Tragic Loss Leaves Many Praying for Fulfilled Vision
“If you were feeling down, you were probably feeling up by the time you got done talking to her.” That is how youth minister, John Warren, describes Faith Dowler, 16, a long-time attendee of Central Assembly of God in Houston, Pennsylvania, who lost her life along with two others in a tragic car accident on Friday, Sept. 9, in West Virginia.
Dowler, who lived in nearby Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, was known for her infectious energy and outgoing friendliness. She was riding along in a minivan on Interstate 79 with members of another local church’s youth group to support the Festival of Life outreach, an event that was sponsored in part by three AG churches, in Clarksville, West Virginia, which is about a 90-mile drive south from Canonsburg.
Police reports say that a northbound box truck crossed the median and impacted the southbound minivan on the driver’s side, killing the driver, Rhoda Malone, 40, and Breanna Africa, 17 (both who attended Champion Christian Center in Canonsburg), in addition to Dowler, who were all seated on the driver’s side of the vehicle. The passengers on the other side of the van escaped with minor scrapes and bruises as did those in the box truck.
According to Warren, student ministries pastor at Central AG, Dowler was a very active member of their student ministry and was part of the youth worship team. This past August, she also participated in the AG National Youth Ministries’ National Fine Arts Festival held in Louisville, Kentucky, having qualified in the poetry, short sermon, and flash fiction individual categories and was a member in the worship team category.
“She was a very vibrant, energetic person — always with a big smile on her face,” Warren says. “It was hard for her to find someone who wasn’t a friend, and she would go out of her way to pray for people — people she didn’t even know . . .” which makes it easy to understand her desire to attend the Festival of Life.
“Go Fund Me” accounts were set up to help the three families with funeral expenses, with many individuals responding to the need. However, one message left by a young person donating to help the Dowler family seemed to capture the essence of who Faith was, writing: “I met Faith at a 16th birthday party. I went to a different school, but she was very kind to me. I didn't know her personally, but [she] was an awesome person.”
Warren says that Dowler and Africa were students at Canon-McMillan High School in Canonsburg, a school of about 1,600 students that draws from a number of small communities in the county. Prior to high school, Dowler had spent all nine years attending Central’s K-8 Christian Academy.
In the midst of the overwhelming sorrow, Warren says that a vision Dowler had shared with him and the youth group is proving to be motivational in their prayers and already in the lives of young people in their youth group.
“She had a vision of thousands of students gathered together in a large area coming to know Jesus,” Warren says. “We believe that this difficult time is going to be the catalyst for seeing that vision come to pass. She had such a strong desire to see people saved, see her friends know Jesus, see her school changed. We believe that this is a time we’re going to begin to see this happen and what Faith was looking for, will come.”
Warren says that most of the people at Central knew all those in the van as the two churches share a history together, so the loss of the three lives has struck deeply. “Some of our students have already felt emboldened to go out and tell people about Jesus as result of this tragedy,” Warren says.
In addition to having held a prayer service on Saturday night following the accident, Warren says the church will do its best to provide comfort to friends and family. He also believes that Saturday’s [Sept. 17] “Celebration Service” at the church will not only be a time of reflection upon Dowler’s life and how she lived it for Christ, but a time when her vision for the salvation of others — thousands of others — will start coming to life.