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College singers in jet crash healing through faith, prayer, witness, music

ARKADELPHIA, Ark. (BP)–A year ago on “Good Morning America,” Charles Fuller, director of the Ouachita Singers, said to Diane Sawyer, “There are times in life when your faith has to mean something. It can’t be something that you just talk about. It has to be something that empowers you to live life.”

Fuller made that statement in the wake of the crash of American Airlines Flight 1420 on June 1, 1999. He said this as 25 members of the Ouachita Baptist University choir tour group, who were on board the flight, worked to recover from their shock. He made this statement as one of his students, James Harrison, was still missing, as another of his students, Kristen Maddox, was in Arkansas Children’s Hospital with burn injuries — and as his own 14-year-old daughter, Rachel, stayed in intensive care with most of her body burned.

A year later, Fuller recounted that God “gave” him that statement, and in the past year he has worked to fulfill it in his life.

“God has provided whatever we needed whenever we needed it,” declared Fuller. He explained that throughout the past year as he has spoken with the press, God has provided. As he received the information that the body of 21-year old Harrison was found in the plane wreckage, God provided, and as he stood at the funeral of his young daughter, God provided.

This past year has held trials and triumphs not only for the Fuller family but for the entire group from the Arkadelphia, Ark., college.

“It is so hard for us to believe that we have made it through this year,” declared Anna Lloyd, an OBU senior who was on the plane. “It was a feat that I wondered if it would ever happen.”

School has been difficult for those students aboard the plane, Lloyd explained, but the group has been there for each other throughout the past year. Prayer has had a big impact on the group, she said, noting, “There’s no way we could have made it without the prayers of each other and the Ouachita family and the support of Arkansas Baptists.”

Lloyd also emphasized the witnessing opportunity the plane crash created. The group of Ouachita students was traveling home from Germany where they had been on a music mission trip. It was with this heart for missions that the group began instantly to reach out to the others on board the ill-fated flight.

“From the moment that the plane hit the runway, we had the role of a servant witness,” Lloyd said.

Jon Merryman, a fellow senior who also was on the plane, added that the group’s witness has continued since that night.

“A lot of people are searching. There is one lady that e-mails me and says, ‘How can you still be a Christian? How can you see God in all of this?'” Merryman said. “Another woman’s husband left her because she became a Christian after all of this.”

Fuller said he saw the group’s continued witness as a way to “honor the lives of Rachel and James.”

The Ouachita group aboard the plane is part of a larger 50-member select choir that has also worked to honor the memories of Rachel and Harrison. During the past year the choir has premiered three pieces written in memory of the two.

The choir, however, has performed this year without one soprano. Ouachita Singer Maddox required multiple skin graphs on her hands and arms because of the burn injuries sustained in the crash. She missed the fall semester of school, and her beautiful soprano voice has not returned. However, this has not stopped her from pursing her music degree. In fact, she has begun singing in her church choir again, although she is able only to sing alto and her voice lasts about 15 minutes.

On May 6, Maddox was married to James Cheng, a fellow student at Ouachita, and members of the choir sang during the ceremony. Merryman, who was part of the group, said the wedding was helpful to those in the crash. “We sang three of the songs we did in Europe before the crash, and those songs, in our heads, are associated with the crash. Kristen and her physical injuries are associated with the crash. All of that together, plus the joy of the wedding was almost like a closure,” Merryman said. “People are moving on, and there is good happening … and everything is going to be fine.”

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  • Rachel Rains