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Bonfire tragedy: death is not picky, answer is hidden

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (BP)–As 44,000 Texas A&M students found out Nov. 17 after the collapse of a 40-foot bonfire killed 12 “Aggies” and injured 28 more: death is not picky. It takes the young just as it does the elderly. It steals the vigor of youth even as it plucks the aches from old age.
Just as students worked together to build a 90-year-old tradition of 8,000 logs stacked in a 6-tiered pyramid, they worked together to pull it apart in search of trapped classmates. Dragging off a log at a time, sometimes to discover a friend smashed in half or disfigured by the weight of the wood, students were faced with the question ‘why did this happen?’
For Chris Osborne, pastor of Central Baptist Church in Bryan, Texas, the answer is not unanswerable, just hidden.
In a special memorial service for the 11 students and 1 former student, and their families, Osborne tried to comfort students and explain the Bonfire tragedy to a sanctuary full of “Aggies.”
“We now face the question ‘why?’ when the funerals are over and the pats on the back are gone,” Osborne said. “And for most of the whys we ask in our lives, God gives us an answer. ‘The righteous will live by faith. You believe what God says — not what we see’.”
Osborne directed students to Genesis 3 and then to Revelation 22:6.
“God made this world and He made it perfect. We gave it to the enemy and in came pain and mourning. But I’ve got some great news!” Osborne said. “I’ve read the end of the book! When God comes again He’s going to fix this world and we’ll never experience another Bonfire falling again.”
Gregg Matte, a 1992 Texas A&M graduate and founder of Breakaway Ministries, a weekly Bible study that has grown to 4500 students, said he’s been encouraging students to man their posts as Christians and to make themselves available to other students in their classes and dorms.
“In the next couple of weeks, we’ll begin to unpack the grief for the students who are really looking for something else, for answers,” Matte said. “We are seed planting right now.”
Breakaway Ministries held a prayer meeting on campus 14 hours after the collapse. Thousands of students attended seeking comfort and explanations and heard the presentation of the Gospel.
“In these times we have a combination of grief and hope and they seem to be contradictory, but they’re not,” Matte said. “The hope is that God would use this for good. The grief is that it’s a tragedy.”
It took rescue workers and students two days to dismantle the logs strewn together like pick-up sticks.
“There is one memory that is burned into my mind,” Matte said. “For a 24-hour period there was one student who was unaccounted for. I stayed in the parents’ waiting room and as we waited, the phrase ‘unaccounted for’ became code for ‘at the bottom of the stack.’ To see the grief of a mother not knowing where her daughter is, is something I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Trying to cope with the reality of death in whatever way they can, many students have turned to one another and what is called the “Aggie Spirit.” Thousands of farewell letters, poems, ribbons and flowers litter the ground surrounding the Bonfire site. Student organizations, parent organizations, university departments and community members and businesses have donated time and money to resurrect memorials in honor of the 12 fallen “Aggies.” This is what makes Texas A&M unique: it is an extended family bound together by a patriotic sense of school pride and personal integrity, students say.
Osborne said after this week he wouldn’t live in any other community but told students Jesus was the only healer.
“I love ‘Aggies’ and what they bring to this church. But as great as the ‘Aggie Spirit’ is, it can’t heal their hurts,” Osborne said. “Only the Holy Spirit can heal their hurts through the blood of Jesus Christ. They need an amazing grace that’s found in Jesus.”
Melissa King is a Texas A&M student and a free lance writer.

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  • Melissa King