GARLAND, Texas (BP)–Metro Church pastor Scott Camp and his congregation believe God is able to turn tragedy into triumph — even when the tragedy is the death of several of the church’s youth.
More than 800 church members gathered to ask God to do just that in an impromptu, emotional worship service June 24. Joe Couregge, an elder at the church, said that the church members expected God “to show up and move among his people.”
Four teens from the Garland church were killed Monday morning when the bus in which they were traveling veered off the highway and struck a bridge abutment near Terrell, Texas, 30 miles east of Dallas. Forty-seven children were aboard the bus that was en route to a five-day church-sponsored youth camp on the campus of Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, La.
Killed were Michael Freeman, 12, of Wiley; Amanda Maxwell, 13, of Plano; Michelle Chaney, 14, of Garland; and Lindsay Kimmons, 16, also of Garland.
Freeman, Maxwell and Kimmons attended Metro Church regularly. Chaney attended nearby Arapaho Road Baptist Church.
Twenty-five other teens were hospitalized with injuries from the incident. At least two of the injured remain in critical condition at Parkland Hospital and the Methodist Hospital of Dallas.
Camp visited the site of the crash and hospitals in Terrell and Tyler and was able to speak with the families of those killed.
“Their hearts are broken. There is a lot of sadness, but on the countenance of our people we see peace and sense that all is going to be well in the midst of this,” Camp said.
He returned to tell his church and numerous media personnel that — despite the great tragedy experienced by the church — he had “experienced the love of Christ and hope only a Christian can know at a time like this.”
Before the worship service, Camp was asked why he thought the tragedy occurred. Camp replied that he could not say. “The whole question of suffering has always been difficult for me. I may never understand but I will trust God.”
“This is the worst nightmare of every pastor in America,” he said. “Christians, however, are unique because we are able to praise God in the midst of tragedy. We praise him when things are good. We praise him when things are bad.”
Sean Burns, a deacon at the church, said that he also would trust the Lord. “God’s ways are higher than our ways. I don’t have to understand it. I just have to accept it. As I told the media people this afternoon, ‘it could be that God wants you all to hear about Jesus.'”
The hour-long worship service was more than a celebration of the victim’s exceptional Christian lives. “They were great kids. They were wonderful kids,” Camp said. They were, more importantly, testimonies to the power of Christ over sin and death, he said.
“In a few days we will have a memorial service and put their bodies in the ground. But that is not them,” he said. “When people know Jesus you never really lose them. We are only temporarily separated.”
“If you do not know Christ as these young people did, you are born once but you die twice. If you know him, you are born twice but die only once,” he added.
Those assembled for the service applauded and cheered Camp’s comments.
“This is the body of Christ and the body is a community. When one of us hurts we all hurt. Grief transcends denominational and political boundaries, but there will be hundreds of lives impacted for good,” he said.
None of the youth involved in the crash spoke at the service, but several of the injured that had been released from hospitals near the accident were able to attend.
“Seated all around you are kids whose faith has been tested today, but they are in this church tonight because they know the Lord. … The Lord speaks peace to the pain and the trauma that’s in the hearts of these kids,” Camp said as he watched the teens filter into the sanctuary. “These teenagers who have just been released from the hospital are praying for you to receive Christ.”
It was not long before the impact of the teen’s prayers and the message of hope bore fruit. Several people prayed to receive Christ at the close of the service.
“I know four people who are rejoicing in heaven right now,” Camp said of the teens who had been killed earlier in the day.
Camp and other church officials said that the response of the North Texas community to the tragedy has been overwhelming. Restaurant outlets and retailers donated food and supplies and hundreds turned out to give blood. Other members of the community have already begun to donate funds for the families.
Officials with the Texas Department of Public Safety have yet to determine the cause of the crash. Officers conducted two separate braking tests in order to determine the speed at which the bus was traveling at the time of the crash.
Ernest Carter, 51, the driver of the Discovery Tours bus, also was killed. Discovery Tours declined to issue a statement on the crash. Dallas County court records indicate that Carter had a criminal history dating back to 1992 for misdemeanor and felony charges, including assault with a deadly weapon and driving with a suspended license.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: MOURNING THE LOSS OF A FRIEND, CONSOLING EACH OTHER and A GRIM REMINDER.