Friday, March 13, 2015

When Tragedy Hits

Recently, our city and community suffered a great tragedy when Erika Owen passed away as she was trying to rescue her dog.

Right away I felt this in a couple of different ways. First, she was from City Life Church.  I love this church, the leadership of the church and many who attend there. So instantly my heart was grieving and thinking of everyone I knew at City Life.

But then another connection came to me.  As I heard her age (28), and started to learn about her life, I instantly thought about my brother Phil who lost his life at age 29 in Indonesia in 2008.

I didn’t know Erika personally but I quickly heard stories and characteristics about her and I could tell she was truly a remarkable person. She was the children’s director at City Life.  She had an amazing capacity to love not only kids but everyone around her.  She had a unique ability to make people feel special. She served willingly and looked for ways to bless others. She had a willingness to give of herself completely. She truly loved Jesus with all of her heart, soul, mind, and strength.

As I heard these descriptions of her, I thought so much about my brother.  I thought about the amazing impact that Phil had on so many around him. 

Following Phil’s passing, our family was more sensitive to stories of other tragedies. My parents and I read biographies and stories of others who had gone through tragedies. The one common denominator through the stories is that you are never ready for something like this.  When death hits you, it comes suddenly and in one moment your whole world is changed forever. And then the grief comes in waves.  You then realize that nothing is guaranteed in this life.

One other thing happened as we read stories.  We started to notice the ages of some of the more common or well-told stories.   Many of these people died in their late twenties.  I certainly don’t know what that fully signifies but there were a number of people who left incredible legacies.

Here is just a brief description of who they are.

Keith Green – died in a plane crash at the age of 28. He was an amazing musician and had passion for Jesus. His music today is still powerful. He had a truly prophetic voice to inspire many to live a life completely sold out to Jesus. His book No Compromise has been read by many and impacted many people. 

Jim Elliot – Jim is the most famous of the missionaries who died on the riverbank in Ecuador, trying to evangelize the Waodani Indians at the age of 28. His life and story, along with others from their group has been used to call many to go into the mission field. Movies and books have been written about these stories. 
David Brainerd – died at the age of 29 from tuberculosis. He was a contemporary of Jonathan Edwards. His biography greatly impacted missionaries like Jim Elliot and continues to impact modern-day missionaries. He was as deep man of prayer and had a deep heart to see revival touch Native Americans.  

William Borden – He died of cerebral meningitis at the age of 25 in Egypt. He grew up in wealth. When he accepted the Lord and started to follow hard after the Lord. He wrote no reserve in his Bible. At the age of 16 he traveled the world and he saw poverty and got a call to missions.  After going to Yale and Princeton for his grad school he was preparing to be a missionary when he passed.  In the back of his Bible two more phrases were added along with no reserve. No retreat and no regrets. 

Our family also heard of another missionary who passed away two years after Phil, at the age of 28 or 29.  We knew their family distantly. But he as well left behind a legacy.

And then on March 1st, Erika Owen joined in a line of people who went to the Lord and left an amazing legacy behind.

As I have often thought of Phil’s story, and as well everyone listed here, I think “how did they get it so young.”  They certainly didn’t follow the normal path that many of us go on. Normally it takes years to figure out life. To grow in our walks and mature in our faith.  But every once in a while God raises up a burning one and seems to pour more into their lives.  Maybe it’s because the Lord knows there time will be short and He wants them to have a huge effect while they are alive.  Then knowing their story will impact many more in their death. We don’t know the ways of the Lord but these are merely my reflections as I try and make some sense of why Phil went so early.

At Phil’s funeral, another missionary from Indonesia who knew Phil, was from Kansas and had served many years there, gave us this phrase I love and have thought a lot about.  He said in the Indonesia Army they say that when one falls, 1000 will rise and take their place. He was praying that 1000 would rise up to take the place of Phil.

That’s my prayer for the legacy of Erika. That with the joy and life she lived, a thousand kids and adults will rise up to have joy and a true love for the Lord and people. 


  1. Thank you Matt. We've had a rash of deaths here in our facility this week. Thanks for sharing words of comfort, love to pass this along to the ones left behind.

  2. Sorry to hear that. Blessings brother. Feel free to share with whoever.