Two days short of a year ago, on a similarly sunny autumn afternoon, life changed dramatically for Abilene Christian University and its Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. That’s when a single-vehicle bus accident on Highway 83 in Runnels County injured 15 passengers, some critically, and killed one student.
Today, ACU students, faculty and staff stopped during their 11 a.m. Chapel service to reflect upon and give thanks for the healing process that continues to this day for a close-knit campus left reeling by the Nov. 11, 2011, accident that claimed the life of 19-year-old sophomore Anabel Reid of Petersburg, Texas. The department was on its way to its seventh annual trip to Medina Children’s Home in southwest Texas to do volunteer work and spend time with the kids who looked forward each year to their visit.
“On the one hand, I don’t want to remember that day,” said Dr. Jean-Noel Thompson, vice president and dean of student life, in his opening comments this morning. “On the other hand, and as I reflect, I am simply amazed by God’s work in it all.”
The A&E academic department helped plan today’s Chapel program, which included readings from Psalm 13, Romans 5 and 8, and Isaiah 40, interspersed with singing. A short video tribute allowed survivors of the accident to speak candidly of their feelings and express thanks for their individual healing and spiritual journeys.
Department chair Dr. Ed Brokaw (’71), one of only two full-time A&E department faculty who were not on the bus trip, concluded the worship time with these thoughts, followed by a prayer:
“We have an amazing God! His love and mercies never end. He is faithful in keeping His promises. As you have seen in the video, He has been faithful in being with our students, colleagues and their families, and has walked with them as they continue to recover from the physical, mental and emotional trauma caused by the accident. They have asked me to take this opportunity to say thank you to the ACU family, the Abilene community and the body of Christ worldwide for your prayers, encouragement and acts of kindness you have expressed in so many ways to them. You have been the very arms of God as He has lifted them up and held them close in the palm of His hand. But the road to recovery is not finished. Please continue to pray for their peace and comfort, and for encouragement and strength to meet the difficult challenges that still lie ahead for them.”
Afterward, about 100 students, faculty and staff gathered in front of the south wing of the Hardin Administration Building to finish planting a tree in Reid’s memory. The 6- to 8-year-old Bald Cypress from a nursery in Stephenville will grow just outside the windows of the department’s new home in the historic Ad Building, once it relocates in December from the Zona Luce Building.
Reid’s friends and former professors quietly took turns dropping handfuls or shovelfuls of soil around the tree’s base. Mandy (Van Remsburg ’98) Scudder, administrative coordinator for the department, spread some of the young woman’s ashes on the top mulch. Reid’s mother, Shelly, spoke to those gathered, and read scripture from one of the Bibles her daughter owned.
In a few weeks, a bronze plaque will mark the tree’s location and include a quote attributed to Anabel that has deep meaning for the friends and family she left behind: “No matter what happens, we are always promised God.”
The department returned Oct. 12 to Medina Children’s Home – a group including several of the same students, faculty and friends who were injured last November – to resume its mission of helping others in need.