‘God knows I needed you’
Pam Smith wants her husband and her son, both lost…
When they boarded a tourist “duck boat” in southwest Missouri, it’s unlikely that Steve Smith and his two children, Lance and Loren, realized they were sharing the ride with a brother in Christ, Irvin “Ray” Coleman.
The Smiths worshiped with the 40-member Osceola Church of Christ in eastern Arkansas on the banks of the Mississippi River. About 420 miles to the northeast, Coleman served as a usher for the 500-member Kingsley Terrace Church of Christ in Indianapolis.
“And I told him I loved him, he told me he loved me. And I asked him to take care of the kids. That was our last words.”
They were together only briefly before the calm waters of Table Rock Lake turned violent in the churn of a fast-moving storm. The duck boat capsized, and 17 of its 31 passengers drowned — including Steve and Lance Smith, Coleman and eight members of Coleman’s extended family.
The tragedy came in the middle of the Smith family’s annual trip to Branson, Mo. Steve Smith’s wife, Pam, had opted to shop instead of taking the lake trip, operated by tour company Ride the Ducks. When she received an alert about a sudden burst of inclement weather, she called her husband to make sure he and their children were OK.
“He says, ‘It’s not good, Pam,’” she said in an interview with CBS reporter Dana Jacobson. “And I told him I loved him, he told me he loved me. And I asked him to take care of the kids. That was our last words.”
Loren Smith, 14, survived the ordeal and was reunited with her mother at a nearby hospital. In the days since the tragedy, she said she has struggled with survivor’s guilt.
“I’m thinking, ‘Why me? Why do I have to live?’” she told Jacobson.
The reporter replied, “You got to live to share your brother’s memory, and your father’s.”
Her mother added, “And you have purpose. You have a purpose, Loren. You’ve got big things ahead of you. And God knows, I needed you.”
Related: ‘God knows I needed you’
‘THE WORLD … HAS GONE INSANE’
Coleman, 76, had traveled from Indianapolis to Branson with his brother and sister-in-law, Butch and Toni Coleman, and six other members of their family, including children ages 9, 7, 2 and 1.
Ray Coleman was the only member of the group who worshiped with the Kingsley Terrace church, where he served as an usher.
“Every Sunday he would stand back there and open the doors and invite folks in, just a quiet man,” said Stanley J. Hubbard, ministering evangelist for the Kingsley Terrace church.
For two decades, Ray Coleman worshiped with the congregation. He wasn’t married and didn’t have any children, but he was a beloved part of his church family, Hubbard told The Christian Chronicle. He served on a team of about 15 ushers and always made sure church members knew where Bible classes met.
Only two of Ray Coleman’s relatives who went to Branson — Tia Coleman and her 13-year-old nephew — survived. The Eastern Star Church, where other members of the family attended, hosted a memorial service for five of the family members, including Ray Coleman.
“This is a 21st century Job situation,” Eastern Star minister Jeffery Johnson Jr. told the family during the service, the Indianapolis Star reported. “Job, like you guys, had to deal with the death of multiple family members in the same day.”
But, added Johnson, “If you can push your way through the devastation, you’re going to find restoration. God has the final say so.”
The Kingsley Terrace Church of Christ hosted a gathering for the Coleman family, who have been bombarded by media in the wake of the disaster, Hubbard said.
“Things go wrong because the world is in turmoil, not because God’s picking and choosing who to take out at a certain time.”
The congregation mourns for them, he added, and for the families of the other victims.
“We want to pray for them,” Hubbard told the congregation on the Sunday after the tragedy, “and let me say something before I pray, because I’m always bothered when people say stuff like, ‘Well, the Lord knows what he’s doing. He knows who to take, when to take them.’”
The previous Sunday, the church “identified that death is not a part of God’s plan,” the minister said. “God doesn’t decide to bring trauma into people’s lives. He doesn’t stop every possible situation from happening, but it’s not because God does not love us or care for us …
“You’re living in a world where sin has infected the world, and people die. Things go wrong because the world is in turmoil, not because God’s picking and choosing who to take out at a certain time. It’s because the world you’re living in has gone insane.”
‘THANK GOD SHE HAS THAT CHURCH’
The Sunday before the tragedy, Lance Smith, 15, had preached his first sermon for the Osceola Church of Christ — a short devotional on the importance of being a good example.
“I finally was able to get Lance to do a devotional and break out of his shell,” said Will Hester, the church’s minister. “He was the perfect example of humility and compassion. He cared about everyone.”
Baptized late last year, Lance Smith was about to start ninth grade at Osceola High School. He had recently completed a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program and was on the robotics team. He played soccer.
Steve Smith, 53, was a retired elementary school teacher and “a man of humility who always put everyone else ahead of himself,” Hester said. “He was always thinking of how he could help others. He was a wonderful man to be around. He had a compassionate heart.”
Steve and Pam Smith were married for 28 years. She told CBS that her husband and son will be remembered “for their Christian walk.”
“We’re going to have to lean on people,” Pam Smith said as she sat next to her daughter. “She’s all I’ve got now. So, we’ve got to take care of each other.”
After the segment aired on “CBS This Morning,” reporter Dana Jacobson told the show’s hosts, “They have their church at home that’s really embraced them as well, which I know, she told me, has helped them tremendously so far.”
Host John Dickerson added, “When she talks about needing to lean on people, thank God she has that church and that they have each other.”
‘THIS MAY BE YOUR LAST SECOND’
In Indianapolis, Hubbard urged members of the Kingsley Terrace church to “take advantage of every second we have,” because life is uncertain. A bad decision — even one made by someone else — could cost them their lives.
“This may be your last second,” he said. “Whatever you go through, thank God you’re alive to go through it.”
The congregation’s sorrow was magnified when they learned that two more of the lives lost were their brothers in Christ, Hubbard told the Chronicle.
The incident made international headlines and brought condolences from church members overseas.
“This dreadful, heartbreaking disaster was in our British TV news and newspapers,” said Trevor Williams, a longtime minister from Birmingham, England. “As a church leader among Churches of Christ in Britain, we send our love to all who have lost loved ones, but especially to those of the household of faith. May God bring you comfort through the love of the brethren.”
In addition to the support, Hubbard sees God working through the tragedy. As people around the world watched the story unfold, they learned about the faith of the victims, he said. They also learned about the victims’ loving church families and the comfort that comes only through Christ.
Tragedies are inevitable in a fallen world, Hubbard said, but when God’s people are affected and answer evil with love, “God gets the glory.”
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