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Finding purpose through pain

In October 2022, Aaron Strong, pastor at Grace, Milwaukee, Wis., was killed in a car accident. Here, his daughter, Hannah, and his brother Jason share the comfort we all have through God’s gospel promises.


Fourteen-year-old Hannah Strong wrote this letter to a fellow student at Wisconsin Lutheran High School (Wisco), Milwaukee, Wis., after that student’s brother was killed in a car accident.

Photos of the Aaron Strong family

My name is Hannah Strong. I know you don’t know me, but I’m also a freshman at Wisco. I heard about the accident this morning, and I am beyond sorry for your loss. Not too long ago, I had almost the same experience. Four weeks ago, my dad was killed in a car crash. That was by far the worst day of my life. I’m still grieving. It all still hurts so much. Fortunately, I have some really amazing friends and family who have been helping me through it.

You are probably wondering why I told you all this. I know that our situations are different. I don’t know what your life is like or what else you are going through. However, I do know exactly how it feels to have someone you love taken away from you so abruptly. After my dad passed away, I felt like the world was crumbling around me. I spent countless nights crying. I still do. I find myself asking the same question way more than I should, “Why did God take away my dad?”

A Bible passage that has offered me so much comfort is Isaiah 41:10, my confirmation verse: “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

God is present at every moment of our lives. He is there in the good and bad, like a built-in best friend. Right now, you probably feel like nothing good can come out of this. I didn’t either, until right now. This might sound cheesy, but as I’m sitting here, writing this message, I see how God is working good into my life. If my dad wouldn’t have passed away, I never would have cared as much as I do now about other people. I wouldn’t think twice about telling someone I love them before I leave. I wouldn’t think to focus on the Bible and the comfort I know I can get from it. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t have even thought of reaching out to you. My dad would have, though. He had the strongest faith I’d ever seen. He constantly was telling everyone about Jesus, and that’s why he loved being a pastor so much.

God saw that my dad had done exactly what he wanted him to do. He had been a good and faithful servant. God knew that it was time for my dad to go home to heaven. He’s in paradise. God saw that it was time for your brother to come home too. He is in a place we can’t even imagine. It’s perfect. Beyond perfect!

I don’t know where you are in your walk with Christ, but I hope you can find comfort in God and his Word. I am praying for you and your family. I know that right now you have no idea what you need, but if you ever need a friend to talk to, feel free to reach out. Each day is a new day. A new day to live for Christ. God loves you so much. He’s got an amazing plan in store for you!

Your sister in Christ,
Hannah

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Jason Strong posted these thoughts on Facebook the day after his brother’s death.

“I don’t know what to say.”

That was my response as I sat with my wife, Becky, staring at my mom via FaceTime, as she choked her way through telling us that Aaron was in an accident and didn’t make it. I was shocked. Stunned. Frozen in disbelief. Destroyed.

I think others felt the same way. The responses poured in: “Wow!” “Heartbroken!” “We’re sorry for your loss!” “How could this have happened?” There’s something about being in a moment where you desperately want to share a word of comfort with a hurting heart, yet you fumble with your words, trying to find the right thing to say, yet failing.

But that’s what makes the gospel so very different. So incredible. So powerful. Because it speaks, even when we can’t. It speaks so we don’t have to. We just listen.

God speaks

Photos of the Aaron Strong family

When God said, “I so loved the world that I gave my one and only Son” (cf. John 3:16), he showed us his very heart, filled with nothing but love and mercy and compassion for a world—people—drowning in sin and incapable of saving themselves.

When Jesus told a mourning Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25,26), he pointed her to the greatest comfort that any child of God will know. This life isn’t the end—it’s not even the best part—because Jesus will raise every believer to live with him in heaven forever.

When Jesus cried, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) on the cross and rose from the dead three days later, he made his promise of an eternal resurrection a reality as he crushed the power of sin and Satan and forgave our every sin.

And when Jesus promised, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown” (Revelation 2:10), he meant every single word.

When my dad poured water over Aaron’s head at his baptism and said, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” God said, “Welcome to my family,” and made Aaron his own dearly loved child.

And when Aaron closed his eyes to this life and woke up in heaven, God said (probably), “Welcome home, Aaron, my son; I’ve been preparing for you!”

For us, as tears flow in both mourning and rejoicing, it’s simply, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

God speaks. The right words. Always.

We too can speak

What I always loved and appreciated about my big brother was the support and encouragement he gave—as a father, a brother, and a friend. The hearts and lives he touched as a faithful shepherd pointing people to the gospel are more than any of us will ever know.

He doesn’t get to speak those encouragements anymore. But I do. I will.

We all get to.

I’m excited to see a packed church when we celebrate God’s Word, the message of God’s goodness in Aaron’s life and his faithfulness in winning Aaron the crown of eternal life . . . our crown too. I can’t wait to feel the chills in my spine as we sing beautiful hymns that encapsulate God’s powerful gospel promises, trusted by Aaron, preached by Aaron, now being enjoyed by Aaron in his eternal home.

God speaks. The right words. Always.

And because God speaks, I know what to say: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

That was Aaron. That is Aaron.

I pray that for you too!

Author: Multiple authors
Volume 110, Number 1
Issue: January 2023

Jason Strong
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    Hannah Strong
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