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Yesterday in both of our Sunday morning worship services, we remembered the Lord Jesus together by partaking of the Lord’s Supper. We also remembered three very precious people who left this world and entered into their heavenly home. Exactly one year ago today, we gathered in our sanctuary knowing that Susan Belcher had died the night before and that Austin Belcher and Carol Alvis were on life support. All we knew to do as a church family was to huddle together in prayer groups as each one of us faced the shock and grief. We worshiped together and took the Lord’s Supper. Carol Alvis breathed her last breath as we were taking the Lord’s Supper at the 11:00 service. Four teenagers came forward during the final song to publicly profess their faith in Jesus Christ. Later that week, Austin Belcher joined his mother and was welcomed into the arms of Jesus.

I had the wonderful privilege of being the pastor to Carol Alvis, Susan Belcher, and Austin Belcher for almost four years. Of the three, I knew Carol the least, but that was because Susan was my work colleague, and everyone in our church felt like they knew Austin Belcher. As I spoke with those who knew Carol, I learned just how much she impacted the people of First Baptist Church and our community. Carol was our receptionist for about ten years before I joined the staff. She was the first one a person would see when he or she walked into our church office. Carol’s compassion, patience, and warm personality set everyone at ease, especially the many strangers who came into our office needing financial assistance. 

Tom and Carol Alvis were a marvelous husband and wife ministry team. They made it their practice regularly to take Rick, Susan, and Austin Belcher out to dinner along with their dear friends Charles and Barbara Grantham. This was what they were all doing the night of the accident. Carol, Susan, and Barbara all worked together at First Baptist and became the closest of friends. I cannot imagine the loss that Barbara has experienced losing two of her best friends on the same weekend. The same can be said about the loss that Tom has experienced, as well as Carol’s three children and grandchildren.

Austin Belcher was a living hero, a true miracle to the people First Baptist Church and the city of LaGrange. Austin should not have survived the car accident he experienced years ago as a brand new sixteen-year-old driver. Austin always had a smile on his face even though he struggled to communicate verbally and was confined to a wheelchair. This entire church and community watched the way that Susan and Rick loved and cared for their son. Rick, Susan, and Austin never missed church on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. It is impossible to think about First Baptist and not think of them.

Susan Belcher was a remarkable person who made a tremendous impact upon First Baptist Church. She was our lead ministry assistant in our office, and in many ways was the glue that held our support staff together. She was a woman of poise, beauty, and kindness. She was a fixture in the music ministry, singing in the choir, praise team, and the women’s ensemble Faithful Hearts. The love we as a church had for Susan and Austin cannot be put into words. They were a source of the right kind of pride, a worthy example of sacrificial love, and an integral part of our church family. 

Every time the Faithful Hearts ensemble sings, we will remember Susan. Every time we see Tom Alvis, we will think about dear Carol. Every time I walk out in the crowd to greet people before the worship services start, part of me still looks for Rick and Austin, always in their Sunday best, always with big smiles on their faces as they watched Susan faithfully serve in the choir loft. Certainly Rick, Susan’s daughter Laura, Susan’s grandchildren, Susan’s sisters and mother, and Rick’s sons and their families have all been devastated by the loss of Susan and Austin. Carol, Susan, and Austin will never be forgotten. First Baptist Church and the city of LaGrange were fortunate to know and love them.

Months after the accident, Tom Alvis penned an article that was printed in the August 2019 Merrymakers newsletter. I wanted our entire church family to read his incredible testimony. One of my greatest memories is seeing Rick and Susan assisting Austin in running a mile for the WinShape Road Race.

This picture of Carol, Susan, and Austin was taken at the WinShape Race.

As we continue to grieve as a church family, I want to encourage you to keep praying for our church staff and music ministry, Charles and Barbara Grantham, Susan’s daughter Laura Savage and her children, Rick Belcher and his sons, Tom Alvis and his sons, Carol’s children and their families, Andrew David, Scott and Shirley Andrews, and the rest of Andrew’s family. Thank you for being such a loving, caring, and supportive church family.   

