Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Sudden Death of HS Sophomore

Mark Zeiler, an SV staff member in Orlando, FL, shares the story of Staci Stephens, a student that was involved with his ministry.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." John 12:24.

Such was literally true of Staci Stephens, a sophomore at Timber Creek High School in Orlando, FL, and Student Venture leader on her campus. She died suddenly on March 13, 2005, from a virus that caused her heart to become enlarged. As her boyfriend Luis said, "Staci died of a heart that was too big."

She loved lost things and wanted to rescue them. Around campus she was known for her love of God and her love of people. In her journal for school she defined tragedy as someone dying without knowing Christ; she wanted to see all her peers saved.

A recent journal entry explains Staci's heart to go beyond herself. She asked God for a unique ministry on campus. Little did she or any of us know what God had in store. When we heard Staci passed away, we decided to plan a memorial service for her in place of our regular Student Venture meeting. The handful of students I invited over to my apartment to pray for the memorial had by nightfall turned into a crowd of around 200 students. They told stories about Staci, cried, laughed, and let everyone know that if Staci could say one thing to them, it would be to leave that night with Jesus Christ. When word got out at school the next day that Staci died, hundreds gathered in the library to grieve. Students and teachers broke into singing I Can Only Imagine, Staci's favorite song. Teachers and students led times of prayer. One Jewish girl, who didn't even know Staci but who was gripped by
a fear of death, eagerly listened and then surrendered her life to Christ as two Student Venture students she once persecuted explained the Gospel. Another friend of Staci's gave his life to Christ, stating that it was sad that Staci had to die in order for him to believe the truth.

That night at the memorial service over 800 students, teachers, and members of the community gathered in the school auditorium as six of her friends spoke and testified to Staci's life and faith in Jesus Christ. At the close of the evening, teachers came forward to rededicate their lives. Prodigal students returned to God. One of the speakers led five of her friends to Christ. At least 50 indicated receiving Christ that night with more to follow.

Two days after the memorial, two cheerleaders surrendered their lives and put their trust in Christ. Their friends had been praying for them for a year, because they were the most persecuting and least likely to believe. Even the night of Staci's funeral, one of Staci's friends introduced four girls to Christ just before the service. Finally on the following Sunday, a call came that the cheer coach, one of the most resistant to Christ, attended Staci's church and became a believer.

Martin and Chris, two senior students were standing around after the funeral. I approached them and asked them how all this has impacted them. Martin replied, "I received Christ Monday night." So I gave him a big high five and asked Chris, "What about you, man?" He responded, "I received Christ Monday in the library." We just met for our first Bible study this past Wednesday; I could barely keep my jaw up hearing how their desires, hopes, and joy had so drastically changed in such a short amount of time. Chris kept saying, "I am just a happier person and smile a whole lot more now."

Staci and her friends in Student Venture had prayed all year for revival to break out, and even dreamed of a day when the auditorium on campus would be filled with people hearing about Jesus. They prayed all year for their "Most Wanted" lists of people to know Christ. In one week, through the life and death of Staci Stephens, their prayers were answered.

The last passage Staci studied and had written in her journal before she passed away was Psalm 73:26 "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."