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Dear Ozark Family,
It is with a heavy heart that I am writing to inform you that one of our students, Jace Smothers, was killed Friday, June 28, in an accident near Paducah, Kentucky. Jace was serving on staff with Christ In Youth this summer, and the CIY van in which he was riding was rear ended by an 18-wheeler. Another Ozark student, Brandon Musselman, escaped with minor injuries. The three other CIY interns in the van—Katie Danhour, Andie Montgomery, and Tyler Conway—are also recovering.
Many of you had the privilege of knowing Jace—as a student, classmate, Strong Hall brother, or friend—and you will remember his big smile, loud laugh, and huge heart for Jesus and teenagers. He was a youth ministry major and a local Young Life volunteer. Jace had just finished his freshman year at Ozark and loved his experience here. In a recent Instagram post, he wrote, “Study tip: Laminate your notes so the tears roll off. My first year of college was a dream! If I'm being honest...I was doubtful about God placing me at Ozark. But after classes started and I met these people...the entire game changed. God met me in a new way.” We are grateful to have known Jace, but we grieve deeply his absence.
I’m sure more details about the accident will be forthcoming in the days ahead, but in the meantime, I want to be sure that you, as the OCC family, know these three things: First, you are not alone. I know that many of you who knew Jace personally will feel his loss deeply, and we want to encourage you to talk about your grief with a trusted counselor. God’s Word wisely calls us to “bear one another’s burdens,” and wherever you are this summer, we don’t want you to bear the burden of grief alone. We here at OCC are praying for you and are available, and we encourage you to seek out someone with whom you can talk and pray.
Second, your prayers are needed. I have spoken with Jace’s parents already, expressing on behalf of the OCC family our sorrow and love. I assured them that hundreds of Ozark folks would be lifting them up. Please pray for Jace’s parents Terry and Sharon Smothers and the entire family. Of course, there are many others grieving: Jace’s home church in Norton, Kansas, Jace’s roommate Sam Kiefer and his dorm brothers in Strong, his CIY teammates, and the young people he served at Young Life. Please pray for the other CIY interns in the accident—Brandon, Katie, Andie, and Tyler—as their minds and hearts will need healing along with their bodies in the weeks ahead. And do not forget to lift up the truck driver on this tragic evening. Psalm 34:18 promises that “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted,” so ask God to make his presence known to all these folks as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
Third, while we grieve, we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thess 4:13). It is certainly right and healthy for us to grieve. Death is not our friend, and there is no shame or lack of faith in tears of sorrow at times like this. Even Jesus wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus. But the powerful promise of the gospel is this: we have in Jesus Christ the firm and wondrous hope of heaven. A day is coming when we shall see our brother Jace in a place where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain, a place where God makes all things new. That is the hope we hold on to and the gospel we are preparing men and women to proclaim.
As we learn details about memorial services for Jace, we will be sure to communicate those to the Ozark family, and when the 2019 fall semester begins, we will have a time of remembrance together in chapel. Until then, may “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles” give you his grace today (2 Cor 1:3-4).