FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)—Just before the family of 15-year-old Braxton Caner was seated at the front of New River Fellowship Church, the entire Aledo High School Bearcats football team trudged up the center aisle in silence, some holding cowboy hats to their sides.
Braxton was the son of Ergun and Jill Caner, and brother of 9-year-old Drake. A member of the Aledo Bearcats, Braxton's life ended suddenly and tragically July 29. See related story.
Members of the team, Southern Baptist leaders, and friends of the family, joined the Caners and other family members for an emotional 2-hour memorial service for the teen Aug. 2 at New River Fellowship in Hudson Oaks, Texas. The family's home church is nearby Willow Park Baptist Church in Aledo.
Ergun Caner is the president of Brewton-Parker College, a Baptist-affiliated college in Mount Vernon, Ga. Elected president in 2013, Caner previously served as provost and vice president of academic affairs at Arlington (Texas) Baptist College.
Emir Caner, president of Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Ga., and Ergun Caner's brother and Braxton's uncle, delivered the eulogy.
Scott Crenshaw, pastor of New River, also spoke to the hundreds gathered in front of a podium flooded with a bright display of flowers.
"Today can be a confusing day," he said. "There is a time for everything," he said, referencing the hurt and pain that death brings, but also the hope and joy of being present with the Lord. "If today the tears come, that's okay. It can be confusing."
Remembering Braxton, Crenshaw said he celebrates that the teen knew God and was a "worshiper."
Listing some of Braxton's accomplishments, Crenshaw marveled at how Braxton, who was born March 8, 1999, was baptized by his father when he was six and was able to do so much because of the ministry of his parents.
And although the young man met many dignitaries and celebrities, including the president of Kenya and Oliver North, and attended chapel with the New England Patriots, Braxton was most impressed by his Latin teacher Prof. Timothy Griffiths. The professor, whom Braxton nicknamed "Griff" or "Griff the Great," was the teen's "academic hero," Crenshaw noted.
Braxton had no desire to be in the limelight and was instead a "quiet, gentle" young man who preferred being behind the scenes, the pastor said.
Only on the football field might he get a little "smile on his face" when he heard his name called after making a tackle, Crenshaw said.
Directing comments at Ergun and Jill Caner, Crenshaw said, "You love your family, you love your son."
"Only your boys call you Papa," he told Ergun Caner, reflecting on times he would receive multiple texts all hours of the day of pictures of the popular speaker from faraway places like Greece, Rome and Israel to share pray requests.
Of Jill Caner, Crenshaw admired her dedication to Braxton, and how she trained with him for athletics, even going so far as to help him lift the bar when he was working out with the bench press. The teen just reached a personal weightlifting goal in the days before his death, he said.
Addressing Braxton's younger brother Drake last, Crenshaw read a passage of Scripture from the New Testament: "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep" (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, ESV).
Walking his young son to the podium, Ergun Caner stood silently as Drake read a tribute to his big brother. He began by describing Braxton as the "best brother anyone could have."
"I miss you Braxton, and I know you are having a great time right now," he said, after sharing memories of their favorite times together.
Clark Bosher, the family's pastor from Willow Park Baptist Church, traced Braxton's arrival to the area as a shy middleschooler who eventually bonded well with those in his age group.
Bosher gestured toward the football team and a group of 14 honorary pall bearers and other friends who he said they shared life with the teen. "A whole bunch of you took him in. He had a friend," Bosher said.
Preaching from Proverbs 17:17, Bosher said Christians stand by each other, even through "adversity."
When hard times come and you run into a room full of people, you will know who your friends are by who runs out and who stays, Bosher said.
"Make a mistake in life, and see who's still in that room," he said.
"There's power in friendship."
Braxton had a godly heritage in his parents; and had grandparents who loved him, Bosher said.
Of Ergun Caner, Bosher said, "As great a preacher, as great a man as he is, probably the greater role I've ever seen him in is his role as a dad."
Of Jill Caner, she "poured faith into her children" and made "what they needed more important than her needs."
"They were the best of friends," Bosher said of Jill and Braxton. "In good days and in bad days, no matter what the circumstances, mama's love ain't never gonna die."
Bosher explained Braxton had understood and confessed his sin; he understood he couldn't save himself, but that Jesus was the way to salvation; he understood Jesus was born the son of God to a virgin and died sinless; and as a young boy Braxton had asked Jesus to come into his heart and forgive him and give him eternal life.
"Braxton Caner had a faith he could share around the world and in Aledo, Texas," Bosher said.
Following a prayer of commitment, while heads were still bowed, Bosher asked those who responded to raise their hand indicating they had prayed for the first time.
Braxton leaves behind his parents and younger brother; his maternal grandparents, Braxton and Frances Morris from Raleigh, N.C.; and paternal grandparents Jim and Monica Hunt from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico; along with three uncles, 20 cousins and a host of friends. All expressions of sympathy may be addressed to The Caner Family in care of Brewton-Parker College P.O. Box 197 Mount Vernon, GA 30445. A fund has been established at the college to train counselors in suicide prevention in Braxton's name.
The Caner family, at the memorial, expressed thanks to those attending by writing an "Expression of Gratitude" in a printed program. "We will never be able to thank you enough for your love, generosity and kind words about Braxton," they said in the statement. "As you can imagine, this has been a shock and heartache worse than anything we have ever experienced. However, knowing that Braxton accepted Christ as his Savior ten years ago, we are comforted that he is now in the arms of God in heaven."
Joni B. Hannigan is a journalist, editor and freelance writer in Houston.
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