How One Youth Group’s Trip to Camp Took an Unexpected Detour to the Emergency Room
Travis Wash is the associate pastor at Fox Hill Road Baptist Church in Hampton, VA. He has been ministering to the youth of the church for six years. One of the overarching themes of his ministry comes out of John 3:30, where John the Baptist responded to his disciples’ concern that he was losing influence because of Jesus’ increasing popularity. John replied, “He must increase but I must decrease.”
One of Travis’ ongoing prayers for his students is that they remain loyal to Christ through the good and the bad. Travis knows about adversity. As a child, he was exposed to drug addiction and alcoholism in his home. He now ministers to many students who are familiar with these kinds of struggles—either personally or through their friends. His heart’s desire is that the students stay loyal to the Lord no matter what happens to them. “Jesus promises trials and adversity. How we respond reveals how authentic our relationship is,” explains Travis. “How they respond…says a lot to a world that says there is no god.”
Given the ministry’s focus, it’s no surprise that when Travis had a t-shirt created for his youth group, John 3:30 was featured, along with the hashtag, #MakingMuchofHim. Hashtags are the social-media equivalent of bumper stickers—they can range from meaningful to trivial and, like bumper stickers, their meaning can quickly be forgotten. But as Travis and the youth group at Fox Hill Road Baptist were about to show when they pulled out of the parking lot on July 11, 2016, “Making Much of Him” was more than just a hashtag to them.
The caravan of vehicles was traveling to Lifeway’s Fuge Camp in partnership with the SBC of Virginia. The camp was being held at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA, and Travis was driving the third of three church vans that left Hampton early that morning. Four of the students in the van with Travis were making their first-ever trip to camp! They were about 15 minutes away from camp when the route called for Travis to turn off of Highway 460. As he slowed down for the turn, he was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer.
“In an instant, the van was shot right out of my sight,” recalls Joey Stickle, one of Travis’ chaperones and the driver of the lead van. “I ran down the ramp only to find that after he got rear-ended, he was pushed across the road and had a head-on collision with another 18-wheeler.”
The two impacts left Travis unconscious and the students with injuries ranging from minor to serious. Travis and the five students with him were taken to the hospital by ambulance for treatment, while the crumpled 15-passenger Dodge van sat in the highway, one of its doors lying 20 feet away, having been placed there by the emergency extraction crew. Those passing likely wondered, Did anyone survive this accident? Fortunately, God’s mercy was on display that day. The most serious injuries were a broken femur (requiring surgery) and a concussion. Three others had minor injuries.
Everyone’s first concern was for the health of their friends. Both the students and adults were upset and, understandably, things became chaotic pretty quickly. The chaperones promptly organized the group and followed the ambulances to the hospital. The next few hours were a flurry of doctors, nurses, students, parents, pastors, and others scurrying around to give care to Travis and the injured students.
Some wondered if there would be any interest in camp, especially from those involved in the accident. Soon it was clear what the students wanted. When the “all clear” was given by doctors, the uninjured students made their way to camp and quickly became part of the event. Even the student with the broken femur eventually made it to camp, enjoying a ride in a wheelchair powered by any one of several friends. Only one of the students was prevented from attending. Per concussion protocol, she had to be isolated from loud noises, so she returned home after being released.
Considering the severity of the crash, God’s protection was evident. What impressed many in the hours after the crash was that the students retained their desire to connect with God and hear from Him at camp. Over the coming days, the youth group would receive a lot of attention—from doctors, nurses, parents, church members back home, chaplains, university officials, media outlets, and convention staff. Travis became concerned that the highlight from camp would be the accident, but in the weeks that followed, the attention shifted from the accident to what God did through the accident.
Carson Ash, a student who observed the crash, reflects, “It showed me that your life can change at any moment, and if your heart isn’t right with God, it might be too late!”
Joshua Hartung, whose sister, Katelyn, suffered the concussion, shares what God showed him through the accident: “It showed me that God can protect my loved ones, and I thank Him for that.”
India Bone, who sat in the front passenger seat of the van that was hit, shares, “It showed me that making much of Him matters because He always looks out for us, even in our roughest times. He is always by my side.”
Once back at the church, the youth group had a chance to give a camp report. Travis and the youth had the entire service in which to share. Interim pastor and SBCV regional missionary David Bounds recalls, “The service was tremendous…the youth have been a great encouragement to the church…God has done a work in the life of the church.”
Just a few days after the accident, Travis posted a thought-provoking and penetrating question on Facebook: “If it were the outcome that many feared, would you still praise Him?!” Although it’s a question no one wants to consider, God calls us to live in light of eternity. That means we must answer the question honestly. Our answer says a lot about the authenticity of our relationship with Jesus. Are we #MakingMuchofHim?