By Mark Wineka
TRADING FORD ó This was not a normal Sunday morning at Trading Ford Baptist Church.
Maybe on a normal Sunday, the congregation members would be talking about the Duke-Carolina basketball game the night before.
They might be reading the church bulletin or getting a check ready for the morning offering.
They would be scanning the hymnal for that day’s selections or looking around to see what Pastor Mike was doing.
But this was not a normal Sunday at Trading Ford Baptist.
This was the first worship service the church family had since Friday morning’s death of one of their own, 19-year-old Justin Monroe.
Before church members took their seats, they sought out Justin’s parents, Eddie and Lisa; his grandparents; and all the other family members who gathered in the middle front pews of the modest sanctuary,
There were hugs, tears, rubs on the back. Throughout the church, tissues came out of coat pockets, and all eyes focused on a family still grieving and coping.
As members drove into the parking lot, they couldn’t help but notice ó and agree with ó the message on the church’s sign along Long Ferry Road:
Child of God
HeroMonroe and fellow Salisbury firefighter Victor Isler died in the Salisbury Millwork fire Friday. Churches throughout Rowan County took moments Sunday to remember and pray for the men, their families and the fellow firefighters shaken by their deaths in the line of duty.
But it was an even tougher Sunday at Trading Ford Baptist, where Monroe had come of age and had worshiped with his family, school friends and fellow volunteers from the Miller’s Ferry and Spencer fire departments.
Everyone here knew this tireless, smiling kid, always willing to help.
Everyone here knew the pain his family was feeling.
“Father, we have a hole in our heart that only you can heal,” assistant Pastor Keith Mason prayed.
Church members looked on Justin’s picture at the front of the church as Pastor Mike Motley confronted the congregation’s sorrow head on with his message Sunday.
Motley told the church it was all right to cry and feel hurt. He told the members and visitors not to deny the pain and sorrow at having lost Justin.
“Faith doesn’t mean we paint on some kind of happy face,” he said. “… Our feelings are real.”
He cited several Bible passages showing instances when Jesus cried and how he sympathized with the pain and sorrow of his people.
“Why Justin is gone, I don’t know,” Motley said. “Why this horrible catastrophe? I don’t know.”
But rather than focus on things they didn’t know, Motley told his church members and visitors, they could focus on things they do know.
He reminded them of a foundational truth of their faith.
That God cares.
“We know we have a God who cares and is touched by our pain,” he said.
He assured the church that Justin’s life touched so many others.
Members also should take comfort in the fact that Justin knew Jesus as his personal savior, Motley said.
“The facts are, we don’t know how long we’ll be here,” Motley said, “but we do know in Christ we will have a future.”
On a screen behind the pulpit, Motley projected pictures of Justin from the time he was a baby through his graduation from North Rowan High.
The photographs showed him dressed as a young cowboy. They revealed his love of fishing ó from an ocean pier or boat on the lake ó and his passion for hunting.
Motley remembered going on youth mission trips with Justin, who never sang or played an instrument but was always helping to set up and take down the Youth Praise Band’s equipment.
The Youth Praise Band handled half of the service, and their songs contained words such as “fortress,” “hope,” “mercy” and “refuge” ó all of which seemed to carry deeper meaning Sunday.
Walter Ferell gave the sending prayer Sunday.
“This has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to face,” he said of his nephew’s death. He encouraged all the youth in the congregation to pattern their lives after Justin’s and told everyone that a life of service, such as Justin’s, was not a life in vain.
Motley said Justin’s parents, Eddie and Lisa Monroe, were leaning on the same Lord Sunday that they have leaned on every Sunday at Trading Ford Baptist.
No, this was not a normal Sunday for them or anyone else at Trading Ford.
“But we know that out of this tragedy, somehow God will bring good,” Motley said.
“I’ve seen Him do it time and time again.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Mark Wineka