can show to teachers or school administrators.
"I think it's caught on because students have said they have a feeling it's not safe to be open about their faith, and this has helped them feel 'I'm not alone. This is not something I have to hide,'" Cushman said.