HINDMAN, Ky. (BP)–Ella Mae Prater couldn’t help but notice several youth Sunday school lessons in materials published the past two years by LifeWay Christian Resources. The lessons focused on teaching young people how to deal with premature death.
“They’ve been through so much, our young people could write the lessons,” said Prater, of Hindman, Ky., whose daughter’s 1996 auto accident death touched off a wave of revival in this eastern Kentucky town of 800. “We have been through so much the last five years.”
Nor has tragedy taken a break from Hindman. In addition to the deaths of seven students and an adult volunteer with First Baptist Church’s youth group, other deaths have involved:
— Two recent high school graduates in an accident a year ago.
— A student from Knott County Central High School, whose all-terrain vehicle crashed last November.
— A secretary at an office next door to the Praters’ home. The woman, who died in early March in yet another accident, had watched Prater’s daughter, Merri Kathryn, grow up in this close-knit community.
“It just seems at the high school and in the community to be an ongoing thing,” said Prater, an English teacher at the school. “We can’t help but wonder what goes on in the hearts of these young people.”
Still, she is able to find joy in the midst of suffering, such as the donations that established college scholarship funds in the memory of her daughter and Casey Caudill, who died in 1988 and was the son of First Baptist Church pastor Mike Caudill.
And, Merri Kathryn’s friends haven’t forgotten her. Two or three times a year a group of them stop by the Praters’ home with food for dinner. They often stay past midnight.
Many discuss the changes that transformed their lives and the role her daughter played in them.
“They talk about how [her death] helped them realize how fragile life is and how important it is what they do with their lives,” Prater said. “It has had an impact that has been felt deeply and strongly.”
At First Baptist Church, that has stirred a stronger ministry of prayer, she said. In addition to a prayer chain, separate men’s and women’s groups meet weekly. After Sunday night services, choir members gather to discuss needs and pray.
And though the sweep of youth revival has ended, she believes its full extent may never be known. Many young people touched by it have grown up, married and taken their faith to other communities, she said.
For Prater herself, there is no doubt it made a lasting impression.
“There are no words to describe what my faith has meant,” she said. “In Christ we do not grieve as the rest of the world. I grieve because my relationship with my daughter is gone. But that’s only temporary.
“Even in the joys and triumphs I encounter, my heavenly Father will be there walking me through it. That has been a source of laughter in the midst of tears. I love him and to know how much he loves me has helped me to grow tremendously.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: MERRI KATHRYN PRATER.