LUCEDALE, MS (WLOX) - A community in shock banded together Sunday morning after tragedy. Rocky Creek Baptist Church began its morning worship service with a tearful remembrance of two lives lost.
The church's youth minister, Randy Wager, and his daughter, Ariana, were killed in a car accident on Interstate 10 in Hancock County Saturday morning.
The tragic accident left a community in disbelief.
"My first reaction was no. This can't be happening. This is a bad dream, but it's not. It's for real, you know," said Selby Herrington.
When Selby and other members of Rocky Creek Baptist heard the names of their youth minister and his daughter on the list of fatalities, they knew the church would never be the same.
"He's going to leave a big hole in our hearts," said Herrington.
Herrington helped Wager in his ministry and hopes to keep the things he started going. He says he can't do that without Associate Youth Pastor Scott Wallace.
Wallace says looking back, he can see God's timing in Wager's last few Bible studies.
"'We could lose our life at any moment,' as he was constantly saying, and with that said, 'We've got to give every breath we have to the gospel,'" said Wallace.
According to Wallace, Wager's daughter was on fire for Christ. She and her father had just recently returned from a mission trip to Africa.
"That inspired her to give her life to doing that. She was in the process of going to school to get a teaching degree so she could go back to Africa," said Wallace.
The church has about 70 kids in the youth group that had looked up to Wager over his four and a half years as student pastor. Now, Wallace and his wife, Vanessa, say they understand their responsibility to be a foundation for these kids after such a loss.
"We don't like it, and we miss them terribly, and we would want them back in an instant. But, they're walking a street of gold, together, worshipping at the feet of Jesus, and that's what we need to cling to," said Vanessa.
Her hope is that the church will see through this pain to what lies on the other side.
"Even in the middle of the hurt, we serve a big God, and he's going to provide comfort and strength and grace that only he can provide," said Vanessa.
The church plans to hold a memorial service for Randy and Ariana on Wednesday night. Wager is survived by his wife and three other children.
There were two other fatalities in the Saturday morning accident: Ryan Deforest and Brandon Estes, both from Louisiana.