Youth recuperating from church van crash

The pastor of CBF-affiliated church expressed gratitude for an outpouring of support shown to a congregation reeling from unspeakable tragedy.

By Bob Allen

One girl remained hospitalized two weeks after a church van crash killed two, injured 10 others and left a Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship congregation reeling.

“Things are going pretty well,” Bob Lynch, pastor of Cedar Grove Baptist Church in Maryville, Tenn., said in a telephone interview Oct. 1. A day earlier the congregation held worship services for the second Sunday since a Sept. 16 accident claimed the lives of volunteer youth leader Jeff Trussell and teenager Courteney Kaliszewski.

Lynch said the first Sunday was time to regroup. In his sermon he described a congregation down but determined to get through the tragedy together. “Yesterday was a little better,” he said but “raw feelings” continued as the reality of loss set in.

Trussell, 45, was a pillar of Cedar Grove Baptist Church who sang in the church choir, served as a deacon and acted as a volunteer youth leader. Lynch described him as “just one of those members that everybody wants to have in a church.”

Kaliszewski, Lynch said, was “a very sweet 16-year-old” who was interested in missions. The accident occurred as the youth group returned from a weekend retreat in Gatlinburg that was in part to reward youth who participated in activities with Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee.

Lynch said church members have been buoyed by an outpouring of support since news of the tragedy spread. Lynch said he has heard from more than 150 churches in several states expressing condolence and offering to help.

“It really has been a tremendous blessing to get a chance to talk to so many pastors,” he said. He said countless people have sent financial donations for funeral expenses to Kaliszewski’s family, already facing economic hardship from unemployment and a family illness.

Youth in the church have received hundreds of expressions of prayer support from youth and mission groups around the country.

Terry Maples, CBF field coordinator in Tennessee, attended Sunday evening services at Cedar Grove Sept. 30 to show support for Lynch and assure the congregation the CBF community is praying for them.

Maples left behind a copy of Leading Congregations through Crisis, a book published by the Columbia Partnership written by Greg Hunt. Hunt was pastor of First Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., in 2009, when 23 youth and adult sponsors from the congregation were involved in a tragic bus accident that left two dead and others seriously injured.

Lynch said nine of the 10 young people injured in the crash have recovered from their injuries to return to school. He said one boy underwent facial and gum surgery after losing his teeth. Others had broken bones in their arms or legs. The one girl still hospitalized needs additional therapy, Lynch said, and he isn’t sure how long it will be before she can go home.

Lynch said a grandmother of one of the injured teenagers made a profession of faith as a result, and several spiritual decisions have occurred at schools where they attend.

“Even though the news is very sad, there’s been some good news, too,” Lynch said. He compared it to Paul’s words in Romans 8:28 that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”