North Carolina and Tennessee Baptists are offering prayers and support for the families and friends of the six church members and two others who lost their lives in a tragic church bus crash Oct. 2.
Tim Stutts, pastor of Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville, N.C., spoke with the media Thursday. He shared how the tight-knit congregation will continue to seek God’s direction as they move forward after the horrific accident that claimed lives and left at least a dozen people hospitalized.
“Sometimes when we enter into situations like this, people like to ask questions – ‘Where is God in this?” he said. “I can tell you first hand, over the last 24 hours I have seen the hand of God.”
The crash happened as a senior adult group of 18 people, called Young at Heart, from Front Street was headed home after attending the Fall Jubilee 2013 conference, a three-day event in Gatlinburg, Tenn.
While traveling on I-40 near Jefferson City, Tenn., a blown-out front tire caused the bus to cross the median into the other lane and collide with a sport utility vehicle (SUV) and an 18-wheeler before overturning. Friends and family from the church are mourning the loss of Marsha Mclelland, 62, Barbara and Randy Morrison, both 66, Brenda Smith, 69, John Wright, 73, and Cloyce Matheny, 95. Trent Roberts, a 24-year-old passenger in the SUV, and 66-year-old Mose Farmer, the driver of the tractor-trailer, also died.
Stutts described the church members who died as “pillars” of their congregation and community.
“These are some of the foundational members of our church,” said Stutts, who spoke outside the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville. “Our church will not be the same from this point forward, because we have lost some terrific people.”
Volunteers with North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM) are working closely with Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief to assist the needs of friends and family members impacted by the tragedy. NCBM plans to assist with security, hospitality and parking at Front Street Baptist Church on Sunday.
Baptist leaders from both North Carolina and Tennessee expressed their sorrow for the family and friends and others impacted by the accident.
“Tragedies like this are a stark reminder that those who love and serve Christ are not immune from dealing with grief, loss and pain that exists in this world,” said Milton A. Hollifield Jr., executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
“However, followers of Christ are fortunate to know the presence and comfort of God’s Spirit when they walk through dark valleys of sorrow. As Pastor Tim Stutts shared with me all the expressions of love and support the Front Street Baptist Church family and those impacted by this tragedy are receiving, we acknowledged the blessings that members of the body of Christ give and receive in ministering to one another. As Christ followers, we are confident that even when things appear hopeless, our God can bring beauty out of the ashes of loss and sorrow. Even though we grieve over the passing of these Christians, we know they are rejoicing in the presence of Christ.”
Frank Page, president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, also spoke personally with Stutts.
“I … assured him of Southern Baptists’ prayers and support during this tragic time,” Page said. “I have known the church for years. It is a solid, Bible-believing, gospel-preaching church and has been for many, many decades. He is devastated, as is the entire church. We feel great sorrow over the terrible accident and are praying for them.”
Randy Davis, executive director-treasurer of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, also expressed his grief after hearing the news.
“Our hearts were saddened to learn of the tragic accident on I-40,” he said. “The conference they were attending in Sevier County is one that encourages believers to bring lost people to Christ. Coming away from a conference like that certainly intensifies the depth of the hurt and pain experienced by the families involved. I am sure that the prayers of all Tennessee Baptists go out to our sister church in North Carolina, as well as to our churches in Tennessee that have been affected by this horrific event.”
A former worship pastor at Front Street Baptist Church for 23 years, Kenny Lamm added that all of the friends, family and injured are going to need much prayer for a long time. Lamm is now the worship and music consultant with Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. He arrived in Statesville Thursday afternoon to offer help and support to the church.
“This is a very tight, unified, loving church that relies very heavily on God and they will make it through,” he said, adding that many have a “very long road of recovery” ahead of them.
A “Front Street Baptist Church Family Support Fund” has been established through the North Carolina Baptist Men (NCBM). All donations will be used to help meet expenses related to meeting needs – hospital, funeral, etc. – related to the tragic bus wreck.
Send checks to NCBM, P.O. Box 1107, Cary, NC 27512. Designate the check with the fund name. Donations may also be made online here or call Kecia Morgan at (800) 395-5102, ext. 5613.