Sikeston tragedy shanges lives to the golory of a loving God
By Bob Baysinger
May 11, 2004
SIKESTON – Missouri Baptists often quote Romans 8:28 when a tragedy occurs.
“All things work together for good …,” is often the phrase that is used as Baptist people console one another when a life is snuffed out unexpectedly.
Baptists at Sikeston are no different.
Romans 8:28 has become an oft-quoted verse as a grieving community seeks comfort following an April 28 accident that claimed the life of 21-year-old William Heath Self. Through human eyes, his death was unexpected and premature.
What has made it so difficult for even Christians to understand was Self’s dedication to God. According to Mitch Jackson, Miner Baptist Church pastor and the Missouri Baptist Convention’s (MBC) first vice president, Self was a warrior-in-the-making for Jesus Christ.
A junior at Southeast Missouri State University, Self was active in the Baptist Student Union. Bob Houchins, BSU director at Southeast, said Self “loved the Lord and it was reflected in his spirit and actions.”
With his home at Sikeston located only 30 minutes away from the university, Self stayed active in his home church – Miner Baptist – during the school year. Self and his girlfriend, Heather Dockins, taught the first graders every Sunday morning.
Little did Self know – or anybody else at Sikeston – that April 25 would be the last time he would be with the first graders or the rest of the Sikeston church congregation.
According to the Missouri Highway Patrol, Self was riding his 1984 model motorcycle westbound on Route HH, one mile north of Sikeston, at 6:03 p.m. on April 28 when a vehicle driven by Kellie Martin attempted to make a left turn onto Route HH and drove into the path of Self’s motorcycle.
Self was airlifted to the Missouri Delta Hospital at Sikeston. He was pronounced dead at 7:34 p.m.
The immediate reaction in and around Sikeston was shock – for the family as well as Miner’s pastor.
Jackson had returned to Sikeston at 1 a.m. the same day as the accident after a week in Romania to assist the MBC’s evangelism and church planting efforts in the former communist country.
“I went to bed and got up late the next morning,” he recalled. “I was still fighting jet lag really bad. I went to church and sent our F.A.I.T.H. group out. I had returned home and was sitting at the table eating some banana pudding that I hadn’t taken time to eat at church. I got about two bites down when somebody came running into the kitchen to tell me about the accident.
“Before the night was finished, I was back on an airplane. We have a family in our church that has access to a Lear Jet, so I ended up flying to Chattanooga, Tenn., to pick up Heath’s brother and his wife.”
Some would probably define the ensuing hours as a nightmare.
Jackson described the happenings of the next three days as “awesome.”
Other observers said the events that followed were only things that God could orchestrate. They began to unfold the morning after the accident with an Assembly of God preacher playing a key role.
“I didn’t hear about the accident until late that evening,” said Ron Tate, pastor of the First Assembly of God Church at Sikeston. “We moved into the community earlier this year.”
As it turns out Kellie’s husband was the contractor on the house purchased by Tate.
“I witnessed to them a little bit at the time and learned that they were unchurched. I decided to stop by their house the day after the accident. It was about 11 a.m. or so, and she (Kellie) was resting. She told me she hadn’t been able to sleep the night before. I told them I would be happy to check back on them later.”
Tate returned about 2 o’clock that afternoon with some food and the book, Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall
“I thought it would be a good book to give her,” Tate said. “She was wondering how the people of Sikeston would ever forgive her. She felt like everybody would be looking down on her. When I returned that afternoon, she and her husband invited me into the living room. She told me she had been investigating some spiritual things on her own by buying and reading some books.
“I am a certified trainer with Evangelism Explosion, so I took the opportunity to share Christ with them. They were both very, very open. They both received Christ right there in their living room. There was a cleansing of the heart, mixed with tears and joy.”
The forgiving aspect was completed the following day when Self’s mom and dad, Dwayne and Wendy Self, paid a visit to the Martin home.
“Dwayne got up the next day and said the Lord spoke to him during his quite time,” Jackson said. “He said the Lord made it clear that he needed to go visit the lady who was involved in the accident. Dwayne and Wendy went to the Martins with a forgiving attitude and told them how glad there were to hear that they have given their hearts to the Lord.”
An impromptu service occurred at the church Thursday night, involving teen-agers, first graders and parents. Several trained counselors, including Kevin Coffee, the associate pastor/youth education at the nearby Morley Baptist Church, assisted at the meeting. Jackson said the counseling made a world of difference.
The Friday night visitation at Ponder Funeral Home in Sikeston was massive. People stood in line 21/2 hours waiting to pay their respects.
“The Lord was amazing during that visitation,” Jackson said. “They stopped counting at 2,000 the number of people who visited the funeral home. It was during the visitation that I saw Heath’s dad put his arms around both my boys and encourage them. The Self family is a very, very solid family. God’s grace was so amazing during this whole thing.”
The culmination to a harvest of souls in the Sikeston area occurred the day of Self’s funeral at the Sikeston Field House.
The Miner church seats about 600, but Jackson and the family didn’t think that would be adequate, so the Sikeston school, where Wendy Self is employed, volunteered the gymnasium. An estimated 1,000 attended the funeral.
“I preached the Gospel long and hard at the funeral,” Jackson said. “There were decisions made, but never did get a list of how many. I was so involved with other things.”
Jim Barnhart, Miner’s associate pastor, said there were at least six who made professions of faith at the funeral.
“Mitch did an excellent job at the funeral,” Barnhart said. “He pointed out that Jesus wept when Lazarus died, that He was not weeping for Lazarus but was weeping for those that were left behind. He pointed out that Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem and that he was weeping for people in the city that were lost and needed Him.”
Barnhart watched Self grow up at Miner.
“Heath was very active at Miner and was a sports standout in high school. His baseball team won second in the state his senior year. He was exceptionally strong physically,” Barnhart said. “The youth looked at Heath as a role model. He was not afraid to let people know where he stood with the Lord. He would confront people and say ‘what are you doing with your life.’
“He was more than willing to hold people accountable for their actions, to tell people they need to get on track with the Lord.”
Self was involved with Bobby Shows’ Sports Crusaders ministry, teaching younger kids how to play basketball and also how to know Christ. He also had traveled to Houston, Texas, to work in an inner-city mission project with Bob Caldwell, MBC director of missions.
“Heath was saved at an early age, but he started doing some things he realized he shouldn’t have done. He made that trip to Houston his senior year in high school and came home an entirely different individual,” Barnhart said.
And because of Heath’s death, several other people in the Sikeston area are entirely different individuals.
God does work all things together for good.