Faith leaders encourage love, togetherness for community after deadly school bus crash

Clark County leaders also stressed positivity over hate.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

The faith community in Clark County is emphasizing togetherness, showing grace and leaning on the community in the aftermath of the school bus crash last week that killed one student and injured dozens more.

The crash happened Tuesday on Troy Road when a minivan drove left of center and struck the bus, which landed on its top before people on the scene pushed it onto its side and began helping the children. Aiden Clark, 11, died after he was ejected from the bus.

The driver, Hermanio Joseph, 35, was arraigned on a vehicular homicide charge Thursday. His case will go in front of the Clark County Grand Jury on Monday, where he may face additional charges.

Carl Ruby, senior pastor at Central Christian Church, said incidents like this raise tough questions and it’s important for faith leaders to acknowledge those and admit there aren’t always “good answers” to them.

“As faith leaders, part of our role is to help point a way forward for our community, a way through the fog of grief and death,” Ruby said. “We don’t know all the details of the path, but we know that it must be a path shaped by love, grace and forgiveness.”

How the faith community is addressing the tragedy

Rev. Seth Evans, who preaches at Lawrenceville Community Church, said he has prepared a sermon for today that will talk about community togetherness, being OK with feeling sad and turning to faith in difficult times.

“How do we respond when we feel like the world is falling apart, and how does God respond; where do we find God in all of this?” Evans said he will address in his sermon.

Evans said when writing his Sunday messages he typically looks at what is going on in the community and the world, and he feels the need to support the community in this way with people still feeling the impact of the bus crash.

“Every tragedy includes an invitation — an invitation to come together to support one another and an invitation to lean more heavily on God,” Evans said.

The pastor said it’s a natural response for a community to turn to the church to help them process a tragedy.

“I would say that it’s likely that we’ll have more people on Sunday, but what’s really important is that everyone has a chance to process things in the way that’s going to be helpful for them,” Evans said. “Whether that’s from home or watching online or together in the church walls, or if it’s out somewhere else in the community.”

Ruby said that the incident has emphasized that Clark County is a fairly small and tight-knit community. He said his family is mostly involved in the South Charleston school district and are still feeling the affects.

“Clark County is a small county where there are only a couple of degrees of separation between everyone, and everyone’s grieving,” Ruby said. “I mean, people who have never met the Clark family and perhaps never will are just aching right now, and I feel that when I’m with the congregation, I felt it out in the community.”

Credit: Jessica Orozco

Credit: Jessica Orozco

Amy Willmann, executive director of the Nehemiah Foundation, said she started praying for the Clark family from the start, but her prayers have since expanded.

“It even goes outside of Clark County because people are talking about it outside of our community, and they’re either being reminded of a similar loss and they’re feeling the pain of a similar loss, or they’re imagining, ‘What if that were my child or my student?’” Willman said. “This is the kind of tragedy that causes a ripple effect of pain.”

The crash hit close to home for Evans, as his two kids are fifth-graders at Northwestern Elementary, his wife is an art teacher at the high school and the crash site was close to the church.

The family is leaning on each other and processing the crash together, talking openly and furthering their relationship with their faith, Evans said.

The pastor said he was at the scene of the crash minutes after it happened and “almost immediately” he and others reached out to other members of the church and asked for prayers.

“I would say we’ve been praying without ceasing ever since,” Evans said. “That work of prayer and community should never be underestimated. It always has a big impact.”

Willmann said it’s normal for a religious person to question their faith in the wake of a tragedy like this, and spiritual leaders should welcome this.

“We want the community and our faith organization to be safe places to ask those hard questions, so we don’t want to shut people down when they have spiritual questions and doubts; we actually want to welcome that conversation,” Willmann said.

Showing love for everyone

Aaron Roy, flourishing neighborhoods initiative director at the Nehemiah Foundation, said a lot of good can come from fear, like hugging people more tightly and having words more “seasoned with grace,” but it can also lead to villainizing certain people or communities.

Roy said he has seen numerous negative social media posts villainizing the entirety of the Haitian immigrant population in Springfield because the driver of the minivan that struck the school bus was a Haitian immigrant.

“It’s not the response to something like this. What we really need to do is wrap around the Clark family, obviously, and we need to wrap around each other because we want to grieve together and we want to listen well,” Roy said. “The last thing we want to do is start villainizing each other.”

Ruby said that many people have drifted over the center line in their cars, and this could have happened to anyone.

“When incidents like this happen, it affects all of our immigrant and refugee families because even those with no connection to the accident feel part of the blame, they will feel the sting of angry stares and unkind words,” Ruby said. “It’s important for us to remember that many of them have children just like Aiden, some of them have lost children, and they long for the same things that we do.”

Willmann said it’s important to express love for everyone, no matter who they are or what they did, and she challenges the faith community to do so.

“Let’s be the countercultural not just love your neighbor kind of people, but love your enemy, love the people who caused the harm, love the unlovable, love the person that’s different from me, love the person I don’t understand,” Willmann said. “This is where the faith community should be shining as just really countercultural examples of being a peculiar people who have that capacity to love everyone.”

Evans said it is important to remember that everyone makes mistakes and “we’re all on this human journey together.”

“Our invitation is always to respond with an overabundance of love rather than anger and hate, and so even though it’s challenging to do that when we feel like there’s an easy target for us to place blame, what it more important is to focus on the ways that we can make a positive impact on the lives of those who have been affected,” Evans said.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

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