Adrienne Hebert
Feb 24, 2020

It has come to my attention that I have a testimony to share. I don't know who needs to hear it but it is in my heart to tell one of my many stories. I almost died when I was 15. We were on our way back to Texas from spending a week at CPYC (Cumberland Presbyterian Youth Conference), a church camp we attended in TN. We were travelling in our 15-passenger church van and towing our luggage behind us in a small covered trailer. We had four adults and nine youths, 15-18 years of age. From the very back, there were three youths in the back row, two youths in the next row (including me), three in the next row, two adults and one youth in the front row and then the driver and passenger in the very front.

Since we had to travel back to Texas and some of the other kids were from other churches, we were on a time crunch to get back. Unfortunately, we did not make it. From what I remember, we were only about an hour, maybe less, into our journey and something happened to our engine...a belt broke or something...and it had to be replaced. We pulled over at a truck stop and while the van was being worked on, we went to eat at the restaurant next door. I remember the electricity going out in the restaurant as we were trying to pay our checks so the cashier had to pull out a calculator to get us all finished. At the last minute, someone had to run back into the restaurant because they forgot a jacket or something and then we were ready to get back on the road. We pulled out of the restaurant parking lot, onto the service road.

I remember standing up and seeing a white car in front of us getting ready to turn into a gas station. That's when I also saw a big 18-wheeled dump truck speeding toward the car and us. I remember yelling, "Look out for that truck!" and then I woke up on my back with a seat on top of me...there was a strong smell of gasoline and someone was screaming so loud. I tried to feel around to see if I could tell what was going on and/or what happened. I had been sucking on a spearmint candy from the restaurant and it was still in my mouth. I finished chewing it up, my thoughts all over the place. I couldn't move and I could barely breathe. I also reached out with my hand to try and feel anything or anyone. I felt the leg of the person sitting next to me and there was something soft...I immediately jerked my hand back, thinking it might be a blood clot and I didn't want to hurt them.

I thought maybe my singing would help calm the person who was screaming so, despite not being able to breathe, I started singing some old hymns and some songs we learned at camp that previous week. I found out later that not only was the seat on top of me, but I was on the roof of the van with the seats on top plus the dump truck on top of the back of the van where I had been sitting prior.

I remember someone seeing my hand move and rushing over to hold it and ask how I was doing. It turned out to be one of the First Responders. I was so happy to have that human touch at that point in time. He held my hand until he couldn't...because they had to get the jaws of life to open up that part of the van so they could get me out...but he came right back, just like he said he would. Those were the worst minutes of my life...not knowing anything and just hearing noises. I found out later that they didn't think anyone in the back two rows had survived at all so to see my hand moving was a miracle. I also found out that the three people in the very back row (behind me), the boy next to me and two of the three people sitting in the row in front of me all died.

That was the hardest time of my life. Not only was I 15 years old, in high school, not sure of my self in any way...I now had the scars and the PTSD and the Survivor's Guilt that came with what had happened. I returned to CPYC for the next three summers and I have very fond memories...we even went back as adults when my husband became the Youth Minister at the same church. The very same church, in fact, where our parents sang in the choir together many moons ago while we were in the nursery.

I tell my story because I want all of you to know that you can overcome the worst moments in your life. Yes, you may have to relive it but that is part of the healing process. You have to remain faithful. I was mad at God for a long time. I couldn't understand why he would take such young lives in such a horrific way...and on the way home from a beautiful week at church camp, learning about Him! I still have days where I struggle, even now, at 44 years old...but I know God has my back and I just need to rely on Him.