By Christina Sherman

Reflections on Tragedy and Redemption

In 2007, a student named Phill Grosser died in a motorcycle accident during an InterVarsity orientation for a summer mission trip to Liberia. He was heading into his fifth year at George Washington University and was a vibrant, lovable, and memorable character on campus and in his InterVarsity chapter.

Dealing with death is sometimes a part of InterVarsity staff work. Phill’s death both challenged and strengthened the InterVarsity chapter. Christina Sherman, the campus staff worker at George Washington, discovered that God was faithful through all of the pain and questions about Phill’s death that the students dealt with. Following were her reflections a year after Phill’s death.

Last spring I planted flowers at my parents’ house, recovered from camp, and got a phone call that changed our fellowship’s life – Phill Grosser had been killed in a motorcycle accident.

The week that followed was crazy – a fury of activity for a memorial service and care for students. But the weeks that followed were when the emptiness and questions truly set in. Where was God when this happened? Why did God not answer our specific prayers for Phill’s safety? And what redemption would come from this?

Some students struggled with faith and disappeared off our radar. Others struggled with grief. I struggled with my own insecurities as a staff worker as I saw how ill-equipped I was to cope with emotional problems and deep spiritual questions.

The passage from 2 Corinthians 12:9, which reads, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. . . .” came alive in a way I never completely understood. So many times this fall I left campus unable to know what to do, unable to help the hurting; and I was still left with my own questions. I could only pray desperately for God’s healing and presence.

The gospel felt more complicated than ever before, but also more true. God had watched his Son die on the cross, thus I could believe he understood deep grief. And as Jesus had defeated evil in rising from death, I knew and clung to the hope that he could redeem this situation beyond anything I could believe or understand.

Now that it’s spring again and the flowers at my parent’s house are out in full glory, we approach the anniversary of Phill’s death. As I reflect, I begin to see the beautiful array of God’s redemptive work. I see the healing journey in several students where Phill’s death brought up sin and struggles that needed to be addressed, and God used that to bring deeper healing than I ever thought possible.

I see the way Phill’s death taught us to take risks and watch as more and more students head overseas on missions. And I constantly see the impact in my life; whenever I catch myself afraid to tell the truth of the gospel, I am encouraged by Phill’s boldness on earth and the temporary nature of life demonstrated by his death.

Sometimes I even wonder if I should really call this a tragedy, but that’s the beauty and amazement of the gospel – isn’t it? Jesus’ death was tragic. Phill’s death rocked our fellowship; and yet, God’s grace and mercy are more than sufficient to redeem and transform a situation and reveal His full glory. Praise be to God!