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I Had to Identify the Body of One of My Teens

March 23, 2014

This may be the hardest entry I’ve written since I started this blog, mainly because this was probably the most difficult thing I had to do since I began the ministry of working with teens thirty years ago.

For  three decades I’ve been working with teens, either as a youth pastor or as a Bible teacher.  On this occasion, I’m going to share with you an incident that happened one weekend over ten years ago, but man, it still seems like it happened yesterday.  I’m going to change the names and a few locations, but everything I share here is true… probably the most difficult weekend of my life.

imageI was a youth pastor  and his name was Adam.

Adam entered into my life as a seventeen-year old sneering cynic who proudly bragged about his membership in a Satanic cult.  We bumped into each other whenever he stopped by our church building to pick up his sister on a Wednesday evening in early fall.

“You’re the youth pastor, huh?” he nodded his head.  “Okay, then.”

“You’re Adam, Gail’s brother?  Nice to meet you,” I said.  “Here, have a Coke.”

“Thanks,” he said, grabbing the can and heading for the door.  “Later.”

I didn’t see him for a few weeks, but I did notice he would lurk outside the doorways each Wednesday night, observing the activities which included a Bible study.  The teens were friendly to him, offering him refreshments and inviting him to stay.

“Adam, why don’t you just come on in and sit, get out of the cold, man?” I urged him early one Wednesday as the teens were filing into the gym and readying for an opening game. “If you feel uncomfortable, you can sit on the side and get yourself  a Coke and some chips.”

His eyes lit up.  “Hey, are you going to play volleyball tonight?”

“We sure are,” I replied, pointing to the teens who were already practicing at the net.  “It’s our opening game, to get everybody acquainted. Then we have our Bible study and prayer…”

I never finished the sentence.  Adam was on the floor in the midst of the teens, spiking the ball and playing with everybody as if they had known each other for years.  I found out that he had an obsession with playing volleyball.

Adam came every week after that but he would have nothing to do with Christianity.  Satanism was his faith, he proudly told our teens.  We prayed for him and befriended him.

The next month, due to his sister’s doctor’s appointment, Adam was dropped off at our teen meeting but had no way to get back home.  “Hey, I’ll drive you back home, man,” I said.  “You live off Ebenezer Road, right?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I appreciate it.”

After the service as I drove to his subdivision I thought I’d approach his faith.  “Adam,” I said.  “Scott tells me you’re into Satanism pretty heavy.  Is that true?”

“Yeah,” he said, nodding.  “Satan is the way to go.  I’ll follow him to the end.”

“Well, do you ever read the Bible?  You mentioned the end of Satan – and funny thing is, the Bible mentions it.”

“Really?”  He was genuinely surprised.

“Yeah.  Do you have a Bible at home – one you can get ahold of and read?”

“Sure,” he said.

“Well, I’ll tell you what,” I said.  “Why don’t we both read the book of Revelation together.  One chapter a night.  Start with, oh, say, the fifth chapter and read all the way through the end.  Then let’s talk, okay?”  I pulled up to his house.

He got out and nodded.  “One chapter a night in the book of Revelation.  Okay, I’ll do it.”

I figured that we could discuss it as we walked through the passage day by day.  However, only two days later I got a call around ten in the evening.  It was Adam.

“I gotta see you, Brad,” he said, obviously agitated and slurring. He had been drinking.  “Like tomorrow, at your office.”

“What is it, Adam?”

“I read the whole book of Revelation,” he said.  “I had no idea.  Satan goes down hard.

“Yes,” I said, “and he wants to take you down with him.  Can you see that?”

“Yes,” he said, with deep emotion.  “I wanna make a decision, but I wanna be sober when I do it.  Eight o’clock in your office Saturday morning?”

“You got it,” I said.  And the next morning when I arrived, Adam was standing there, ready to make a decision.  He came into my office and sat meekly as I showed him the glorious plan of salvation made possible through Jesus Christ.

Adam gave his life over to Christ and became one of the most active and happy members of our youth group.

But he battled his past, especially the alcohol.  There were times when we had to wrap him in prayers and love as the temptations of the world would come back to haunt him.  Our teens were always supportive of helping him in any way possible, even when he would rebuff them openly.  Soon he’d be back, enjoying the freedom in Christ and the fellowship of true friends.  It was rocky but he would work at it.  Many was the time that I was called to help him at his home.  His parents weren’t sure how to process this – they would step back often, and much to my frustration, refuse to discipline him when he was actually crying out for a solid home life with boundaries.  If he’d go out on a drunken binge, they’d just look wide-eyed and confused and hope that I would step in.

Yet through all of this Adam was a part of our youth group as he attended camps, enjoyed Christmas parties, went out on mission trips, cheered at baseball games, acted in skits, and befriended newcomers into the fold.

But one fall, he stopped attending the church.  He was absent from our youth meetings and campouts.  He wouldn’t answer his phone.

“Gail,” I said to his sister, “what has happened to Adam?  I’m been trying to get ahold of him for weeks.”

