Don’t wait to reconcile with family, friends
by Jason Priest
Thursday morning, Oct. 9, 2014, my cell phone rang at 7:20. Caller ID said it was Karen Priest, my stepmother calling from Alaska. I quickly did the math—Alaska is three hours behind Kansas time—and knew that no one calls at 4:20 a.m. for a good reason.
“Your brother, Justin, was killed this morning in a car accident in Juneau,” said Karen. “An Alaska state trouper came to our house at 3 a.m. and told us. We are going into Anchorage to tell Cody (another brother) and Julia (Justin’s girl friend). Will you please pray for us?”
I agreed, and Karen put me on speakerphone so that she and my dad could both hear as I prayed. I asked that God would comfort my father and Karen and that he would prepare Cody and Julia for the devastating news they were about to receive.
After I hung up, I felt lost. I wept. Justin was so young—29 years old. I thought again how hard it is to be so far away from my family. I called my boss and arranged to take time off to go back to Alaska. I thought about making travel plans for my wife and our children to go with me to the funeral. I called our pastor, Brian Allen, who came right over.
Pastor Brian had been at our house for about 10 minutes when my phone rang again. The caller ID again was Karen Priest. I answered and heard: “Jason, it’s me, Justin. I’m OK. There must have been a case of mistaken identity. I would put Mom on the phone, but she is crying too hard.”
My mind couldn’t reconcile the information that Justin was dead with hearing his voice. It didn’t compute. Stunned doesn’t begin to describe what I was feeling. I told Justin I loved him, and we hung up. Pastor Brian prayed with my wife, Krista, and me, praising God that this brother I thought was lost was alive.
In time, I learned the full story. After calling me and other out-of-state relatives, my parents made the 45-mile drive to Anchorage to tell my brother and Justin’s girlfriend the news in person. They told Cody first and then drove to the house my brother shared with Julia. My dad was shocked when Justin answered the door. Justin had no idea why our dad began sobbing or why the crying turned to screaming and shouts of “Praise Jesus! It’s a miracle!”
When they sorted out what had happened, Justin called the Juneau police to tell them they had identified the wrong Justin Priest. The police apologized for the anguish the mistake caused. By the next day, the mix-up drew national attention.
This experience has reminded me of two important things. Ephesians 2:1 says, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins….” God’s message of restoration and redemption applies to everyone. So many of us, me included, live without the Spirit and in our own strength, and we live defeated lives. I want to live in total surrender and in the belief that God is the hope of everyone on earth (Ps. 65:5).
Death is so final. When Karen first told me that Justin had died, I was filled with regret for the things I wished I had said to my brother. Please take the time to say what you want to your loved ones. Reconcile with family and friends. There is no hope for restoration if you wait too long. My prayer is that God will use this story to bring others to know him and to restore family relationships.
Jason Priest lives with his family in Hillsboro, Kan., and they attend Hillsboro MB Church. This essay is adapted from an article that first appeared in their church newsletter.
Read news reports of the identity mixup at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/10/justin-priest_n_5967384.html