CHRISTIANITY TODAY/May 12, 1989
The deaths of three college students on a missions project underscore the high cost of Christian service.
Two piles of stones mark the memory of three Westmont College students killed in March: One stands near Ensenada, Mexico, where they were serving on a week-long missions project when an auto accident ended their lives; the other stands on the Westmont campus in Santa Barbara, California, where they attended classes. The simple memorials—built by classmates, faculty, and friends—serve not only as a reminder of three lives lost, but also as a testimony to the hundreds of lives rededicated in faith and service in the wake of the tragedy.
Lisa Bebout, Alan Voorman, and Garth Weedman were part of Potter’s Clay, a student-directed missions activity in which Westmont students build and repair homes, orphanages, and churches; provide medical and dental care; and conduct evangelistic out-reaches during their spring break. This year, 550 of Westmont’s 1,200 students paid their own way to live and work in one of Mexico’s poorest areas.
On the morning of March 27, the day after Easter, the three were driving to a work site in Ensenada when another car flew across the median of the four-lane road and struck their car head-on. The driver, Voorman, 22, a senior from Upland, California, died several hours after the accident. Bebout, 24, a senior from Mission Viejo, California, and Weedman, 19, a freshman from Mill Creek, Washington, were treated in Ensenada and transferred to a San Diego hospital, where they died the next day. Two other students in Voorman’s car, Megan Harten and Patty Hallock, were seriously injured.
When the accident occurred, other students following closely behind Voorman’s car stopped to help; others went for medical aid and carried news of the accident back to the Potter’s Clay headquarters, a tent city erected in a field outside Ensenada. Many students there, gathered for morning chapel, began a prayer vigil, while others contacted the college and rushed to the hospital.
The news had a devastating effect on the group, according to chaplain Bart Tarman, who was with them in Mexico. The rugged living and working conditions had already taxed the students, and the sketchy reports of the accident and the victims’ condition only raised anxiety. “They had to send their roots down deep into Christ, clear away some misconceptions, and realize it was okay to mourn and cry, if necessary,” Tarman said. In spite of the tragedy, students resolved to carry on their work. “I did not hear a single student even suggest they give up,” Tarman said.
Later in the week, as the project drew to a close and students prepared to leave Ensenada, guest speaker Gordon Aeschliman, editor and publisher of World Christian magazine, presented the idea for the memorials. Aeschliman had helped start Potter’s Clay 11 years ago while a Westmont student. He asked each student to find several stones from a riverbed near the field where they were camped: One large stone to build an “altar of remembrance” near their campsite, another large stone to take back to Westmont for a similar memorial there, and a small stone to keep as a reminder of their friends, their sorrow, and their resolve to live for Christ’s service.
The ministry of Potter’s Clay “grew up” during that week in Ensenada, according to Aeschliman. “The stakes went up, in terms of what it cost to carry out the work.”
More than 1,800 students, relatives, and community members gathered at a memorial service April 3, and after the service students gathered at a spot on campus to pile the stones they had brought from Mexico, pray, and sing quietly together. College faculty counseled with students throughout that day and week, helping them deal with their grief.
“In a secular environment, people rush to put an experience like this behind them, to get away from the emotion and trauma,” said Westmont president David Winter. “On our campus, we wanted to continue in that grief process as long as God had something to say to us. We encouraged students to use those days and weeks to learn as much from God as they could.
“These students are serious about using their lives in Christian service,” Winter said. “They are grieving, but are not at a loss.”
The tragedy also forged stronger bonds between Westmont and Ensenada. A group of Ensenada pastors, their families, and a doctor who had worked with the Westmont group drove through the night to attend the memorial service. “We have grown to love you as partners,” pastor Roberto Ninos told the audience. “You have paid the high price, you have given your lives to us. The Christian community in Ensenada will never be the same.”
Sign-ups for next year’s Potter’s Clay will not begin until January. Student leaders expect the turnout to continue at around 500, which is as many as the program can handle. The mood, however, will be different. “I think we’ll see a more sober judgment of the cost,” said Dave Harbeson, codirector of Potter’s Clay. “As one friend said to me, ‘We’re in a war, and there are casualties to be expected.’ ”
Many students have indicated they are rethinking their career plans in light of what has happened, Tarman said. “Tragedies like this can be a window on the upside-down thinking of the Gospels that says invisible things are the most important and the visible things are the least important.
“In a real sense, Lisa, Alan, and Garth gave their lives while doing the kingdom’s work,” Tarman said. “I think that builds an ethos on the campus, a witness of service, that will continue to be a part of the tradition here for years to come.”
A Potter’s Clay Memorial Fund has been established to assist families of the five students involved in the accident. Contributions will help cover medical expenses; any excess funds will support the work of Potter’s Clay.
By Ken Sidey.
The Cost of Loving Jesus
For 20 years, Helen Roseveare served as a missionary doctor in the Belgian Congo, now known as Zaire. During a civil war in 1964, she was captured by rebel soldiers. During her five-month captivity, she was raped, beaten, and abused. But after her release and a two-year furlough, she returned to Zaire to continue her medical work for another 7 years.
Now a traveling representative for World Evangelization Crusade, Roseveare speaks to college groups and missions conferences around the world. She spoke with CHRISTIANITY TODAY about the cost of serving and the state of missions work today.
How have your views of missions changed?
Sixteen years ago, I talked about the desperate needs in other parts of the world. Now I tell Christians, wherever they are, that they must “refair” in love with Jesus. Christianity in the West today says we must have a bigger church and a bigger car and a better suit. Once Christians fall out of love with that and in love with Jesus, I won’t need to talk mission; they will become missionaries because they love him.
Why did you change your message?
The candidates for missionary service were not staying the pace. After all their training, they were not even staying the first term, let alone a career. I had to ask, Why this appalling fallout rate?
Youngsters are being caught with the vision of mission, but they are responding with the wrong picture of what missions is all about—what they can do to serve others. Then they get to the mission fields and are not liked or wanted; people take what they’ve got to give and throw them out. They can’t stand the hurtfulness, so they come home.
Jesus said. Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me. Where was he going? To Calvary. Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ.” Somewhere, we’ve gone off course. We’ve got to be willing to say, What matters is not what I’m worth, or what people think of me, but that people come to know and love Jesus.
How has the growth of the church in places such as Africa or South Korea changed missions?
There is certainly still a need for the cross-cultural missionary worker. But we have a new concept—which is healthy and good—of “all the church to all the world.” My organization has a Chinese man from Hong Kong who is working in Ghana, West Africa; a Zimbabwean working in Japan; Brazilians in Sri Lanka. We’ve awakened to the fact that if we are to reach every culture of the world, every believer must be involved.
What is your assessment of the health and direction of current missions?
We are being sucked in by the teaching that success is measured as achievements, numbers, something to show, something to write home about.
I want to see the word passion come back. We’re not allowed to use that word today because it has taken on other meanings. But I want people to be passionately in love with Jesus, so that nothing else counts.
Maybe God calls me to Africa, in the midst of an area being swept by a killer disease that no one knows how to cure. What if I get AIDS—or my spouse or children? The world thinks I’m foolish for going there. But if God sent me to Africa with my family, he’s going to look after us. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to get that disease; it means that he’s in charge of my life, and if I get AIDS, that’s because he wants me to witness to others who’ve got it. How’s that for success?
I’m a fanatic, if you like, but only because I believe so strongly that nothing counts except knowing your sins have been forgiven by the blood of Jesus. We’ve only got this short life to get others to know the same truth.
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