Tragic accident teaches graduate lessons in forgiveness and love

Just over two years ago, Ridley Barron, his wife Sarah Ellen, and their three, young children were driving back home to Georgia after a week’s vacation in South Carolina. In an instant, a motor vehicle running a stop sign changed their lives forever. Sarah Ellen, who was driving the family’s van, was killed instantly and their 17-month-old son, Josh, who suffered head injuries, died five days later after being administered an adult-strength overdose of seizure medication while in the hospital.

Barron, a graduate of Southwestern Seminary, recounted his story in chapel Nov. 15. A video tribute of his family before and after the accident moved many seminarians to tears.

“For four months, I had to sleep in a recliner due to a broken shoulder, and that recliner became an altar for me,” Barron said.  “I would lie awake at night and would have these debates with God. I would scream at Him and pray to Him and talk to Him and I would say, ‘God, what are you doing? Where are you?’”

It was during this time that Barron, now a single parent to two young children, Abby and Harrison, felt God beginning to change him.

“Instead of feeling sorry for myself and my family and questioning God, the prayer of my heart became ‘Help me to live a life that is fruitful and productive and will take me to where my wife and son are,’” Barron said.  “And then I prayed, ‘God use me.’”

Once Barron gave control over to God, opportunities began presenting themselves for him to share his story across the country.

“God opened a door for a little country preacher to go stand before the administration at secular hospitals and talk about his faith,” Barron said. “I recently spoke at the National Association of Children’s Hospitals and Related Institutes in Boston and was able to share how my faith had enabled me to pick up the pieces and continue forward and that there is great hope found in Jesus Christ.”

Shortly after the accident, Barron moved his two children to Tennessee from Georgia where he became the pastor of Ridgeview Community Church in Franklin.

“Our church was selected as the church-of-the-week by the local radio station one week before the church launched,” Barron said.  “I was allowed to share my family’s story on the radio one morning and by that afternoon, I was getting e-mails and phone calls from people all over the United States who had heard the message and received hope and healing from it.”

Even though Barron was blessed to have so many opportunities to share, he still wasn’t sure what it was God was trying to show him through all of it.

“One morning I sat down and asked God to show me what really matters,” Barron said. “Then I opened my Bible to 1 Corinthians 13 and felt God saying ‘Ridley, you asked, you pleaded and here it is, here is the most excellent way.’”

Barron said he came to truly understand that the three most important things in the world are faith, hope and love in any situation.

“My prayer is that we will be recognized as a people of love; people of compassion; people with endless grace and endless forgiveness and endless mercy for a world that is desperately in need of it,” Barron said. “My prayer is that what I’ve said and what you’ve seen this morning will pierce through to your heart and will help you understand that what you are preparing for is not a greater education and not greater ministry, but it is for God’s greater glory.”

In memory of his wife and son, Barron recently established the Sarah Ellen and Joshua Barron Student Ministers Endowed Scholarship for Southwestern Seminary students majoring in student ministry. Contributions to the scholarship endowment can be made through the seminary’s Office of Institutional Advancement by calling toll-free 1-877-GO-SWBTS.

Archived Flash Media and MP3 recordings of Barron’s sermon can be viewed, listened or downloaded through the seminary’s Web site, www.swbts.edu.

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