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Tornado claims two members, the latest in a string of tragedies


A minister’s son and his wife were killed when a tornado picked up their car on a Kansas state highway and threw it 150 yards into a wheat field, relatives said — the latest in a string of tragedies involving members of Churches of Christ.
Gary S. Whitlow, 33, and Kimberly S. Whitlow, 29, both of Rocky Ford, Colo., were pronounced dead at the scene after authorities found their car Saturday north of U.S. 54, about 13 miles east of Pratt, Kan., The Wichita Eagle reported. Powerful storms raked the state Friday with at least 17 tornadoes, according to The Associated Press.
The husband and wife were driving to Clearwater, Kan., where Gary’sfather, Wayland, serves as the minister and an elder at the Church ofChrist, relatives said. Clearwater is about 70 miles from where the twister occurred.Both the son and father graduated from Oklahoma Christian University inOklahoma City.
Funeral services were planned for Wednesday, May 28, with memorials directed to Churches of Christ Disaster Relief or Casa de la Esperanza, in care of the Southwest church in Pueblo, Colo.
Elsewhere, members are mourning — and asking for prayers — after three separatetragedies claimed the lives of a Michigan church elder and his wife; a Mississippi highschool senior just days from his graduation; and a 5-year-old Tennessee girl whohad just finished preschool.
“Our whole congregation can use all the prayers we can get,” said Darlene Gardner, a longtime member at the Gateway church in Southgate, Mich., south of Detroit.
Gateway elder Dan Tarjeft, 48, and his wife, Jennifer, 51, the church secretary, were riding motorcycles with two other couples from the church Saturday night.
The Tarjefts died after a car hit by a suspected drunk driver slammed into their motorcycle, police said. 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 member Aaron Wilmoth, 32, and his wife, Jennifer, 29, both of whom lost their lower left leg, police Sgt. Bill Huddleston told the Detroit Free Press. The Wilmoths have a 3-year-old son, Hayden.
Gateway deacon Ron Hyder and his wife, Nina, were riding last in the line of motorcycles and were not injured physically, Gardner said.
Funeral services for the Tarjefts were conducted Thursday. A Web page in their memory has been set up. The church is accepting donations to benefit the Tarjefts’ children.
“It’s just devastating,” said Gardner, whose daughter, Ciara, attends Harding with Alicia Tarjeft. “Jennifer and Dan were the most giving people — they were always there. They were the kind of people that would literally give you the shirt off their back.
“They would have Bible studies with people,” she said. “I can’t even begin to imagine how many people they have brought to Christ just by the kind of people they are.”
A thousand miles south of Detroit, the Central church in Pascagoula, Miss., struggles with the death of John Robert Dobbs, an 18-year-old high school senior.
Dobbs, son of former longtime Central 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 late Tuesday or early Wednesday.
The Sun Herald newspaper reported that the younger Dobbs was doing his best to get home Tuesday night after spending time with friends in the rural community of Helena. He was running low on gas, swapped trucks with a friend and headed back to Pascagoula.
But on dark, unfamiliar roads where cell phones are of little use, he may have taken a wrong turn that cost him his life, the newspaper said. The blue Dodge was stuck in a mud hole on an abandoned and unkept dirt road the next afternoon, near an interstate overpass, the Sun Herald reported.
“It was pitch black. There are no lights out there,” the father told the newspaper. “The road was leading him east. It became a mud bog.
“He got stuck. His cell phone didn’t work. So he jumped a fence or something and got over to the interstate. In the darkness, he might not … have realized he was on the roadway. We don’t know if he tried to flag down the truck.”
The older Dobbs, who recently accepted a new preaching job with the Forsythe Avenue church in Monroe, La., maintains a popular Weblog called Out Here Hope Remains.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of church members read the blog, and the death of Dobbs’ son hit many readers hard, even those who know the family only through the Internet. As blogger Matt Dabbs described it in an online tribute, “I cannot say enough good about a guy that I have not even met in person.”
On his own blog, Dobbs wrote: “Maggy and I have lived ever parent’s nightmare. … Gregarious and compassionate, John Robert has had enormous influence in his short life. The details of his passing are unimportant when compared to the beauty and joy that his life has brought to our family. This loss will live with our hearts forever. I hope and pray in time that the memories of John Robert will spread a shadow over the hurt we now feel.”
A celebration of John Robert’s life was conducted on Friday, with a graveside service on Saturday. An online prayer group is available at this link.
Meanwhile, preschool teachers at the Harpeth Hills church in Brentwood, Tenn., grieve the death of contemporary Christian singer and songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman’s youngest child.
Maria Chapman, 5, the youngest of the singer’s six children, died Wednesday evening after being struck by a car driven by her teenage brother in the driveway of the family’s home, The Tennessean reported.
Maria, the youngest of three daughters adopted by the Chapmans from China, had just graduated from the Harpeth Hills church’s preschool.
Teachers from the preschool wre expected to serve as honorary pallbearers at her memorial service on Saturday.

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