No One Left Unchanged: Reflections from A Funeral

On August 18, I attended the funeral of two sisters—Sophie, 17, and Acacia, 15. A week and a half earlier they were killed in a car accident. Sophie and Acacia are the daughters of Duane and Sylvia Goertzen, One Hope Canada missionaries for over twenty years at Roseau River Bible Camp, in southwest Manitoba.

Nearly 1,500 people attended the funeral, held on the camp’s large playing field; hundreds more tuned in to the livestream. The two-hour service seemed like only minutes as we listened to friends and family share how the girls influenced the lives of so many. No one left the service unchanged.

Here is what I will always remember.

Never underestimate the spiritual capacity of children and youth. 

Sophia and Acacia wrote letters and journaled, giving us a window to the Spirit’s work in their lives. Duane and Sylvia took courage, realizing how much their girls wrestled with the big questions of life and faith and yet had a growing love and commitment to their Saviour. As the Goertzens shared from their daughters’ letters and journals, we got to know Sophia and Acacia in a far deeper way than normal. 

Children and youth have a rich private life as they ponder, more often than we realize, questions of faith, questions about God, and the difference He makes in their lives. As children enter their teens, we wonder if our example and words make any difference. Sophie and Acacia’s words clearly show that what we say as adults does make a difference. We must never stop praying for or listening to the children in our lives because God’s Spirit is always working, even if we do not see the evidence. 

Praying for want 

Through the thin veil that separates us from eternity, Sophie and Acacia speak through their journals of what a life of seeking the heart of God looks like, challenging us to do likewise. Consider these examples, from some of Acacia’s many prayers:

Dear Lord, please give me the ability to share with others what is going on in my life, help me to ask for help when I need it, help me to pray for others when they ask, and help me to pray out loud and not be nervous about it . . . help me be wise for what I do for tomorrow, to be doing stuff that is worthwhile. Help me make progress in my relationship with my family and you Lord, even if it’s just small . . .

Help me have patience tomorrow as everything doesn’t come smoothly, like planned, all the time. Please help me realize that your grace is enough . . . that I don’t need lots of friends to have a great life. Please help me grow closer with the friends I have. You are enough for me God . . . in times of trouble and in easy times.  

Dear God, please help me have patience with my family . . . give me the want to work and enjoy it, unlike today, I want to enjoy it, and please humble me Lord. Help humble me so I can apologize and forgive others, help me become more like you. Help me be patient with the future and help me slowly figure out what I want to do . . . give me the want to learn how to cook, bake, sew, take pictures, design stuff, and embroider.

Dear God, please give me energy right now for the rest of the day so I don’t feel lazy and so I get stuff done . . . please purify my thoughts to be pleasing to you. . . help me to live worthy as the calling we have as Christians. 

“Give me the want”—a 15-year-old teen’s prayer for desire. Not for more friends, nor for her troubles to go away, but for her to be more humble, to show more love to family, to enjoy work, to live a life worthy of the One who saved her. Would that our families, churches, and communities pray like that! 

Singing a promise 

During the service we sang several of Sophie and Acacia’s favourite songs. As the breeze carried our subdued voices away, it was difficult to hear others sing until we heard the opening chords to O Praise the Name (Anástasis). Something about that song resonated deeply with everyone; as we sang, the audience became a choir.

O praise the Name of the Lord our God
O praise His Name forevermore
For endless days we will sing Your praise
Oh Lord, Oh Lord our God.

As the refrain repeated, it became louder: had a latecomer stumbled into our midst, he could not have reconciled the sight of the caskets and these magnificent words. 

Yet, they did make sense for us because of the clear hope we have. This hope is based not on wishful thinking, but on Jesus—the One who frees us from sin’s power, giving victory over the grave. It is only because of Jesus that one day we will join Sophie and Acacia in heaven’s choir, singing those tremendous words together.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bill McCaskell is the national director for One Hope Canada.