By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
North Carolina congregation returns to Tennessee to say thank you, share gospel
Editor’s Note: Christians are not immune from tragedy and suffering. This issue of the Baptist and Reflector contains several articles and columns of how churches and individuals handle tribulations while at the same time bringing honor and glory to Jesus Christ. We encourage you to pass this issue along to others after you are through it. We have even included the plan of salvation on page 4.
DANDRIDGE — It’s safe to assume that Oct. 2, 2013 will forever be etched in the memories of members of Front Street Baptist Church in Statesville, N.C.
On that date nearly a year ago, six senior adults were killed and 12 others severely injured in a bus accident near Dandridge that also claimed the lives of two other people. The group was returning from a senior adult conference in Gatlinburg.
A blown out front tire caused the bus to cross the median into the other lane and collide with a sport utility vehicle and an 18-wheeler before overturning.
While the members will not forget the horrific tragedy, they also have not forgotten the countless acts of kindness shown to them by local Tennessee Baptists in the aftermath of the accident.
Fifty members of Front Street Baptist, including nine of the 12 survivors, returned to the Dandridge area the week of July 14 to say thank you and to minister locally.
The church worked in connection with First Baptist Church, Dandridge, which is located just a few miles from the scene of the accident.
“We wanted to come here to the community that ministered to our church members,” said Heath Stone, missions director for Front Street Baptist. “We wanted to come back and say thank you and tell others in the community about Christ,” he added.
Several of the first responders to the scene are members of First Baptist Church, said Pastor Bob Brown who saw black smoke from the wreck from his office window.
The accident scene was coordinated “long distance” by Sheriff Bud McCoig, also a member of FBC, who was in Nashville at a meeting when the accident occurred.
McCoig recalled that he stayed on the phone with people at the scene until his battery died. He then put the phone on his charger and continued directing the scene.
“On that day God put the right people in the right place at the right time to respond,” McCoig said.
In addition to missions activities, the church also hosted two luncheons for the Sheriff’s Department and EMT workers in addition to an ice cream social for medical personnel at the University of Tennessee Medical Center where the survivors were taken.
“It’s a blessing that they want to come back and do something for us,” McCoig said.
“We are grateful that they are coming back to help our community. God is great. He is the one we live for,” the sheriff added.
At the request of McCoig, Brown went to the scene to see if he could be of assistance.
“It was a mess,” Brown recalled, noting it looked like a war scene. There was a lot of carnage.”
When he arrived at the scene most of the survivors had been taken to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville.
Brown was able to minister to the family of one of the other victims in the accident who was in one of the other vehicles involved.
Brown observed that Front Street’s missions trip is a testimony to the Dandridge community.
“Dandridge is a small town. People here still refer to what happened as “the bus wreck,” Brown noted.
“It’s a great gesture that in the midst of their pain and heartbreak they are displaying the grace of God by wanting to come here and give back,” he continued.
“It’s been exciting to watch. We’re happy that we can play a small part in this.”
Stone noted that Front Street wanted to especially say “thank you” to the first responders.
“It was traumatic for them but they worked in a very professional way and treated our people very nicely,” Stone recalled.
For the same reason, they wanted to do something at UT Medical Center for those who treated the survivors. “We wanted to say thank you to them and give them an opportunity to see some of their former patients,” Stone added.
First responder remembers
FBC member and paramedic John David Holland was one of the first responders to the accident.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” said Holland, “It was the worst thing I’ve dealt with in 23 years of working with an ambulance service,” he recalled.
Holland said that when they first arrived on the scene he feared there would be no survivors. Vehicles were on fire and bodies were all over the road, he remembered.
The first two people he approached were dead, but the third person was a woman with shoulder and arm injuries.
As he checked on her, she told him that she was all right and urged him to go help someone else. “She had a peace that God was with her,” Holland observed.
Holland admitted that during the initial shock of the accident scene he questioned his faith just briefly wanting to ask, “Why is this happening?”
Then, he continued, “your faith and learning take over and there is no question that God is in control and that He is using you as a tool.”
Holland is convinced that it was “God’s will for me to be working that day. … I was where I was supposed to be.”
He acknowledged that he was anxious to meet some of the survivors.
“Most of the time we rarely see victims again,” he said.
Brown observed that the meeting with the survivors and first responders was “carthartic” for all involved, but especially the first responders. “They were torn up over what happened.”
Survivors recall tragedy
Marvin and Sandy Boyer were two of the survivors from the senior adult group who joined the missions opportunity. Boyer is the church’s senior adult minister and was in the hospital or rehab center for about eight months, spending much of that time in a coma. He incurred multiple injuries as a result of the accident, including brain injuries, collapsed lung, broken ribs, and numerous others.
He has no memory of what happened leading up to the accident or his time in the hospital other than what he has been told.
Boyer is convinced, however, that he is “a walking miracle.”
His wife agreed, noting that doctors told her that he had “little chance” of survival and that if he did he would be on dialysis the rest of his life.
Instead, his kidneys “turned around” and are functioning and dialysis is not needed.
“I can’t get over how good God has been,” he acknowledged.
Sandy Boyer said the accident has made her faith and determination to share Christ stronger than ever.
“We are on a mission. We feel that God spared us for a reason and that is to tell the story,” she said.
They are grateful for all the people who showed them love and kindness throughout the initial hospital stay and the lengthy recovery.
“We can never repay the kindness shown but we can personally say thank you.”
The couple planned to go to Knoxville to worship at Wallace Memorial Baptist Church. Many Wallace Memorial members helped them during that time and one couple provided a house for Sandy Boyer to stay.
The missions team worshipped on July 20 at First Baptist Church, Dandridge, and the service was live streamed at Front Street Baptist as well.
Tim Stutts, pastor of Front Street, was able to attend First Baptist even though his father had died earlier in the week and he was not able to be there the entire time.
Stutts thanked First Baptist and others for the love shown to them.
“We knew from the moment of the accident that God would use this in a way in which we could not even begin to fathom to bring honor and glory to Himself,” Stutts shared.
Reading from II Corinthians 4, Stutts noted that the goal of his church is to bring honor and glory to God in everything. “And, sometimes that happens through suffering,” he said.
“And how we view suffering and how we walk through those trials reveals much about our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and it shows if we truly believe what we say we believe about Him.
“October 2 (2013) was a defining moment in our church family. We began to see people who knew how to suffer well,” he said.
Stutts said he has seen in those who survived the accident a stronger resolve to serve God and to honor Him.
“Those involved in the accident see it as a platform to make much of Jesus. The gospel of Jesus Christ continues to be proclaimed. We won’t know until we get there (heaven) how many lives have been touched and how many people heard the gospel because of that tragedy.”
Stutts reminded both congregations of the words of Jesus, warning Christians that they will face tribulations in life (John 16:33).
“As we face trials and tribulations our heart and our goal can be to exalt Christ and to use it for His glory and honor.”