News Articles

Testimonies note God’s grace after fatal church van accident

WINTER PARK, Fla. (BP)–Five weeks after a church van accident that killed one person and injured seven others, members of Aloma Baptist Church in Winter Park, Fla., were able to celebrate God’s grace.
During an emotional Sunday night praise service Aug. 22, church members and guests heard the testimonies of those involved in the July 16 crash, which occurred when a tire blew out and flipped the van as the church’s youth and their sponsors were returning home from a mission trip to Marianna, Fla.
The praise service marked the first time that Susie Rabun, whose husband, Bill, was killed in the accident, was able to attend church after being hospitalized with serious injuries sustained in the crash. She was unable to address the congregation, but smiled and waved as church members gave her a standing ovation. Pastor Anthony George shared a few thoughts on Susie’s behalf.
“She can’t do it physically, but emotionally she’s hugging every one of you,” George told the congregation. Susie, who initially was expected to remain in intensive care for 60-90 days if she survived her injuries, asked George to tell the church “she believes she’s here today because of the prayers of this church.” Also, she asked him to relate, “I would do it all over again for Jesus.”
Laura McCue, who was released from the hospital on Wednesday before the Sunday evening praise service, said as she stepped forward to give her testimony that she had planned to speak and then sing, but was reversing the order because her lung injuries still were causing her to become short of breath. That was barely apparent as she began to sing, and her voice strengthened as she continued and finished the song.
In her testimony, Laura — who will begin college in January — recounted her salvation experience at age 7, when she grasped the concepts of sin, repentance and forgiveness after getting in trouble for drawing on a wall.
She also told how her older sister, who died from a brain tumor at age 6, had been saved as a preschooler, and how a cousin, who had died from leukemia, was also a Christian, and how knowing that brought a sense of peace about their eternal security.
She shared briefly about the opportunity she had to lead a man to Christ during door-to-door visitation while she was on the mission trip.
Laura herself was in a coma for three days following the van accident, and doctors thought she was going to die, she recounted. But “the Lord had a different plan.”
Her recovery was so unexpectedly quick, she said, that when a new doctor was assigned to her case and stopped in to check on her, he thought she must be a friend there to visit his patient — from looking at her charts, he did not believe it was possible for Laura herself to be up and functioning as well as she was.
While she was comatose, Laura remembered, “the Lord was with me and I was talking to him. He was holding my right hand and telling me I was going to be OK. … ‘It’s not time for you to come home yet.’”
Laura appealed for anyone attending the service who had not yet accepted Jesus as Savior to do so. “I want to see every one of you in heaven with me someday,” she said.
Bonnie Gilliland, wife of Aloma youth pastor Brian Gilliland, shared a vivid account of the van accident, recalling that their 3-year-old son, Will, had become a bit fussy on the return trip and that she had considered taking him out of his car seat. Her hand was on his belt, ready to unbuckle it, when she had a powerful sense that the Lord was telling her not to do it.
“It was seconds after that we went off the road,” she said.
Will came out of the accident with only minor injuries.
Bonnie and Brian both recalled how Bonnie, after being pulled from under the van with burns and broken bones, tried to witness to two men who had stopped at the accident scene and tried to shield her from the sun while waiting for additional help to arrive.
Bonnie, who successfully battled cancer a few years ago, said she had been praying for God to give her “a new testimony” and to allow her to have a part in the spiritual harvest.
While on the mission trip, she witnessed to a girl she first saw at a mall putting gum on a telephone for a prank. She shared the plan of salvation and the girl prayed to receive Christ in the mall restroom.
Others sharing during the service included teenagers Faith Crouse and Mandy Wright, who were passengers in the van. The two girls expressed gratitude for their youth group and its leaders, and for support provided by church members following the accident.
Another passenger, Shannon LaFoy, was unable to attend the praise service because she was on a plane bound for Japan, where she is beginning a second year of mission service at Christian Academy near Tokyo. Her father, Bryant LaFoy, read Shannon’s written testimony, in which she recalled wondering, “Why was I the only one that walked out of the mutilated van?” She realized, after struggling with the question of whether to go back to Japan, that God was showing her this was his will for her and that he had protected her for that purpose.
“Life is brief,” Brian Gilliland emphasized in the closing moments of the service. “Knowing that, I want to be found faithful when my day comes.”

    About the Author

  • Shari Schubert