By Margaret Colson
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist
When 17-year-old Sarah Harmening left home to go to Botswana on a missions trip, she didn’t know she would be going home to her heavenly Father instead.
Still, in her death, as in her brief life, Harmening boldly shared the love of Christ, even at a time in America when many Christians feel silenced and slighted.
Harmening died in a bus crash outside of Atlanta on June 8 as she was traveling with a group from Mount Zion Baptist Church, Huntsville, to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
It was the first leg of their missions trip as International World Changers through the Southern Baptist International Mission Board (IMB).
In a rare unedited press conference on CBS 46 just hours after the tragedy, Harmening’s family read some of the teen’s last written words — illuminating her “tangible” love for God and her desire that all come to know Jesus Christ personally. Do visit the website to know more about it.
Standing with city officials in the sanctuary of Kingdom of God Church, Harmening’s mother, Karen, flanked by her husband, Scott, tearfully read her daughter’s last journal entry, written on the bus the day of the deadly crash. The final sentence in that journal entry reads: “So I know He’s (God’s) going to do incredible things.” Even though nothing can replace the loss of the family of the deceased, it is advised to hire pedestrian accident attorney to get legal counseling and claim compensation for their loss.
As the family talked and prayed before stepping into the spotlight, Harmening’s mother said they realized that “the incredible thing is impacting the world for Jesus Christ, and we want you to know the love of Jesus Christ. If you do not know Him as your Lord — for our precious, precious Sarah — please seek Him today for His Word.”
The teen’s three sisters — Katelyn, Kristen and Sophie — then stepped forward, with Katelyn reading a text message Sarah had sent recently to their cousin.
The text message began with the words of 1 Peter 1:23–25, and then Katelyn read the words that her younger sister had written:
“This is such a great reminder. We are like a wisp of smoke. We are here for a moment and this is not about us. Life is not about us. It’s about God, who is eternal, so I want to dedicate the one moment I’m here completely and entirely to Him.”
Even city officials for South Fulton, a newly formed city of about 125,000 in greater metro Atlanta, seemed moved by the family’s loss and their bold pronouncement of faith in Jesus Christ.
South Fulton Mayor Bill Edwards said he had asked many residents in the 2-month-old city to pray for “this family in their time of need.”
“So I don’t ask, ‘Why?’ I simply want to tell you that no matter what happens, God is always in control,” he said.
District 3 City Councilwoman Helen Willis also asked “our city and our community to wrap their arms and their prayers and their words of encouragement (around) the Harmening family.”
As fellow church members were coming to grips with the loss of Harmening and serious injuries being endured by other missions team members, Mount Zion Baptist trustee Gerald D. Dupree issued a June 9 statement on behalf of the church, underscoring the evangelistic heart of the Harmening family and the congregation:
“Mount Zion Baptist Church has been a mission-driven church since its inception in 1860, spreading the Word to the lost of the world and our mission remains the same. While our hearts are heavy, our vision has never been clearer,” he wrote.
Upon hearing reports of the accident and the loss of Harmening, IMB President David Platt expressed words of comfort:
“Psalm 18:6 says, ‘In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From His temple He heard my voice, and my cry to Him reached His ears.’ We as an IMB family cry out to God on behalf of these dear International World Changers partners, their families and their church. We pray that now, more than ever, God will show Himself strong on their behalf in every way they need.”
‘A child shall lead them’
Following the six-minute press conference, the family quietly left the sanctuary as South Fulton Chaplain Warren L. Henry Sr. stepped solemnly to the microphone, “The Bible says ‘And a child shall lead them.’ As you listen to this across Georgia, may it lead you to Christ. This is Sarah speaking to us. God bless you.”
Tragedy prompts ‘powerful’ response at Girls State
By Maggie Walsh
The Alabama Baptist
Brittany Carroll’s expectations were shattered.
When she accepted the invitation to be Ariton High School’s representative at Alabama Girls State from June 4–9, she wasn’t very excited.
“I went into Girls State just thinking about how this is about government and government isn’t my favorite thing,” said Carroll, an incoming senior.
But something happened that changed the whole experience.
“I just really didn’t think that something that powerful could happen at Girls State,” she said.
When news of the Mount Zion Baptist Church bus crash that resulted in 17-year-old Sarah Harmening’s death reached Girls State at the University of Alabama on June 8, Carroll was in a nightly meeting with all the girls on the fourth floor of her dorm.
“We were in our meeting and we prayed for the people on the bus who were involved in the accident,” she said.
Then they heard that one of the girls on the third floor was close to Harmening and that there would be a prayer service after their meeting. So Carroll and several of her friends headed downstairs as soon as their meeting concluded.
“When we got there they were already praying, so we each just reached out and touched the person in front of us. … Only 10 minutes into it, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.”
Then someone played a worship song on their phone and the girls sang along, continuing to lift their voices even after the song ended. The impromptu a cappella worship time continued for a while, rolling from one song to the next.
When the singing died down, the girl who knew Harmening spoke. Although Carroll didn’t even know the girl’s name, the stranger’s words stuck with the South Alabama native.
“She had prayed before coming to Girls State that she wanted God to do something big this week and she didn’t really want it to be answered this way. But when she saw everybody sitting around and singing she knew that it was God saying, ‘This is what I’m gonna do at Girls State,’” Carroll recalled.
When Carroll and her friends got to the prayer service, it was 11:30 p.m. By the time they headed back upstairs it was after 1 a.m.
“Just hearing the broken hearts (of the girls who prayed) and them praying for people to turn toward God and not away after hearing about the accident — just hearing that inspired me,” she said.
“If you were there you definitely know we have a powerful God.”
Charges made in deadly bus crash
The Mount Zion Baptist Church bus driver has been charged with vehicular homicide following the deadly crash June 8 outside of Atlanta that resulted in many injuries and the death of 17-year-old Sarah Harmening, according to attorney Jason W. Swindle Sr.
The driver, 71-year-old Jerry Sims, also was charged with failure to maintain lane. Swindle, Sims’ lawyer, said, “These charges are misdemeanor traffic offenses because neither drugs nor alcohol were involved in the accident. Jerry, who is still recovering in the hospital, has received nothing but love and support from the families affected by the accident and the fellowship of the entire Christian community.” (TAB)