Offering a lifeline: Southern Baptists help young, old overcome tragedies
May 1, 2014
By NICOLE KALIL & CAROLYN NICHOLS

NOT LEFT BEHIND Bartram Trail High School joined Fruit Cove Baptist Church and others in ministering to Aubrey Thompson, who wore jersey No. 17. Courtesy photo
Tragedy can be a soul-twisting experience that leaves us asking, “Why, God?” 

This, understandably, could have been the responses of Aubrey Thompson, a junior at Bartram Trail High School in St. Johns County, and even K. Randy Waters, who is now serving as pastor of Mt. Paran Baptist Church in Branford.

While the two have never met, their lives have been largely defined by how they responded to tragic car accidents that left them both on long roads to recovery.

Waters accepted the call to become pastor of Mt. Paran Baptist Church in January after a 17-year-long recovery from an auto accident that almost claimed his life. For Thompson, his road to recovery is ongoing, though the future looks bright.

This story shares the healing process both people have gone through, and how Southern Baptist churches in Florida became more effective ministers of the love of God by caring for those whose lives had been ripped apart by tragic events.

Last October, Thompson was a passenger on his way to school when the driver lost control and Thompson was thrown from the vehicle. He was air-lifted to UF Health Shands Hospital in Jacksonville in life-threatening condition.

That day changed Thompson’s life forever. But for Fruit Cove Baptist Church and other members of this close-knit community south of Jacksonville in northern St. Johns County, the way they do life and ministry also changed that day, and they are excited to tell what God has been doing through this series of unfortunate events.

WELCOME SUPPORT Well-wishers lined State Road 13 in St. Johns County in March in anticipation of seeing Aubrey Thompson return from rehabilitation in Atlanta. Courtesy photo
Today, Thompson, known at school for his strong Christian witness, is working hard to pick up where he left off. He has enrolled in online classes, attends rehab several times a week, and hasn’t missed a Sunday or Wednesday night at church since he’s been home. Members of Fruit Cove Baptist, meanwhile, have learned, among other things, how to harness the power of social media to extend the reach of the Body of Christ to do ministry.

Thompson suffered what doctors call a traumatic brain injury. Severe swelling forced health-care professionals to keep him in a medically-induced coma for weeks. Members of Fruit Cove Baptist, Bartram Trail High School and other schools in the area were shocked, but they turned that shock into action.

Within hours of the accident, the first call for prayer went out on Facebook and Twitter, and the rallying cry “#prayforAubrey” was born. By the end of that first day, Oct. 16, Twitter became the best way to get updates on Aubrey’s condition.

Sherri Thompson and Jim Thompson with their son, Aubrey Thompson. Courtesy photo
Neal Cordle, associate pastor at Fruit Cove Baptist Church, said Thompson’s family was grateful for a quick, efficient and timely way to let as many people as possible know how Aubrey was doing on a regular basis.

“Early on, as we were trying to get updates out, we realized our infrastructure was not set up for this,” Cordle explained. “Nor did we want the responsibility of it. As a church, we wanted to facilitate ministry to the family on the family’s terms.”

Neighbors and church members wanted to find out what they could do to help this family.  Four days after the accident, the first Facebook group page was created. It carried the title: “As much as we love Aubrey, God loves him more.” 

That sentiment set the tone for how others would put this experience into perspective. The church helped connect the family to social media so the family’s privacy would not be violated. They controlled who was allowed access on the Facebook page, for instance, and chose their own level of involvement with the page, including deciding when not to post updates.

While ministry in the virtual world was taking place, students at Bartram Trail High were equally busy in the real world.

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