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Teen’s life marked by achievement, discipline & ‘phenomenal’ faith

BETHANY, Okla. (BP)–Justin Sullivan was an outstanding athlete and student scholar, a young man whose abilities could have tempted him to place himself figuratively above others.

Or, as he stood on the threshold of greater things, with goals of someday being an All-Star major league catcher and an outstanding surgeon, he could have rooted himself in self-sufficiency, as many professional athletes or scholars do.

But Sullivan, 18, had one thing that many of those people don’t — the love of Jesus Christ in his heart.

Sullivan, a member at Council Road Baptist Church in Bethany, Okla., was tragically killed around 1:20 p.m. June 3 when two wheels from a tractor-trailer rig smashed through the windshield and crushed the roof of the sports utility vehicle he was driving on Interstate 44 in northwest Oklahoma City.

Two others in the vehicle, his girlfriend, Elizabeth Darter, and baseball teammate and close pal Josh Walker, were not seriously injured in the accident. Walker credited his friend with saving his and Darter’s lives after Sullivan swerved the vehicle to absorb the brunt of the impact himself.

Walker would say in the days following Sullivan’s death that his friend “was blocking to the very end,” referring to Sullivan’s outstanding ability to block the plate as the backstop for the Yukon High School Millers.

Sullivan was a bonafide major league prospect. The day before he died, he was named the Daily Oklahoman’s 2002 Baseball Player of the Year. His senior season was one many players only dream of: .492 batting average, nine home runs, 52 runs batted in and 16 doubles. He was being recruited heavily by the likes of the University of Nebraska and Rice University — both of which made it to the College Baseball World Series this year — and the University of Arizona, Oklahoma Baptist University and Southern Nazarene University.

His talents and success didn’t stop when he stepped off the diamond. He graduated third in his class in May, sporting a 4.33 grade point average.

Beyond hitting the textbooks, however, Sullivan’s favorite books were the Bible and a personal prayer journal his mother, Juliann, gave him last January. As much as he was a disciplined athlete and scholar, Sullivan was a faithful student of God’s Word and a prayer warrior in every sense of the word.

“The thing about Justin is that he was so disciplined in every area of his life,” said Chris Wall, minister to students at Council Road, who preached at Sullivan’s funeral June 7.

“He really had this incredible discipline,” Wall said, “and that carried over as well into his walk with the Lord. His journal is phenomenal.”

Wall, who has been at Council Road six years, said Sullivan impacted virtually everyone he met.

“He was a great young man,” Wall said. “He was exceptional in everything he did. He would have been one of the greatest professional athletes. Yet, he was very humble, and he was almost embarrassed with all of the attention he received.”

Wall said Sullivan had seven or eight friends that he brought to church with him on a weekly basis.

“That includes some guys who have really plugged into our ministry because of Justin,” Wall said. “His Sunday School teacher always said, ‘Man, I wouldn’t have a class if it wasn’t for Justin.'”

Wall said Sullivan was “a real quiet leader.” Although he was just like any other teenager who enjoyed having fun with his friends, he was uncomfortable with receiving attention in a group setting.

“He was very, very humble, and had a balanced perspective on life,” Wall said. “I used him in illustrations a lot when speaking to the kids, and he always liked that but, at the same time, he was a little bit embarrassed by it.”

Sullivan wasn’t ashamed of his faith, and he let it show, no matter where he was, Wall said.

On baseball road trips, Sullivan’s “witness by living” was noticed by his teammates.

“When we were planning his funeral, some of the guys on the team recalled that Justin used to bug them because at night they’d be trying to go to bed and he’d have his light on reading his Bible,” Wall said. “On a recent bus trip to go skiing with friends from school, he’d turn his light on and read his Bible.

“Student after student talked about how Justin was and how his life made such an impact on them. There were so many great things about him, but one of the greatest testimonies about him that really needs to be told is that Justin was a young man who had a real walk with God.”

Wall emphasized that Sullivan’s walk with God was “real and it was impactful. It was a daily walk. He wasn’t one who would get up and talk in our Bible studies, but he was there almost every Sunday morning and Wednesday night, sitting right in the middle. He was really plugged into our ministry here.”

Sullivan was a disciplined person of prayer as well. His journal is filled with entries of when he interceded for others — his sister, his parents, his friends and teammates, his teachers, both at school and at church, and many others.

Sullivan’s brief life was celebrated twice. First during a memorial service with about 300 people in attendance at the funeral home the night before his service, and at his funeral. At the memorial service, Wall quoted the words of Jesus in John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overtaken the world” (NAS).

“I told those in attendance that I didn’t understand why Justin was taken from us, but that I know Justin was ready to meet the Lord,” Wall said. “Then I asked the question, ‘Are you ready to meet the Lord?'”

Some 50 lost people raised their hands when he asked for an indication from those who felt they weren’t ready, Wall said. “So many people have come up to me since Justin died and said his death has really started them thinking about their lives.”

The college-age Bible fellowship at Council Road has been impacted by Sullivan’s death as well.

“The day before Justin died, we started a new university Bible fellowship,” Wall said. “In May, I took the recent high school graduates for three weeks, and then we started the new department with about 40 people the first Sunday in June.

“The next Sunday — the Sunday after Justin was killed — we had 90 people there. So, it’s like since Justin’s death, we have probably had a jump of about 30 new young adults. And, these are young adults who didn’t participate in our youth ministry during high school.

“Justin was a young man whose story needs to be told, because the secular media [who reported on the wreck] didn’t really point out his walk with God,” Wall concluded. “They pointed out his athletic achievements, which were incredible, and his academic achievements, but they’re not going to say, ‘This kid loved Jesus and he made an impact on the lives of people.’

Baptists “need to know that this was one of our kids. This young man was exceptional in his walk with God, and he is a product of our churches,” Wall said.

“He, and others like him, are the reason that an investment in youth ministry is critical. We need to make a major investment in the lives of our teenagers, because they are our future, and they are the ones who 10-15 years from now will be making the decisions in our churches and will be leading us.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: JUSTIN SULLIVAN and FAITHFUL TEEN.

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  • Bob Nigh