Liberty University has been the site of celebration in recent days, specifically with our Lady Flames women’s basketball team unexpectedly storming into the Sweet 16 at the NCAA Women’s Tournament. In addition, we have welcomed back the dozens of students and staff who returned from spring break mission trips across the globe with accounts of great spiritual and relief successes. Furthermore, there has been a collective sigh of relief on the campus as I have returned to health following a second serious health emergency.
But our high spirits were cut short when the campus learned that Army National Guard reservist Chrystal Gaye Stout, a student in Liberty’s Distance Learning Program, had been killed in Afghanistan when the helicopter in which she was riding crashed.
Chrystal is the second Liberty student to be killed in action this year; in January, 24-year-old Marine Sgt. Jesse Strong of Vermont perished in Al Anbar Province when his Hummer was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
I never met Chrystal, but I have learned much about her in the days following her death. Just 23, Chrystal was a beautiful young woman with a colossal smile and a heart for ministry. She was anxiously looking forward to joining the Liberty resident student body as soon as her deployment in Iraq was completed. But it was not meant to be. She was buried in Easley, S.C., on April 19.
Chrystal reportedly fell in love with the children of Afghanistan and told friends and loved ones that she planned to return to that war-torn nation after graduating.
“Chrystal was the most giving person I’ve ever known,” Heath Powell, an extended family member and Liberty freshman told The Liberty Champion, our campus newspaper. “She loved the kids at our church; she always had a giving heart almost to the point of her detriment.”
He said Chrystal was frequently without a toothbrush and toothpaste because she was always giving them away to kids in Afghanistan. That is the heart of a true Christian – putting others above self.
Chrystal dedicated her life to serving Christ three years ago and planned to utilize her time at Liberty in training for that service. I know she would have made a huge impact on the Liberty community.
It is a logical question, then, to ask why something this awful would happen to a young lady who was so loved and who had so much to give to this world.
The answer, I’m afraid, is that only God knows why.
I would suggest, however, that a more critical question may be asked at times like these: When such terrible things happen, how can we find comfort?
In II Corinthians chapter 1, Paul writes of the tender mercies of God: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
It is inexpressible comfort that we find in Christ; it is beyond the consolation we receive from man because it originates from the One who has Himself known the greatest bounds of suffering. Christ’s love penetrates the anguish that this life sometimes brings. When there is no comfort to be found, God’s love breaks through.
I pray that the Spirit of Christ will comfort the family of Chrystal Gaye Stout in ways that go beyond imagination. I pray that the promise of I Peter 5:7 becomes afresh for them daily: “Casting all your care upon Him, because He cares for you.”
There is sweet assurance in knowing that the God of all things cares for you.