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AG Church Finds Blessing in Serving Victims Family Friends


AG Church Finds Blessing in Serving Victim's Family, Community

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Tears flowed freely on Aug. 6 at New Life Assembly of God in Lehigh Acres, Florida. The church was the site of the funeral for Stef’An Strawder, 18, who was to be a senior at Lehigh High School this year. Strawder was one of two killed and 18 others wounded on July 25 when gunfire erupted outside of Club Blu in Fort Myers, which was hosting an event for students. 

Strawder, an innocent bystander, actively attended a small church in Fort Myers. As news of the shooting and deaths spread, churches in the area stepped forward, offering their assistance, including New Life. 

"When we heard the tragic news, I felt New Life needed to do something for the family,” say John Baschieri, lead pastor at New Life. “Although Stef’An didn’t attend our church, he was a part of our community and local high school. This makes him like family. We made our facility available and many of our people volunteered their time to serve on that day.” 

The offer was gratefully accepted, and more than 1,000 attended the funeral, including many students and school faculty members. New Life Worship Pastor Bernie McGraw says he was moved by the service, which could have been consumed by anger, but was instead noticeably positive in tone and nearly every one who spoke, spoke of forgiveness. 

“The pastor gave a strong salvation message from the gospel, speaking about forgiveness and hope,” McGraw says. “He also spoke of the importance of mentoring and how Stef’An had many coaches, many mentors, in his life and how young people desperately need strong mentors like Stef’An had.” 

“It was an amazing service that not only framed his life, but also had a strong emphasis on Jesus,” Baschieri states. “[But] this is another painful reminder of how fragile life really is, and how much we need the Lord." 

McGraw admits that it was a long and emotionally difficult day, but a day that the staff and workers from New Life also experienced an unexpected blessing through. New Life

provided the facilities, media team, hospitality team, greeters, and ushers for the service — serving in the background, simply doing their best in order to honor the family and those in attendance. 

“We serve others all the time through our church,” McGraw observes, “but this was different. This wasn’t about New Life . . . , it’s hard to explain, but it was more about ‘being Jesus’ in whatever role we were in, and in whatever small way we could, demonstrate that the compassion and love of Christ is still present, even in our deepest pain.” 

That attitude of pure service for nothing but Christ’s glory, McGraw says, left an indelible imprint on him and many of the other New Life staff and workers. 

“I came home Saturday night [from the funeral], exhausted, but I haven’t been that fulfilled in a really long time,” McGraw says. “Our desire was to bless others and glorify God through our service; instead we were the ones who came away with a truly incredible blessing.”

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