This year's Bakersfield Prayer Breakfast was bigger than ever. More than 1,200 people attended Thursday morning.
Organizers say they nearly ran out of seats at the 33rd annual event. This is the second largest prayer breakfast in the country. The planning committee says comments that the breakfast was exclusive and predominately Christian, spurred on attendance.
"A little bit of criticism really set off a fire in this community that we stand for prayer," said Joe Hanson, Prayer Breakfast Planning Committee. "We're just carrying on a tradition that started back in 1774. So, it's amazing that Bakersfield pulls this off every year."
The keynote speakers were Laurie and Bill Bolthouse who talked about the role prayer played in the making of their movie about human trafficking, called "The Trade of Innocents."
This year's prayer breakfast had some honorary guests as well - students and staff affected by the Taft Union High School shooting.
"We're honored to be here today," said Mitchell Emberson, a senior.
Some of those in attendance were in the science classroom when police say a student opened fire. They included two staff members, students say, saved their lives, Kim Fields and Mary Miller.
"I just want to say 'thank you' to whoever invited us," said Seth Faagau, a junior.
Faagau held his friend, 16-year-old Bowe Cleveland, after police said Cleveland was shot by fellow student Bryan Oliver. Faagau remembers that day, but says with the support of the community the horrible memories are fading.
"After some therapy, talking to somebody, it helped me out. And, it hasn't come back ever since," said Faagau.
The Prayer Breakfast Planning Committee reserved three tables for Taft students and staff, free of charge.
"We saw what happened in Taft, something that you can't explain and something that is atrocious," said Hanson. "We ask God why? Where were you? And, we find comfort in His prayers."
Thursday, they shared a smile and a cinnamon roll, later a prayer lead by one of their own.
"There has recently been a shooting at our school and our hearts are really heavy about that," said Kayla Schuyler, a senior at Taft High School, as she addressed the crowd.
Schuyler prayed for the victim. "I thank you Father for not letting those lives be taken from us. I thank you for continuing to heal our victims that have been in the hospital," said Schuyler.
She also prayed for the shooter. "We need to show him peace Father. We need to continue to show him your light and your peace, Father."
Three weeks after the shooting, together these students say they're going forward.
"It's not about the shooting. It's about our Taft High family," said Emberson. "We're all together and that's how we'll be for the rest of time."
Including time at events like this to help heal the wounds.
"We're stronger. We're together we're a big family," said Faagau.