April 22, 2016, was one of the most devastating days in the 99-year history of Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center. Our Falls Creek and Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO) family suffered the loss of two family members (employees) in a tragic work-related accident. A third member of our family was injured, but he is mending and will be fine.
The cause of the accident is under investigation. The convention is leaving no stone unturned to identify the factors involved in the tragedy. Some of you may have read or heard “news” reports specifying the cause of the deaths. Across the years, I have learned that some news outlets are not bothered by truth, and when answers are not readily available, they make up their “news.” Information concerning the accident has not been released because confirmed information is very limited.
What is known is Oklahoma Baptists, and our larger Baptist family across the nation, have come alongside our BGCO staff and families with energized and compassionate prayer and concern. I have heard from so many committing to pray for us, the person injured, and especially for the families who lost loved ones in the accident.
I want you to know the men who gave their lives were serving others.
Jonathan Wright was a remarkable young man. Jonathan was raised by a wonderful, single mom who brought him up in the love and admonition of the Lord. His dad died in a car accident when he was only five and one-half weeks old. Jonathan was a graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and was enrolled in classes at Southeastern Seminary.
Jonathan began work at Falls Creek at the age of 17. He was a gentle giant, known by all of his co-workers and supervisors as polite, kind, and a true servant, always putting other people before himself. I first met Jonathan when he was working the gate at Falls Creek. He stopped me and asked me to pay. I asked him if he knew who I was and he said, “No sir.” Being ornery, I said, “Well, son, look at the bottom right-hand corner of your check and you will see my name.” He began to apologize, and I responded by telling him how proud I was that he was doing such a good job.
Jonathan came back to Falls Creek a few years ago to work full-time. He started at an entry level position, but had worked his way forward and was poised, having gained certifications by the state, to become the waste water plant operator when the current operator retires. He loved Falls Creek and found great joy working at the conference center.
An avid reader and diligent student of the Word of God, Jonathan often preached in churches near Falls Creek. In fact, the last time I saw him, he was sitting on the steps of his home at Falls Creek reading a book.
Charles Matlock had worked for Falls Creek for almost 19 years. He was a humble man who served so faithfully through the years. Charles was a committed employee who did not shy away from any task, and no job was too menial. My every encounter with Charles revealed a genuine politeness and servant spirit.
Charles had retired from Falls Creek two years ago and was working part-time for the conference center. Charles lived with his mother, taking care of her until her death just two months ago. His nieces and nephews played a major role in his life. He had just committed to help with children at his church on Wednesday nights. Charles had a servant’s heart, and I will tell you that Charles died seeking to rescue others.
Both Jonathan and Charles were believers, and while we have lost them here, they are not lost. These faithful men now enjoy the presence of our God and live in the glory of their Savior. We grieve over their loss to us, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus.
A third worker was injured while trying to rescue another. He was taken to the hospital and released. He is a wonderful 38-year employee and a diligent worker who loves his job, his co-workers, and Falls Creek. We are so thankful that he is doing so well. He is a cherished employee who is greatly loved and appreciated by us all.
Our great concern is the families of the deceased. I ask you to continue to pray for them. Just as important is our Falls Creek family. These men are brothers to us all. Other men from our Falls Creek staff were at the scene of the accident, and must deal with all that was experienced there. Our family is close and to lose two brothers in this accident has profoundly impacted us all. We need your prayer support. Disaster Relief chaplains were on the scene within hours of the accident and have been working with our staff at Falls Creek. The BGCO is also providing onsite counselors to help our staff walk through this experience.
God will guide us through this time. He is our strength and comfort. We turn to Him for healing of our hearts and minds. He will be with us in the dark of the night and when we struggle for understanding and peace.
I wish all of you could have known these men who died. What servants of the Lord and His people both men were. They were reflections of the whole staff at Falls Creek. Our staff at Falls Creek do not work there just for a job and salary. They work at Falls Creek because they know that when they do their job, they are a part of a team dedicated to the redemption of people without Christ and people who need renewal. Our employees at Falls Creek know that their place on the team is as significant as those who stand on the platform.
While we are proud of all the new facilities and count them as gifts from God, the greatest treasure we have is the people who serve day after day at Falls Creek. Our conference center staff is one of the reasons Falls Creek is one of the most cherished words in the English language to thousands of people. During, and since this tragedy, the Falls Creek team has performed at the highest levels, even with broken hearts. We give thanks to God for each of them.
We know Falls Creek will become even more sacred to us because of the events of this week. BGCO leadership will continue to do all we can to make Falls Creek a place where lives are changed by the Gospel. Yes, we will move forward, but we will be ever mindful of those who died serving us and our Lord.