News Articles

3 years of sorrow over teens’ deaths accompanied by youths’

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–God can work even in grief. Just ask Mike Caudill and the people of Hindman, Ky.
From 1996-98, the small town of 900 lost seven teens to car accidents and sudden illnesses. The community walked through a deep valley of loss, and few were plunged deeper into that valley than Caudill, pastor of First Baptist Church whose own 16-year-old son was one of the seven young people who died during that two-year span. Casey Caudill suffered an apparent cardiac arrest and collapsed on the field while playing baseball in March 1998.
But in the midst of a dark and seemingly empty time, God empowered the entire community with a spiritual revival. In just three years, 280 young people made professions of faith in Jesus Christ and five more were called into the ministry.
“The miracle is that God, who dwells in our darkness, can show us more light than we on our own have ever seen during the day,” said Caudill, referencing 2 Chronicles 6:1.
Caudill will share the story of his family, church and community during the Tuesday afternoon session of the Nov. 16-17 Kentucky Baptist Convention at the Northern Kentucky Regional Convention Center in Covington.
Caudill said the spiritual revival began following the death of 17-year-old Merri Katheryn Prater in April 1996. Prater, a cheerleader, top-10 student and well-loved member of the First Baptist Church youth group, was killed in a car accident in April 1996.
Caudill and the members of First Baptist Church met with grieving teens regularly following Prater’s death. Crowds of young people came seeking meaning and purpose to life. Though many prayed together, no declarations of faith came until the Easter Sunday following Merri’s funeral, when 24 people came forward and made decisions for Christ at the church.
As grief-stricken youth continued to cry out for answers, First Baptist members embraced them and provided a place where they could ask questions. For 16 straight weeks, the church turned over the Sunday night service to the youth. Seven teens, including Casey Caudill, formed the band “Burnt Offerings” to play for the special Sunday night services.
Many who attended the Sunday night services became an integral part of the fellowship of First Baptist and continue to be to this day, pastor Caudill said. Many others were encouraged to worship at other churches where their parents and family were members.
“When Casey went to heaven, more came [to know Christ],” Caudill said. At a school assembly following Casey’s death in March 1998, 16 youth made professions of faith. Caudill, grieving the loss of his only son, was unable to attend the assembly but later baptized 11 of those who made professions.
Because of the relationships built in the community in the wake of earlier tragedies, the outpouring when Casey died was tremendous, Caudill said. Attendance at Casey’s funeral topped 1,000 according to news reports and dozens shared memories of the fun-loving, deeply spiritual teen.
“The grief never leaves; you just change the bandage and apply a salve of more love and more grace,” Caudill said.

    About the Author

  • Brenda Smith