BOLIVAR— On Oct. 15 last year, three teenagers from Bolivar were killed in a one-vehicle crash one mile east of the city. Two of those young ladies, Daniella Ayala, 15, and her sister, Gabriella Ayala, 13, were members of the youth group here at Freshwater Church.
Six months later, on April 14, Jordan Farr, 17, was pronounced dead shortly after his car crashed in a Bolivar residential area. Jordan was also a member of the youth group at Freshwater Church here.
“I think anybody who goes into the ministry kind of expects to do a funeral service at some point,” said Kurt Osterloh, volunteer youth pastor at Freshwater. “But not within six months and certainly not for three youth who you have both taught and loved.”
Immediately following the wrecks, which both took place on Saturday nights, Osterloh cancelled what they had originally planned for Sunday night youth group and instead opened their doors and ordered pizza, inviting any and all of Bolivar’s youth to come and mourn together.
“One thing I learned after the girls’ wreck was that students can only cry so much,” he said. “In between waves of sorrow the best thing for them is a sense of normalcy and fellowship. A lot of kids who don’t usually go to church came out and all were united in their grief. We were able to show them the love of Jesus by just letting them hang out and eat pizza.”
Osterloh, who graduated from Southwest Baptist University (SBU) in 2010 and came to Freshwater shortly after, certainly didn’t expect to encounter this much tragedy and heartache so early in his ministry career.
“It has been especially difficult with Jordan because I was really close to him. I really poured myself into him, you know?” he said. “Trying to minister to the youth and help them with their grief while also finding the time to deal with my own has been exhausting. It’s been nice just to rely on the Holy Spirit to help me put my emotions on hold and give me the strength needed to let Him do the comforting through me.”
He said serving on the frontline during the aftermath of these upsetting deaths has also solidified his decision to continue leading youth at Freshwater, though it is only a volunteer position.
He said a couple of months ago he spoke to Josh Hedger, lead pastor at Freshwater, about the possibility of leaving the Second Baptist Springfield church plant for a paid position somewhere else.
“He told me to pray about it through the end of the month and if I didn’t have my answer, maybe I did need to look elsewhere,” Osterloh said. “After about two weeks of praying, Jordan’s wreck happened. I didn’t do much during that time except just love on the kids but I received phone call after phone call and encouraging Facebook messages and texts from people telling me they appreciate what I was doing and what I said at the funeral. I took that as further confirmation that for some reason I am supposed to be in Bolivar. I am supposed to be here for these kids.”
He said that, as well as the relationships that he has been able to build in these last weeks and months has been a sort of silver lining.
“Pretty much all the kids in town know me or at least know my face because of the funerals,” Osterloh said. “I believe without a doubt that all three of my students were saved and because of that, their funerals had an evangelistic feel to them. I heard that 1,200 people attended the girls’ funeral and I know at least that many attended Jordan’s. There were a lot of unchurched kids from rough backgrounds who heard the gospel that wouldn’t have normally heard it. It’s comforting when God gives you a glimpse of His big picture.”