Gail looked away.  “He’s getting back into booze,” she said..  “He’s pushing us all away.  My folks won’t do anything about it.  They let him run all over them.  Last week he wrecked the car and he’s been charged with a DUI.  He’s going to court next week.  He lost his license.”

That Saturday morning at six o’clock the phone rang next to the bed.

I picked it up.  People were screaming on the other end.   It was so loud that the screaming woke up my wife.  I could not tell who it was, but I was sure it wasn’t a prank call.

“Brad, Brad!” said the voice.  I recognized Adam’s father.  “”It’s Adam!  He’s gone, he’s gone!”

“George, what happened? ”  I cried.  “You’ve got to stop screaming.  PLease calm down enough and explain what happened.”

“Adam was in an accident on Interstate 75!  A truck hit him and killed him!  Brad, he’s gone,, he’s gone!”

“George, was he a passenger?  Gail said he lost his license, how could he have been driving?”

“It’s my fault,” sobbed George. “I let him go and have the keys. I shouldn’t have, I know, but I just couldn’t say no to him… the accident was in another county, his body is at a hospital…”

“I’ll be right over. Let me call the senior pastor first,” I said. As I was throwing my clothes on, I was able to get our senior pastor on his cell phone.

“Brad, I’m so sorry, but I am out of town. I’m going to have to ask you to go with George and go identify the body – he may not be able to handle the stress of it. I’m three hundred miles away and unable to get back to you. Would you handle it?”

And that, my friends, was the start of one of the most miserable weekends of my life. As I arrived at the family’s home, George and his wife were falling apart. Gail was out of town and we would have to contact her. George looked at me.

“Would you help me with the arrangements? Would you go identify the body for me? I can’t do it…” he said. All the way to Jefferson City he kept shaking his head. “I never should have given him the keys. He had no license.”

We drove the long trip up the interstate. George explained to me the situation…

Adam took his parents out the night before and paid for their dinner, treating them to a lavish feast… it was a bribe, George realizes now. After they headed home, Adam begged and pleaded for a chance to “take a spin” in the car.

Unbelievably, with a DUI court case looming and the hour now at ten p.m., the parents relented with a weak warning: “Be back home by one-thirty in the morning.”

And the police report said that Adam’ accident was at precisely 1:30 AM Saturday morning.

As he left his parents’ house, Adam had taken the car and gone straight to a bar… and got plastered. Drunkenly, he headed away from Knoxville on the Interstate and was actually heading away from his home, doing 90 miles per hour through thick truck traffic.

He smashed into the back of a semi tractor truck and his car literally stuck underneath it, jamming the car up to the windshield. The police report has witnesses saying that by swaying the car and repeatedly jamming on the brakes, he broke loose and swerved over the side of the hill, sliding out of control down the steep incline where he crashed his car into a tree.

He climbed out of the car, and stumbled up the hill…

… and walked right into the middle of the highway and stood facing the oncoming trucks in the fast lane. He was actually waving at them, witnesses say.

A truck was doing approximately seventy miles per hour when it hit him, killing him instantly…

George and I went to the scene of the accident at Mile 117 on the Interstate. I found Adam’s shoe over a hundred feet away from the location of the accident. George found Adam’s wallet in some trees.

At the hospital, the nurse ushered me back. George was pasty white, staring at the wall, virtually unresponsive.

I walked into the room and there was the body bag.

“This… this is going to be hard,” I said, holding onto the bars of the bed. “He was a member of my youth group.”

The elderly nurse was kind. “Take your time. After all of these years, I still find it difficult. Just tell me when you’re ready.” I nodded my head and she unzipped the bag.

There lay Adam. His skull was destroyed and his jacket was wrapped around his neck. “He was hit so hard that his arms flew out of his jacket and it spun around him,” the nurse explained gently. A necklace ornament was embedded in his chest.  I grabbed her arm. “His face is gone. The impact…”

She nodded, zipped back the bag and led me out of the room.

I spent the rest of the weekend making funeral arrangements, choosing the gravesite, even selecting the grave marker. I preached the funeral.

And as I stood there, looking at the closed casket, I turned and told the audience the same thing that I truly believed:

“This is just Adam’s shell. He fought many a battle here on Earth after he made his decision for Christ and it was hard, brutally hard. His end was tragic and severe. That is to say, his end in this life. Adam’s in Heaven now, and I’m going to see him one day, I gladly tell you, because I was a witness to Adam making a decision for Jesus Christ. That’s my hope – that I get to see my friend again, along with the greatest friend anyone could ever have – Jesus Christ.”

Take what you want from this story.  Is it because Adam’s sins found him out?  Is it a lesson to be learned because of weak-willed parents?  It it a moral about the brevity of life?  Choose what you will.  The most important lesson I learned from this traumatic weekend was a glimmer of hope that gets brighter every day.  I will see Adam as he is away from all of his troubles.

There is a resurrection.  Christ made it possible.  Heaven awaits us!

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. Yet as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

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  1. I’ll let God judge the situation. No one should have to lose a child, and no one should have to identify a body. I’m sorry you went through this, but your faith is inspiring.

    • Anthea, you are correct about the parents, and I have kept in contact with them through the years even though I moved to another state. Thank you for your perspective on this.

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