Georgia bus crash ends as ‘distraction’ rather than tragedy for JAX church
After no injuries, 32 youth & leaders continue with weekend retreat
Jul 17, 2012
By JONI B. HANNIGAN

JACKSONVILLE (FBW)-Instead of a tragedy, a bus crash on the way to a weekend spiritual retreat July 13 ended as a “distraction” for youth from Arlington Baptist Church in Jacksonville.

Heading north on Interstate 95, the 44-passenger bus blew a tire and crashed into the woods in Camden County, Ga., about 50 miles from its destination, according to Robert Anderson, the church’s associate pastor of church development.

The 25 middle-school and high-school students on board were uninjured, Anderson said, as were the seven adult supervisors, including bus driver Mark Hylton, a deacon and Sunday School teacher. Anderson said Hylton is an experienced driver who knew how to handle a tire blow out and headed for a grassy, wooded area to keep the bus from overturning.

“There is swamp before and after that location,” Anderson said. “If the accident was going to happen, that was the place.”

One of the youngsters was taken to the hospital by emergency workers as a precaution, Anderson said, but later met up with the group at St. Simon Island where they went on with the retreat as planned.

The Arlington group first was transported from their disabled bus to a Highway Patrol weigh station in Kingsland, Ga., where they awaited further transportation to their weekend retreat at St. Simon Island, Ga.

“What was so amazing is that after we found out that they were all OK, they wanted to go on with the retreat,” Anderson told Florida Baptist Witness July 16. “It’s just amazing.”

Thankful for “God’s protection,” and for Hylton’s “experienced hands,” Anderson said the youth and workers had just returned to the church—excited about their retreat.

Worship and music pastor Shannon Wallace said there was a lot of chatter about the accident for the first few days—especially during small group times and when the youth asked for prayer. But by Sunday, Wallace said, the talk was focused directly on how to look at relationships in the context of 1 Cor. 11:1—so that people could see Christ in individuals’ everyday lives, despite the distractions.

“The kids last night didn’t even mention [the accident],” Wallace said. “It was like it has faded into the background. It was like it was no longer a distraction to them.”

Being surrounded by supportive peers and adults while the accident unfolded and afterwards no doubt facilitated the ease in which the young people were able to process the “what ifs” about the crash.

But in case they hadn’t thought through things on their own, Wallace said a common theme initially was about God’s protection which spurred a provocative question by one of the leaders or youth who wondered aloud if the same attitude of praise and worship would have prevailed if the accident had been “much worse.”

“It was kind of a poignant time,” Wallace said. “I know He is the God that gives and takes away. It made everyone stop and think.”

Anderson has had some time to reflect since the accident. He said the church checked the tires and brakes and had an experienced driver—but you can never tell when a tire will blow.

Grateful for the eventual outcome—and for the numerous thankful phone calls he has received from parents, Anderson said he is reminded of “how fragile life is and how things can change so quickly.”

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