Last week I was made aware of a family in Chattanooga that I feel could desperately use the prayers of other believers. This is a family that has come under a time of intense pain the likes of which few people will ever experience. As I read their story, I found the faith of this family absolutely inspiring and I just pray to the Lord that, if I come under a time of such pain and torment, my faith will hold up as theirs has.
Andy Mendonsa is the director of Widow’s Harvest Ministries, a ministry based on the biblical mandate found in James 1:27 for “pure and undefiled” worship of God by “visiting the widow in their distress.” The ministry assists widows in their spiritual and physical needs. “Widows Harvest Ministries meets many of these needs by trying to form lasting friendships with all of the widows we come into contact with as well as providing home maintenance and repair services on their homes including: plumbing, roofing, painting, electrical and lawn care.” Andy is married with two teenage children, Asher and Hadrienne.
On May 24, 2005 Asher Mendonsa, Andy’s son, a seventeen year old boy, fell through a hole at the top of the abandoned Parkway Towers in Chattanooga. He had been taking photographs of the building when he fell more than five stories. He suffered a compound fracture of the right femur, bruised lungs, trauma on the front of his brain and two fractured vertebrae around his neck. He fell into a deep coma.
The day after Asher’s accident his father wrote the following on a website dedicated to his son:
after i went home that night and cried and cried and tried to pray and to get God to heal my son, i fell asleep and woke up the next morning feeling like i was standing back down at the foot of mt everest and had to start climbing back up all over again. before i went to bed that night, though, i had climbed back up to the top, but instead of looking down at my feet, like i had been for most of the day, i was suddenly looking out over a great expanse and i realized that everything that is happening to us is somehow fitting into this great expanse. God has a much greater purpose and, for whatever the reason, this horrible and excruciating pain that we are all in is helping us all to reach the mountain top so that we can all share in our understanding for this great expanse that God wants us to behold.
Through the following days Asher underwent multiple surgeries to try to repair various parts of his body. On the 2nd of June his father wrote:
I love my son and if any amount of money could be paid to fix him, or to relieve my family from this suffering I would. For the past 2 nights as we have prayed with asher and told him goodnight, Gloria has left him broken and in tears. The thought of leaving him alone by himself all night with neither one of us to hold his hand, and neither one of us to be there if he were to wake up, is just more than she can bare. I find it very hard to bare myself. But the amazing thing that I have just realized tonight is that with every step that we take away from asher, each night, we actually take a step closer in our trust of God.
Asher slowly awoke from his coma and entered a long, difficult period of rehabilitation. The family moved, temporarily, to Atlanta to be near Asher through his long recovery.
On July 11 the Mendonsa family suffered another setback, though one far less serious. An oak tree, one of the largest in the city, fell on their home in the midst of a serious storm that swept through the area. The house suffered serious damage to the roof and to much of the interior. Andy had an optimistic perspective:
it actually could have been so much worse. a chimney on the front of the house, that crumbled above the roof line when the tree landed on it, also kept the tree from sinking down any deeper into the house, because below the roof line the chimney remained intact all the way to the dirt floor in the basement below the house. if the chimney had not held the tree up, given it’s excessive weight, it would have most likely gone all the way through to the first floor where our house and dog sitter, kayb, was sleeping. we all just have so much to be thankful for, even in the midst of the realization that we are, in a very real sense, homeless. actually, we are beginning to feel more like refugees than homeless people.
You can see pictures of the damage here.
On November 12, Andy posted a short entry entitled “More Family Crisis” in which he shared that his step-father had fallen and broken his hip. By the 17th he was posting thanks for the prayers and saying that the family crisis had stabilized. His step-father had undergone a successful surgery and was on the road to recovery.
But then, on November 19th Andy posted the following:
i just recieved word my daughter, hadrienne has been in a car accident in chattanooga and is in critical condition at erlanger hospital. please pray. i am on my way there and gloria and asher are staying here. please pray for all of us.
According to a newspaper article in the Chattanoogan, “Friends said Hadrienne and her two friends were leaving to go to the midnight showing of the Harry Potter movie. They said their vehicle was partly out onto Mountain Creek Road when they spotted a vehicle coming at them. They tried to back up, but could not avoid being hit.”
The next morning, under the heading of “IN ALL THINGS GIVE THANKS TO OUR HEAVENLY FATHER IN CHRIST JESUS NAME,” Andy broke the news that Hadrienne had died. “We loved our daughter so much. we miss her so much and the pain is so great that it is unbearable. there is so much that needs to be done now, and we don’t even know where to begin… a conversation i had with hadrienne some months ago after tommy haymes passed away keeps going through my mind. she expressed some half joking and half serious concern to me about wondering whether she might be next. i assured her that she wouldn’t. oh dear lord have mercy on us.”
Hadrienne, a beautiful nineteen year old girl, was laid to rest on the 23rd of November following a service at Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga. Reflecting on the death of his daughter, Andy wrote the following: “Since asher has been out of his coma and regained so much of his cognitive abilities he has expressed much anger and disbelief in god. he now tells us since hadrienne is gone his faith and trust in god has been restored. without hadrienne he says that he does not have the strength by himself to go on. it was hadrienne, he said, that had been giving him that strength.” God has already worked good from evil.
Andy has not updated the web site since the funeral. I trust that the family is undergoing a time of great difficulty now as they surely wonder why another tragedy has befallen them. I cannot imagine having to make sense of what must seem so senseless. I would ask that we - as the church, and even as people who live hundreds or thousands of miles away from these people - surround this family with prayer. We know that God is their only hope for finding meaning and comfort. I pray that He will comfort them with His sure promise that He is in control and that nothing happens outside of His will. So let’s hold them up in prayer as is our privilege as members of the same body.
If you are interested in learning more about the Mendonsa family, you can read Andy’s blog. It contains a chronological listing of posts going back to the day of Asher’s accident. You may also wish to read about Widow’s Harvest Ministries.