Love in Christ,

Pastor Cade

Below is Tom Alvis’ story from the August 2019 Merrymakers newsletter

On Saturday, February 2, 2019, my wife Carol and I picked up Rick, Susan, and Austin Belcher to meet Charles and Barbara Grantham for pizza in West Point. At Teaver Road on the West Point Highway, a sixteen-year-old young man crossed the center line and hit us head on. In less than a second, all our lives changed. Susan was killed instantly, Carol passed away the next day, and Austin was taken off life support four days later. Rick’s sternum was fractured, and my right hip was fractured. The young man did not suffer serious injury.  While I do not know why this accident happened, I know that God was there, and maybe that is all I need to know.

When I regained consciousness after the impact, the carnage was unbelievable: mangled bodies, crumpled vehicles, emergency lights flashing, EMTs calling for helicopters, and yet I felt a surreal peace. THAT WAS MIRACLE #1. In the ER my hip hurt really badly. I kept saying “I am not going to let bitterness and anger control me in this situation.” The Lord was directing my thoughts. MIRACLE #2. My cell phone was in my pocket, so I was able to call Carol’s children who traveled 200 miles to be with her at Grady. She went into cardiac arrest at least three times. She suffered severe head trauma. Doctors said she had no control over facial muscles, yet she recognized each of her children, and they were able to say goodbye. They called me, and I was able to tell Carol I loved her and would see her again in heaven. MIRACLE #3.  When I was told that a sixteen-year-old had hit us, my response was that we were all sixteen once and all did some dumb, crazy things. Most of us have had children who have done some dumb and crazy things. Maybe we didn’t get caught; he did. While he is responsible and must deal with the consequences, this was an accident, and I was not going to dwell on justice and punishment. MIRACLE #4.

The doctors said I needed immediate hip surgery, but I rode 200 miles to Nashville, Georgia for my wife’s funeral and then back for her memorial service in LaGrange.  MIRACLE #5. Eleven days after the accident I had hip surgery. The doctor prescribed pain medication. When I told him I felt no pain, he said he must have done a better job on me than on other patients! MIRACLE #6.  My first day at Warm Springs Rehab, I walked 75 feet with a walker; the second day, 350 feet.  I could get in and out of bed, use the bathroom, take a shower, and dress myself. On day four, they released me to go home.  MIRACLE #7. I was alone at home–but not really, for the Lord is my constant companion.  Neighbors and church family provided meals for three weeks. Church members drove me to church and Bible studies. Using the walker, I walked to the mailbox. I drove my golf cart to the lake. After two weeks I drove my car to the grocery store. I became unstoppable, much to my son’s dismay. The doctor dismissed me saying I was six to eight weeks ahead of schedule. MIRACLE #8.

These and more miracles caused me to know that the Lord was there in everything that took place.

These truths are my consolation about the accident: 1) We went out for pizza but Carol, Susan, and Austin went to heaven. They believed and served the Lord, and He called them home for their reward. 2) We often do not get to choose our situation, but we can always choose our attitude. 3) For a believer in Christ, heaven is the reward; death is not to be feared for it is the only way to get there. 4) While we mourn the loss of a loved one’s companionship, we rejoice they are safe in the arms of Jesus. 5) While our lives can change in a moment, the Lord is with us in every heartbeat; we have nothing to fear. 6) When the Lord calls someone home and leaves loved ones here, it is because the loved ones still have work to do. 7) Anger and bitterness cause us to have blinded eyes which cannot see how the Lord is working in difficult situations. 8) The Lord is not through with me, nor is He through with the young man. He has plans for both of us. 9) As I tell my story about the accident and the Lord being with me, it has helped others dealing with loss. 10) This is really not my story, but the Lord’s story about how He loves us, if we only let Him.