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Family grieves for pilot of fatal commuter crash, celebrates his spiritual legacy

LUTZ, Fla. (BP)–Marvin Renslow, the pilot of a commuter plane that crashed Feb. 12, left a “wonderful legacy” as his family’s spiritual leader, Alan Burner, an associate pastor at First Baptist Church in Lutz, told the Florida Baptist Witness, newsjournal of the Florida Baptist Convention.

Renslow, 47, was at the controls of the Continental Connection Flight 3407 from Newark, N.J., to Buffalo, N.Y., when it crashed into a house in a suburban neighborhood just six miles from the Buffalo airport — killing 44 passengers, four crew members, an off-duty pilot and one person on the ground.

The husband and father of two joined the Tampa Bay-area First Baptist Lutz in 1997 with his wife Sandra (Sandy). Their children, Tyler, 17, and Kaley, 12, were baptized at the church and all have been active members who attend “virtually every Sunday,” Burner said. Marvin also was an accomplished drummer who played on occasion at the church.

“Obviously they are grieving, but Marvin has left a wonderful legacy of spirituality. He was firm in his foundation as the spiritual leader of his family,” Burner said. “They are all very strong in their faith and in their understanding that God is sovereign.”

Burner and his wife were at the family home with Sandy when she received the second phone call from the airline telling her there were “no survivors” from the crash.

“They may not be grieving as they world would want them to grieve,” Burner said of the Renslows, who attended worship on Sunday after the accident, “but grieving with joy in their hearts and proud of their dad and husband and knowing that they will be with him again.”

Burner said the 900-member congregation immediately surrounded the Renslows with care and have been bringing food and other items to the home — and those in the couple’s small group Bible study have kept in constant touch.

Continental Airlines flew in Martha Martin, Sandy’s sister, and her husband Tracy from Austin, Texas, to be with Sandy as well, Burner said.

In the Midwest, members of Renslow’s family remembered him as an ace bowler, according to the Des Moines Register. Marvin, who grew up in Shenandoah, Iowa, learned the skill from his mother, Shirley, who gave junior league bowling lessons.

“He was my hero, and I’ll miss him,” Marvin’s older sister Shirlene Thiesfeld of Kansas City, Mo., told the Register.

Calling him a man of God and an example to his children, Renslow’s friends said he stayed in touch after graduating from high school and leaving Iowa to pursue his dream of flying.

Renslow’s son Tyler, who shared a set of drums with his father, has had a constant stream of friends surrounding him in the past several days.

Teens from the high school Tyler attends have been in and out of the home, acting as “extended family,” Burner told the Witness, while those connected to the elementary school where Sandy works have expressed their concern as well.

At church on Sunday in Lutz, the names of those who died scrolled on a big screen behind choir members while “Amazing Grace” played.

It was a “God thing” that Sandy and the children were held up in traffic and didn’t slip in until the end of the song, when only Marvin’s name was still visible, Burner said. Else the pain might have been too much.

Burner said he wanted to remind the congregation of the other families who were suffering as well — and extend sympathy to them on behalf of the congregation.

“This Sunday was different from any other in the life of the church,” Burner recalled telling the congregation. “Our church family has experienced tragedy because one of our families has experienced tragedy.”

It also was different because senior pastor Charles White, who typically preaches the Sunday sermon, was out of the country on a mission trip.

Drawing on Psalm 23, Burner said he delivered an evangelistic message challenging listeners to make sure to choose the “good shepherd,” Jesus, as Marvin Renslow had done.

“We consider our mortality when these things happen,” Burner said, admitting to preaching out a sense of urgency. “It was a sense of, God’s giving us a message here and He’s letting us know that our time on earth is undetermined and He’s letting us know we need to be prepared for the life He has for us in heaven.”

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, Renslow had been with the airline for nearly three and a half years and had logged 3,379 hours of flying time. Their investigation has so far not found anything mechanically wrong with the plane, but has focused on icy conditions. A full investigation is expected to last at least a year.

A memorial service for Renslow is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 20, at First Baptist Church in Lutz. In lieu of flowers, the family has created a fund for the children’s education: “Renslow Family,” Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union, 1837 Collier Parkway, Lutz, FL 33549.
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness (www.floridabaptistwitness.com), newspaper of the Florida Baptist Convention.

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