In Grief, Great Hope

May 01, 2015

While most families were making plans to gather for Thanksgiving last year, the Barfield family gathered to grieve the death of their firstborn, 13-year-old Warren. But in incomprehensible grief, hope stood up. God used Warren’s words to touch countless lives for Jesus. And He comforted the family through the kindnesses of friends, Life Bible Study classmates and virtual strangers in a season of loss.

Life had been busy, full of tournament baseball on weekends and other activities that kept a young family’s schedule packed, including on several Sunday mornings throughout the year. In spite of the schedule, Julie and Bill Barfield, Warren and Grace, the youngest, found Life Bible Studies they enjoyed when Warren’s tournament schedule allowed.

“On November 23 [the date of Warren’s ATV accident], I remember thinking how thankful we were to be involved in Life Bible Studies,’” said Julie. Two classes they had been involved in over several years ministered to them in ways they could not have imagined. Good friends had told them about Jerrell Altic’s passionate teaching style, so they began attending As One at The Loop Campus co-taught by Chad Chambers.

Candice Corley, co-director of As One with her husband, Kenny, recalls wondering if she really knew Julie and Bill well enough to insert herself in the middle of their grief. “I got a phone call from a friend of Julie’s who told me what had happened to Warren,” said Candice. “Jerrell was out of town, as was everyone who would’ve gone to the hospital to pray. The Holy Spirit kept urging me to be there for them.”

Initially, Candice began sending Scripture to Julie via text message, not wanting to intrude. Soon, the Spirit encouraged her to step up and get involved when she heard that Warren had succumbed to his injuries. After getting her children off to school, Candice began making calls to other women whom she thought might help — and pray. She contacted the Pastoral Care office at Houston’s First to lay the groundwork for reaching out to the family.

“I knew Bill and Julie would be coming back from the hospital,” said Candice, “so I called a friend and we just sat on the sidewalk at their house for about 45 minutes reading the Bible and praying.”

When Bill and Julie pulled up in their driveway, there were the women, waiting in the Barfields’ driveway. “Candice, a woman I didn’t know well — we were just acquaintances, really — embraced me and began praying over me,” said Julie. “They circled around us and prayed.”

The women were invited into the house. “I went into Warren’s bedroom and Candice followed me,” said Julie. “I laid on his bed and Candice cuddled me and began reciting Scripture. I don’t remember how long before I had the strength to get up, but when I got back into the living room I saw her take her heels off and toss them against the fireplace. I remember thinking, ‘I guess she’s going to stay.’ It was a great comfort.”

Students gathered to pray in the Barfields’ yard the night Warren died. “Bill, normally a quiet, reserved guy, got his Bible and preached to a group of middle schoolers in the front yard,” said Candice. “The man who had just lost his son was telling the story of God, who gave His only son.” A mom texted Julie that her son had asked Jesus into his heart. It was Warren’s best friend.

Candice’s heart was so touched during the week she stayed at the Barfields’ after Warren’s death. “I watched Julie’s sweet dad pray over her, and heard the hymns they sang. Worship music played around the clock,” she said. Candice and others began organizing as a way of ministering to the family. They arranged for a home where the Barfields’ extended, out-of-town family could stay, lined up babysitting, clothing and high chairs for the young children in the family, and scheduled meals.

Star and Stephen Smith, worship leaders at Houston’s First and As One members, received a call from Candice, who asked them to arrange the music for Warren’s Celebration of Life service. The Smiths gathered the praise team and led worship at the service.

Pastor Gregg at Warren's Celebration of Life serviceHaving a grandfather, dad and uncle as pastors, the Christian legacy had made a lasting impact on Warren, who had spent countless hours writing — and then preaching — sermons to his family. He had scribbled notes in the margin of his Bible as he listened to Pastor Gregg preach on Sundays. It was from that Bible and the notes Warren left behind that Pastor Gregg preached the message at his service.

“We didn’t imagine there would be so many people at the service,” said Julie. “Warren’s own words spoke about how Jesus had changed his life.” Warren’s baseball team and coaches were at the celebration, and so many others.

After Pastor Gregg finished the message, Jerrell took the podium and made an unorthodox move — he led an altar call. “Those who made a decision to follow Christ in that moment,” Jerrell asked, “will you stand up?”

Candice said more than a hundred people stood. “It was like a wave,” she said, “the Holy Spirit blew through the Worship Center.” One woman stood, then some from the baseball team, old people, young people, people of different faiths. All over the room they stood — in the front, the back, and in the balcony.”

Jerrell prayed for those who were standing. “Warren just had his greatest runs-batted-in — ever — by the Holy Spirit,” said Jerrell. “If you stood up, tell somebody. Come tell me, come tell the family, tell somebody: blow up your youth minister’s phone, and if you don’t go to church anywhere, get to the Barfields’ front yard...”

[View Warren's entire Celebration of Life service here.]

Two months passed and Candice wondered how she could encourage the Barfields. On the day of the funeral, Julie had wished out loud to know the names of the people who stood up. Candice remembered her comment and decided to send out an email asking people to contact anyone they knew who stood up at the service. She asked that they write their name and #IStoodUp on a baseball, and then toss it in the Barfields’ yard.

“Julie and Bill picked up three baskets full of baseballs,” said Candice. “And they prayed over each one.” Julie keeps the balls in a place where they can see them often. She’s grateful that God had them plugged in to a Life Bible Study filled with people who had been prepared to use their God-given gifts.

“On the saddest days when I can hardly breathe, the balls remind me why we’re here,” said Julie. “We want Warren’s life to be a motivator for students, and others, to think about the things of eternity. With grief we have great hope."


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