They did not know they were going to be the latest news and that it would send waves of shock and sorrow across the nation.
The Humboldt Broncos, a hockey team in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League consisting of 16 to 20-year-old players, were headed to a play off game in the northern town of Nipawin, in Saskatchewan, Canada.
Their team bus t-boned a semi-trailer crossing highway 35 killing 16 of the 29 people on board — 10 players and 5 team personnel including the head coach and the bus driver.
The Humboldt players had all dyed their hair blonde which made it difficult to identify them. Tragically because the players were so badly hurt, two were misidentified. It would take a couple of days for one family to find out that a son they had thought died was actually alive, and for another family to sadly learn their son was dead. How heart breaking this must have been.
What were the players thinking as they traveled on the bus? The bus was quiet recalls a surviving player. They were down in the series and needed to win the upcoming game to continue their playoff run. Some were probably resting, eyes closed or scrolling their phones for music and the latest news.
The team’s head coach, Darcy Haugan, was a believer. He was known for giving players a second chance even when they had blown it. Though the team emphasized character, Darcy told the team chaplain, Sean Brandow, a pastor in the community, that they needed to emphasize Jesus to the players this season.
Within hours, this bus crash on a lonely highway in Northern Saskatchewan became world-wide news with condolences coming in from US President Trump and leaders from across the country.
Prime Minister Trudeau attended the service in the town of Humboldt last Sunday evening with eyes across the nation watching and engaged in the prayerful, humble, and life impacting vigil held in their small town hockey stadium.
Sean Brandow, the team’s Chaplin, gave a message that spoke deeply to all of our hearts. Even though they were not my own kids, I grieved for them as if they were. A week later I am still overtaken by the sadness and find myself waking up in the night praying for the players and families.
Sean wasn’t planning on going to the playoff game, but his kids bugged him until he agreed to take them. They left after the bus pulled out of Humboldt and came upon the crash site shortly after it happened.
As he walked through the carnage helping those players that were still alive and holding the hands of those who died or were dying, he had a deeper understanding of what King David said when he wrote:
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4 NASV)
The hardest question Sean faced was where was God in this tragedy?
Though the world has rejected God and decided to go its own way, God still very much wants to be with us. He is a concerned Father watching his wayward children. When tragedy strikes, our Heavenly Father reaches out to us. He is in the midst of it all.
Sean struggled and tried to make sense of what happened and through the course of events he began to sense God’s presence.
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18 NIV)
And as I prayed during those hours shortly after news broke about the accident, I saw ministering angels hovering and touching those at the scene of the wreckage and the families as they learned of the tragedy and began to gather as a community.
What has shocked everyone is how this accident has touched people around the world. From a school in China choosing to honor the team by wearing its colors, to a child in Uganda wearing a Humboldt Bronco’s team shirt.
In the midst of all the world tragedies, for some unexplained reason this one has gripped the hearts of millions.
You can see its impact in the GoFundMe campaign set up for the Humboldt Broncos that has now passed $10.7 million. It is not only one of the three largest fund-raising campaigns in its history, but more importantly with over 120,000 people from 80 countries making donations it has set the record for the largest number of contributions to a GoFundMe campaign.
Since this tragedy took place, I am not the same. My heart has softened and my spirit has been re-awakened to God in a deeper way. If the Lord is doing this in my life is God doing a similar thing in the hearts of the millions of people around the world who have been impacted by this accident?
I believe God is responding to this tragedy. My daughter and I were talking last evening how much this has touched not only our lives but the lives of co-workers, family and friends. She said, “mom, everyone is talking about this, the pastor’s message and what he said.”
What is the message? In the valley of the shadow of death, God is already there, waiting to walk with us through the wreckage and trauma of our own lives.
As Sean said, “If you don’t have hope you can’t help anyone else!
“Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God.” (Psalm 42:11)