In Grief, Parents Reach Out to Encourage Others

Post a Comment » Written on June 8th, 2007     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

PRAIRIE VILLAGE, KS (June 8, 2007) – The parents of Kelsey Smith have been a source of inspiration to her friends and others who helped search for the teenager, says Jan Berghausen, a member of Hillcrest Covenant Church and one of Kelsey’s high school teachers.

Greg and Missy Smith have spent hours helping others overcome the shock of their daughter’s abduction and murder, and have made it a point to encourage others to trust in God. The Wednesday night vigil at Hillcrest was a prime example, Berghausen says.

“The kids really felt like they had failed, that they hadn’t done enough,” Berghausen says. At the request of the Smiths, pastor Mark Seversen told the gathering, “You did an extraordinary thing. You stepped in and you stood for Kelsey, and you gave your energy and your hearts, and you made a statement about how extraordinary Kelsey is and how important her life is. You . . . did not fail.”

For more than an hour after the service the couple greeted everyone who stood in line to express their condolences. “I can’t believe the strength they had,” said youth pastor Nate Severson.

Berghausen spoke during the Wednesday night vigil and says she was amazed at how determined the Smiths were to console others. “They stayed until everyone had gone.” The family had wanted to make sure everyone had an opportunity to express their grief.

The Smiths also attended a Thursday night vigil held on the campus of Shawnee Mission West High School, where Kelsey had recently graduated. Berghausen also spoke during the Thursday service and says the Smiths again wanted to encourage all who desired to speak with them.

“They have been a real inspiration and witness,” says Berghausen. “Through everything they have chosen to stand on the church.” The Smiths started attending Hillcrest just three months ago, after Kelsey’s older sister became engaged to the son of another family in the congregation.

The pastors have been helping the family through their ordeal, but Nate Severson says another congregation member has played a vital role as well. The lead investigator, Overland Park Police Captain Tom Fredrickson, attends the church. “He’s been the lead detective, but he’s also been a pastor,” Seversen says. “He has been a rock for this family.”

Still, questions are easy to come by – answers are not.

Berghausen taught Kelsey’s sophomore honors geometry class and is an assistant sponsor of the school’s National Honor Society, of which the teenager was a member. She says it was painful to lose a former student, but adds, “It strikes me more as a parent because I have a child in her class.”

Nate Seversen echoes Berghausen. He was unable to sleep following the Wednesday evening service. “I had to go up and hold my son.” On Thursday, his young son accompanied him to work.

Kelsey did not attend the youth group. Still, Seversen had spoken with her several times. “This girl loved the Lord with all her heart,” he says.

Since Saturday, when Kelsey first disappeared, the youth pastor has spent a lot of time talking with teenagers and trying to help them work through their emotions. Some struggle with how such a violent act could have happened – especially to someone with a strong faith.

“That’s the natural question.” Seversen says. “I tell them, ‘I know a lot of you are angry with God, so tell him. God’s big enough to handle it.’ ”

Seversen says that ministering to the students also is helping him to deal with his own grief.  “I struggle with the entire thing. I have a lot of questions. When I’m talking to the students, I’m talking to myself.”

The teenagers have been dealing with the questions for some time. Last August, 16-year-old Paige Winters, who attended the youth group, was killed when a plane crashed while trying to take off from the wrong runway at the Lexington, Kentucky, airport. Forty-nine people died.

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