Michigan church elder Dan Tarjeft and his wife, Jennifer, were riding their motorcycle with friends.
John Robert Dobbs, a Mississippi high school senior and church worship leader, was headed home from a night out.
In Kansas, Bible school teachers Gary and Kimberly Whitlow were going to see a 2-month-old nephew for the first time.
But in an instant, all lost their lives — victims of a drunken driver, a wrong turn and a tornado. Tears flow as loved ones struggle to understand the tragedies.
“God works in mysterious ways that at times are too big for us,” said Alicia Tarjeft, 19, whose parents died. “I hope and pray that God will use this tragedy to bring others to Christ.”
MICHIGAN: Dan and Jennifer Tarjeft
Dan Tarjeft, 48, an elder at the Gateway church in Southgate, Mich., and his wife, Jennifer, 51, died after a car hit by a suspected drunken driver slammed into their motorcyle May 17.
Married for 28 years, they are survived by their three children, Earl, Daniel and Alicia, a student at Harding University in Searcy, Ark.
The sedan also hit Gateway members Aaron Wilmoth, 32, and his wife, Jennifer, 29, both of whom lost their lower left legs, church leaders said.
Alicia Tarjeft discussed the tragedy: • Memories:
“The fondest memory that I have of my parents is their character and personality. Among other things, they taught me what it means to be humble, to put others first, to love without prejudice, to serve, to never give up on anyone and to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.” • Their faith:
“My parents were model Christians. Their love for Jesus shaped everything they said or did. They never stopped sharing Jesus with others because his place in their hearts allowed him to shine completely through them.” • Her own faith:
“If it were not for my faith in God and the actions of my church family, I do not know where I would be mentally or emotionally. Praying is the best thing that people can do for my family right now. My faith in God helps me to understand that someone is in control, and I am choosing to rely on that to get through this. I might have lost two parents, but I still have literally hundreds of people who would do anything for me, and I would not have that without my Christian family.” • Making sense of it:
“I know that my parents would want something good to come out of their deaths. I make sense of it by stopping and remembering where they are. I do not know why God called them home, but … God knows what he is doing.” MISSISSIPPI: John Robert Dobbs
John Robert Dobbs, 18, son of minister John Dobbs and his wife, Margaret, was walking in the westbound lanes of Interstate 10 near the Mississippi-Alabama state line when he was hit by a tractor-trailer rig after midnight May 21.
Just two days from his scheduled high school graduation, Dobbs had borrowed a friend’s pickup and gotten stuck in the mud on a rural road, his family said. He was apparently lost as he wandered onto the interstate, but the specific circumstances remain a mystery, his father said.
John Dobbs discussed the tragedy: • Memories:
“I guess a lot of my memories revolve around going to Gulf Coast Bible Camp with him. I don’t think he missed a session that he could go to. … I loved seeing John Robert lead worship at Central (the Pascagoula, Miss., congregation where his father preached) the last couple of years. He had a good, clear, strong singing voice.” • The role of faith:
“If we were not Christians, I don’t know how we would survive this. We believe we will see John Robert again. That is a huge comfort.” • Losing a son:
“I’m a believer, but I never thought that would mean that everything would be good in my life, that I would not face severe trials. I just never expected it to be this. It just takes the wind out of me. Every time I think about it, I start breathing heavily. I can hardly breathe. … There’s a sense in which we feel that our lives were taken away from us … but at the same time, we trust in God’s grace and mercy. We’re hanging on to God.” • Writing online about his loss on his blog :
“I’m so thankful for the hundreds of e-mails and comments on my blog. Just to sign on and see so many people leaving notes and encouragement, and for me to be able to express in a raw way how I felt, that was therapy for me.” KANSAS: Gary and Kimberly Whitlow
Gary Whitlow, 33, and his wife, Kimberly, 28, were killed when a tornado picked up their car on a Kansas state highway May 23 and threw it 150 yards into a wheat field.
Faithful members of the La Junta, Colo., church, the Whitlows were driving to Clearwater, Kan., where Gary’s father, Wayland, serves as a minister and elder. They had a gift with them for their 2-month-old nephew, Jackson, son of Gary’s older brother Brian.
Married a year and one month, the couple did not have children of their own.
Wayland and Millie Whitlow discussed the tragedy: • Memories: Millie
“Gary was so happy that he found Kim. They served God together. They taught Bible school together. They were just having fun being married.” • Church family: Wayland
“The support that we have received has been incredible. I just sat there (on a recent night) and counted 375 cards that we had received in the mail.” Millie
“The community and the church both have just been amazing.” • Faith: Millie
“God has been good through all this. God has blessed us over and over. We’re so sorry, and we miss them so much, but we both agree that God had a reason and a purpose.” Wayland
“I don’t want to get into the theology of what God causes and what God allows. We’ve just been able to see God’s hand in everything.” • Coping: Wayland
“I like to get on my bicycle and go for a ride. I can cry on my bike, and I can pray on my bike, but it’s been incredible how much I’ve offered up praise on my bike. You know, I really can’t explain how we feel except that it’s the peace that passes understanding.” • Why?: Millie
“I have asked why. But you know in your heart that we’re not going to know why here on this earth. You have to trust in God.”