Craig Smith put his daughter’s tragic death behind him and remains hopeful for others.
The night before she died, Craig Smith spoke with his daughter, Heather, by phone. Their plans for a Friday afternoon outing with him and her son, Landon, had to be postponed, she explained, because she had been arrested on an outstanding forgery and theft warrants for taking money from her late mother’s estate.
“She had missed a July 4 family get-together, and she so looked forward to that (outing),” Smith recalled. “She told me she loved me, and I told her I loved her.”
But the next afternoon, when Smith went to pick up his grandson, he learned the devastating news: Heather’s body had been found along a stretch of U.S. Route 62.
Investigators believe Heather Smith, 29, had been attempting to walk to Canton while waiting for a ride ... following her release from the Stark County Jail, when she was struck and killed by a motorist driving an SUV.
“All of us were just shocked,” her father said.
“Your heart just drops,” said the Rev. Randy Shafer, senior pastor at the 11th Street Church of God, where Smith attends church and where Heather Smith’s funeral was held.
Craig Smith, a devout Christian, said that despite Heather’s personal struggles, he’s convinced his youngest child is in heaven.
“We knew Heather was saved (Christian),” he said. “She became a Christian in high school. She was baptized at Canton Baptist Temple.
“God gave me the feeling that everything was OK. He revealed to me that even though it was a bad event, ‘Let’s make something good of it.’ It sounds strange, but I was actually looking forward to her funeral. I had this overwhelming feeling of peace.”
‘DOSES OF JESUS’
Smith said it was at Heather’s funeral that he saw the first blossoms of that hope. He said nearly a dozen of Heather’s friends converted to Christianity during her funeral service on July 13.
“We took the opportunity to witness to people, and saw God do something great,” he said. “It’s all about Him. ... It was a group of people you probably couldn’t collect anywhere else.”
During the funeral, the Rev. Harry Sebald, a prison missionary and pastor of New Life Church in Akron, urged people to dedicate their lives to God.
“When you do a funeral, especially for someone young, and it was a tragedy, people show up,” he said. “All of a sudden, death becomes very real to them. At that time, the Holy Spirit moves in and gets their hearts ready. ... In the U.S., people get ‘doses’ of Jesus, but they don’t understand salvation.
“I’m not a traditional pastor; I’m a bit of a maverick. Every funeral service I’ve ever done, I present a plan of salvation; I go after them pretty hard. If someone asks Jesus for forgiveness of their sins, he’s there.”
Page 2 of 2 - Shafer prepares his eulogy in light of a person’s life, adding that preaching a younger person’s funeral is harder because their death usually is unexpected.
‘CHANGE IS GOD’S WORK’
“If a person was a missionary and a Sunday-school teacher, I use their life story as an example of God’s grace,” he said. “For people who’ve had troubled lives, then what I want to do is offer hope. I always acknowledge people’s struggles, because in the midst of struggles, there’s hope in Christ.”
“Heather had a lot of problems in her life,” Smith admitted. “Her mother, Glenda Perez, died on April 14 from complications of (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.) She was a real rock in Heather’s life and in her brother’s and sister’s lives.”
Smith said some of Heather’s friends have told him her death has so profoundly changed their lives that they’re planning to get baptized as a group.
“When people come to a funeral, they’re looking for something,” Shafer said. “Some seed of hope, of ‘Maybe there’s something beyond what I’m doing now.’ ”
Shafer said he never speculates on the sincerity of a person’s conversion.
“My own responsibility is to share the gospel; change is God’s work,” he said.
“I’ve seen guys in prison with no hope; their families have given up on them,” Sebald said. “What we try to give them is love. Jesus is the answer. God don’t let go.”
“The word of God doesn’t return the void,” Craig Smith said. “They might not look like it (Christian), or act like it, they may even be a ‘back-slider,’ but they’ll never be the same.”
REPOSITORY CHARITA M. GOSHAY
n Craig Smith (front) said he wants the unexpected and tragic death of his daughter Heather to bring other young people to God. With Smith are the Rev. Harry Sebald (standing) who spoke at Heather’s funeral, and the Smiths’ pastor, the Rev. Randy Shafer of the 11th street Church of God in Canton.