In Fayetteville, Arkansas, at Central United Methodist Church, on this day, Thursday, October 8, 2009, Olivia Ray will be buried. A celebration in her honor will take place – a celebration of God’s endless love and of Olivia’s eternal life in Jesus Christ. In this time of grieving and celebration, Tara and I have done a lot of praying and reflecting. Through this time of sorrow, I am compelled to share how the Ray family impacted the Riley family. I thank God for their commitment and grace.
In June of 2006 I made a phone call to John Ray’s cell phone from Keith Lee’s phone in the parking lot of the 265 Neighborhood Market. As it turned out John Ray was in Kona, Hawaii, at YWAM’s University of the Nations, with his family, teaching a seminar on working in missions. I was calling him to ask about moving my family into full-time missions work and he invited us to join them in Hawaii.
We said yes and found ourselves at the beginning of a faith journey working with YWAM in missions over three years later. During that summer we got to know John and Jane and their four children better than we ever had before. We ate together, played together, prayed together, and spent time all over the island together. They showed us great hospitality and helped us make the transition from Arkansas to full-time ministry. Without their help I don’t know if we could have landed as well as we did. And since then we’ve found ourselves on four different continents and traveled tens of thousands of miles as a family of five, sharing the gospel of Jesus with 1000s of people.
Saturday, we were wrecked with the news their youngest daughter, Olivia, died after being struck by an automobile in Fayetteville, Arkansas. This family, that we know and love and owe so much of our destiny to, woke up Saturday excited about a weekend enjoying the fall weather in Northwest Arkansas. Olivia and Hannah were on their way to a mile run event. In the blink of an eye everything changed. Olivia was crushed by an Escalade, rushed to the hospital, where the physicians couldn’t stop the bleeding and her body stopped working.
This morning the Rays awoke wondering if it could have been a horrible nightmare. Olivia didn’t run down the hall skipping, ready for breakfast. Instead they were reminded of the last images of their beautiful daughter, haunted by the reality of the loss.
Hearts broken, they can only pray for grace to remember that, no matter how much pain they are in, Olivia is now in Jesus’ arms cheering for them. Olivia demonstrates God’s eternal love for us because she rests gently in His arms with no more pain. And John and Jane had 10 wonderful years with an amazing young lady who brought so many of us encouragement with her beautiful smile and adventurous heart. Her, and their, legacy is one of sharing and being God’s love.
As I’ve prayed for the Rays and for myself and others, through tears, headaches, pain and numbness, God showed me something very important to share with everyone who reads this newsletter. God said this:
“THE RAYS KNOW ME AND HAVE ME TO GO TO FOR COMFORT. ALTHOUGH THEY FACE A VERY DIFFICULT TRIAL, I LOVE THEM AND WILL CARRY THEM THROUGH. BUT, CAN YOU IMAGINE BEING A DADDY OR MOMMY WHO DOESN’T KNOW ME AND WHO FACES THIS TYPE OF TRAGEDY?”
As I pondered that, God reminded me why we are doing what we are doing. This is why we leave grandparents, friends, churches, homes, live like gypsies at times, face mosquitoes and fevers, sunburn and rats. There are mommies and daddies, brothers and sisters, friends and relatives who face the pain of a sin-wrecked world without knowing the love of the Father. And, as long as that is true, we must not stop, we must not falter, we must not faint; NO, we must go and share the Truth of Jesus’ love.
How tragic it would be for me to sit in the comfort of my home knowing the love of Jesus, comforted by Him, while others are imprisoned in hopelessness around the world? How horrific it is to think of a John, Jane, Hope, Hannah, or Naomi Ray out there in the world facing the loss of their baby without knowing they will spend all eternity together, thinking instead that they have no clue whether they will ever see their Olivia again.
May the Rays’ loss be the world’s gain. May more hear the call to be Jesus to the world and provide hope to the hopeless. It is a legacy for the Rays, who have given their lives to this call.