The Death of a Student: One Youth Pastor’s Response

**Guest post by Nathan Cooledge from Lacombe Pentecostal Church. 

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Garfield may hate Mondays, but I love them. They are my day off. They are my day off while the rest of the world, including my roommates, has to go to work and/or school. They are my day to really relax, and to spend some much needed time with the Lord. But as all youth pastor’s know, days that are truly, one-hundred percent “off” are few and far between, if they ever really exist at all. This Monday in particular was about to turn from “off” to “on” so fast it would give me whiplash.

I still remember putting on my favorite sweatpants (we all have them), getting a decent breakfast ready, and sitting down in front of the TV, ready to go into a mindless trance for the next hour or so. Then I did what we all do way too often in a day. I checked Facebook. The first post I saw was weird. It was a student I had met a couple of times but didn’t know well. It read “Can’t believe you’re gone so soon,” or something to that effect. I noted it in my brain and moved on, thinking I would send an inbox message later to let them know I was praying for them. My thoughts were that there may have been a loss in the family. Within a few scrolls, however, I discovered a completely different reality that would shake up the community for the next week, and heavily. Post after post of students I knew casually, and those I knew on a deeper level, ones who attended our programs regularly, told me of a student by the name of Jason (name changed), who had been killed in an all too familiar situation. Late Sunday night, Jason had been in a car with his friends, driving down the gravel road way too fast, when a deer jumped out in front of them. Jason wasn’t wearing a seatbelt when they lost control.

My heart dropped to my knees. What was I supposed to do? Where do I start? I didn’t learn this in Bible College. Did I sleep through this class? Is there a book I can read? What do I do Lord?! Help me. If you’ve ever had your community lose a student, I’m sure you’ve had the same thoughts. As I take you through what I’ve learned, please realize two things:

  1. Jason was not a student I knew personally, but he was a student loved by a few of my students.
  2. I have rewritten this article and delayed it many times because of how deeply this affected some of our students. Should they see this, I want them to know that in no way am I trying to add to or take away from the loss you feel through this article. I am so proud of you guys, and your honesty about your feelings as you walked with God through this truly astounds me.

 

Be there.

Seriously, just be there. Let them know you are available. Let them know you care. Share in their emotions. Practically, for me, this just meant putting a post out on Facebook, and texting those who were posting about the loss of their friend and trying to arrange coffee or lunch. My goal here was never to have the answers, but to listen, and give them a chance to talk. Jesus didn’t just rush in and raise Lazarus from the dead. He spent time letting Martha and Mary express their pain. He wept with them. The Holy Spirit very well may use you to help bring healing and hope to your students, but your priority needs to be just to be there.

 

Create spaces.

Students are going to talk to each other about what’s most important to them, and they’re going to do it when you’re not around. We can’t stop them from hearing other’s opinions of what happened, but we can create spaces where they can talk to each other, while we influence where the conversation goes. We can help them take the loss they feel from places of anger and bitterness to places of healthy mourning. Sometimes sorrow makes us uncomfortable, and it causes us to gain an unscriptural idea that sorrow needs to be moved out of as quickly as possible. We can’t speed up a student’s transition from sorrow to peace. We can only help them through it.  Creating honest spaces where students could discuss emotions and process together was the best thing we could have done. It allowed for deeper conversations about faith and trusting in God that have drastically affected the students who took part in them.

 

Pray your socks off.

This is number one (ironically, number 3 on this list). I had no clue what to do when I realized the gravity of what was going on in the high school that day. The halls were heavy. Satan was going hard after students and their emotions. It lasted for days. What was I going to do about that? I had no clue. But I prayed. I had an amazing leader in our district who sparked other youth pastors to prayer on my behalf. It was one of those, “God if you don’t show up, I am going to fail so hard,” kind of moments. But we got through it, and students grew in their relationship with Christ and their understanding of the need for evangelism in their schools, and it all happened without having to preach a single sermon. That’s God. That’s his power. That’s what Romans 18:28 is all about.

 

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”