Here’s how 1,500 mourners explained the deaths of five Mennonite children, all under the age of 13, all from the same family:
By answering in 19 different ways that God, their Shepherd, was calling in his lambs.
But 19 answers don’t quell the question: Why?
“We need to consider his wisdom and be satisfied with that,” Mennonite deacon Clayton Eveleth told the crowd assembled Monday at north Spokane’s Calvary Chapel.
The Schrock children, from Chewelah, Wash., died last Tuesday when their family pickup was hit head-on by another pickup on U.S. Highway 395 in north Spokane. The children’s father, 38-year-old Jeffrey Schrock, was driving them to Spokane to pick up his wife, Carolyn. He was badly injured and hospitalized, as was Clifford Helm, 55, the driver who swerved into oncoming traffic and hit the Schrocks.
Jeffrey Schrock was able to attend his children’s funeral on Monday with the aid of a heavily padded wheelchair and a medical crew. He sat beside Carolyn Schrock, pregnant with their sixth child, facing the small white caskets containing the bodies of Carmen, 12; Jana, 10; Carinna, 9; Jerryl, almost 5; and Craig, 2.
The Schrocks wanted Eveleth and two other church leaders conducting the service to emphasize the need to forgive Helm, who had crossed the median and driven about 433 yards in the wrong lane before the crash. It remains unclear why Helm crossed the road.
Carolyn Schrock visited Helm at Sacred Heart Medical Center on Saturday in a personal gesture of forgiveness. The Schrock family photographed the visit and delivered a picture to local media, along with a written account of the visit.
“Love builds bridges. Hate digs chasms” was among the sentiments of the account.
Members of their Pine Grove Mennonite Church had heard hurtful statements about Helm in supermarkets and elsewhere. Concerned, the Schrocks decided to make their gestures of forgiveness public.
“There was a response from Carolyn right from the beginning for the driver of the other vehicle and how he was doing. That’s compassion,” Dan Hertzler, a Pine Grove congregant and family friend, said away from the service. “Forgiveness is the foundation of the believer’s experience.”
After the service, a procession of cars more than a mile long meandered up U.S. 395, past the site of the accident and some 30 miles beyond to Pine Grove Mennonite Church cemetery in Valley. There, beneath a dozen canopies and myriad umbrellas, mourners watched as the children’s caskets were lowered into the earth.
There were hundreds of mourners from as far as Virginia and Mexico, Guatemala and Poland – family members and friends familiar with the Schrocks through Bible schools, people who were moved by the magnitude of the tragedy.
In the crowd, as a choir sang, Mennonite women tended to restless children. Some gave their daughters cautionary grasps on shoulders. Others cradled children for a long time as only parents can.
Beside the burial site of her five children, for perhaps the first time in 12 years, Carolyn Schrock’s arms lay still at her sides.
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