Sunday, December 1, 2013

Eight Seconds to Eternity

Pastors Terry and Jan Whitley

Pastor Steve Timmerman
 On 10 October 2013, in Pflugerville, Texas, just north of Austin, three people I love lost their lives in a tragic one vehicle accident on Texas Toll Road 130.  These were people who had a love for God and for their families, and for the church that they pastored.

Pastors Terry Whitley 65, his wife Janice 63, and Senior Associate Pastor Steve Timmerman 56, were killed when a tire blew out and the church van flipped several times and came to a stop.  They say it was all over in eight seconds.  The news sent shock waves that stunned our congregation.  Each person went through their own time of meditation and quiet disbelief.  "How could this be?"  "No, not all three!?"  "Tell me it's just a bad dream."

Dear Reader, news like this could cripple a congregation, but that isn't what happened to Grace Christian Center in Killeen, Texas.  Pastors Terry and Jan started Grace Christian Center with a handful of worshipers 33 years ago.  As the congregation grew, they moved to bigger facilities, and finally built the current church that houses about 2,000 weekly congregants.  It is a world outreach center, and has built and planted churches in many far off lands.

On the night after that terrible accident, the church opened the doors for what was to be a two-hour period of prayer.  The worship team was going to play three songs.  One of them, Majesty, written by Jack Hayford, was Pastor Terry's favorite.  My husband and I arrived late, closer to 8pm.  We were astounded at the amount of cars in the neighborhoods, on the grass at the church, and the packed parking lot.  When we entered the church, the halls were filled and the sanctuary was packed with people standing and worshiping.  What started out as three songs continued for two solid hours. The congregation, with tear stained faces, through smiling lips sang praise and worship to the Lord of hosts, the Great I AM, Jehovah, the Living God.  As the crescendo grew louder and louder and the presence of the Holy Spirit was palpable throughout the building, I saw for a moment the huge gates of heaven thrown open from the sincere and heartfelt songs from the earth.  I could imagine our Pastor Terry saying, "That sounds like Charles!"  (Charles Reid, our Music Minister)  And Pastor Jan saying, "I hear Emmanuel!"  (Emmanuel Hernandez, our Worship Leader), and Pastor Steve recognizing Carolanne McLean, another of our Worship Leaders.  Then in my heart, I could hear them say, "That's our church!  They know exactly what to do in times of great trial and sorrow!  They know to worship the one true God with all their heart!"

And so we did!  I have never felt such an enormous and sweet Presence as I did that night.  As we cried and hugged each other we knew that our loved ones were gazing into the face of the Almighty God Himself, and that we were not alone here without them.  The local news reported on the strength of the people of Grace, and how through our sadness there was joy, for the reward was so great for our Pastors. 

The following week was a time of grief and honor for them.  The memorial for Pastors Terry and Jan was attended by several thousand people that knew and loved them.  Killeen, being right outside Fort Hood, was home to many, many soldiers over the years that were stationed here for two to three years and then they got orders to go elsewhere.  Many flew in just to honor the pastors they loved, the ones who taught them who God is and what the Bible says.  The friends and 'family' listened as close pastoral friends and the children spoke of the love they had for their parents, and the love their parents had for the congregation and community, and the country.

Pastor Steve was the Chaplain for the Killeen Fire Department for ten years.  As Senior Associate Pastor, he was a man without equal.  He was not only the Chaplain (Killeen has 8 fire houses), but he was the head of the Helps Ministry at Grace, which includes several hundred individuals; he handled the baptisms, baby dedications, and did hospital visits from Houston to Dallas.  He served the Pastors well, and often led the Sunday and Wednesday night services in their absence.  He belonged to the Patriot Guard Riders of Central Texas, who honored him with an escort to the Central Texas Veteran's Cemetery. 

On the day of his funeral, all the City of Killeen Firemen and women and EMS workers lined the inside of the church in respect to him.  The front of the church was not only packed with cars, but fire trucks and equipment.  Receiving the honors of a fallen firefighter, his body was placed in one of the fire trucks for his last ride to the cemetery he had performed many services at.  At the entrance to the cemetery were two ladder trucks with the ladders up and an American flag hanging from the arch it made.  The firefighters and EMS and equipment were able to attend because many of the surrounding towns loaned equipment and manpower to Killeen for the solemn occasion. 

Today would have been Pastor Jan's birthday.  She is very happily celebrating it in heaven with her beloved Terry and their Armor-bearer.  Though we miss them, we are stronger because of them, and we know what we are supposed to do.  All that we were taught for these last 33 years twice a week is in our hearts somewhere, waiting to be called upon when the moment is needed.  We won't be sitting back watching, we will be doing.  What is a legacy but to be lived?  We trust our Board of Directors to find the Pastor that we need.  He won't be a carbon copy of those we lost, who would want that?  But he will have the same vision as Grace Christian Center has, and he will love the diversity of our congregation, and will not seek his own agenda, but like our Pastors, refer to themselves as Under-shepherds to Jesus.

Until that day arrives we learn from the best, the Pastor's Pastors, the close inner circle of godly men that prayed over, for, and with us many times.   We watch our Associate Pastors rise to the occasion with a word in due season, and see the strength that our Lord has given them as they carry this unexpected mantle.  God has blessed us more than we can say.  I am not so sad that I lost them, because my gratitude of having had them is so great.  I smile when I think of them.  They were unassuming, devoted to God, and as transparent as glass, as I hope I always am.  They leave behind children and a widow.  Our love and prayers for their comfort are daily and fervent.  I know they are strong, and I know that through this tragedy they too will rise, like Grace Christian Center.  I believe the next 5 years will far surpass the last 25, because our house was built on a solid Rock foundation. 

I say 'Go With God' to them.  It's where they should be, it is a just and deserving reward for three wonderfully blessed individuals.  May God's grace shower upon their families like healing rain. 

"You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent.  O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever."  Psalm 30:11-12 NKJV


  1. Deidre, Such a very sad occurrence. May these three persons have everlasting peace. Thanks for sharing this moving blog.

  2. Such a shocking tragedy, but also a wonderful coming together of your church community. It sounds as if you have all started to heal.

  3. Deidre, Thank you for sharing this on your blog. Although it's a sad day for those who loved them, it's a day of rejoicing for the testimony they left behind.

  4. Deidre,
    Thank you for sharing. Very well said. Brought me to tears.

  5. Good morning My Dear,

    What an unexpected test of faith that shows the world that our God is greater. It is at times like these that we realize that every day given to us is really a gift of God. Your Pastors did not know that they would be called home, but God did. They did not know that there tasks had been completed, but God did. They left in glory, and have left behind not only a legacy but a way of life that is the fingerprints of your church family.

    Yes, I agree. They are among that crowd of witnesses in heaven looking down upon the seed that was planted by them, and they are saying glory, glory, glory as they worship the King of kings, and Lord of Lords at the gathering and continuation of their seed.

    Thank you for this very moving and inspiring article of dealing with loss and moving on in the path of God.


  6. Deidre, How very sad and my prayers and blessings are with these three beautiful souls and with the church community.

  7. Deidre, I remember when this happened and it still saddens my heart but not as much as those of you who knew and grew to love them. My thoughts and prayers still go out to the family.

    You have a star waiting for you at catnipoflife for the Blog Of The Year 2013 Award.

    More about this nomination is at

  8. Hello Deidre,

    I am terribly sorry to learn of this. Each of them had a special place in your heart and that feeling will dwell within a lifetime.

    I've missed your presence, and miss you speaking from the word of God.

    Sending you heartfelt hugs.


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