The tragedy of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team is hard to process. Eyewitness testimonies from the scene Friday evening are unspeakable. People have been asked not to share photographs from the chaotic scene, and so far it seems they haven’t.
That scene has been dubbed “the valley of the shadow of death” — a team bus, with 29 on board, colliding with a semi truck in rural Saskatchewan.
Fifteen members of the team were killed, including the head coach. Fourteen injured. At the time of writing, twelve remained in hospital, four with critical injuries such as severe head trauma and coma, and four with serious injuries such as paralysis.
Today I connected with Canadian Mary Kassian, a Christian author and speaker who is closely connected to the hockey scene in Canada. One of her sons is former NHL hockey player Matt Kassian.
He Knew Their Names
“The head coach was a Christian,” Mary said today, “and he used his position to mentor the boys on his team to be men with character . . . and to know Jesus.” Her son, who knows two of the families of those who died, said with tears streaming down his face while watching the team vigil, “I’m so glad those boys had people in their world who told them about Jesus.”
Christ had been the theme of the team’s pastor. And during the Sunday night vigil, that team pastor, Sean Brandow, shared with a watching nation the sovereignty of Jesus Christ.
He did so in a heavy setting of sorrow, in the Humboldt Broncos arena, in a town of about 6,000. There, in tears, he said, “I liked to look at the names on the back of the jerseys, and I think it’s really fitting now. I want you to know that we hurt with you. Each name represents a family. The Bible tells us that God knew each of them before they were born. He gave them breath. He ordained their days” (Psalm 139:13–16).
Jesus Has Walked Here
Into this shadow of death, Pastor Brandow offered the light of Christ’s resurrection.
Jesus did not stay dead. . . . He says to his disciples who are listening to him in John 10:11, ‘I am the good shepherd,’ and the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
So how do we know that God is with us in our suffering? Because Jesus was here, Jesus went through every bit of suffering before we ever did. We have someone that has gone ahead of us and before us into the heavenly realms and who now sits and intercedes on our behalf — we talk to Jesus, we commune with Jesus, we cry out to Jesus. And it’s in this time that we need a shepherd who has walked through this valley before, who can guide us.
Through tears he went on to comfort a broken team, a broken town, a broken country, with the sovereignty of our good Father.
God is on the throne and God is with the brokenhearted [Psalm 34:18]. We know that God is on the throne, Jesus walked this earth, he died, he was buried, he rose again. It says in the Scripture that he is now seated at the right hand of the Father, in control of setting up our leaders, putting people in the place where they need to be at just the right time, for just the right purpose, making sure that things line up according to his plan.
I don’t claim to understand how this seems like it’s in God’s control at all, but it is. He’s still on the throne, he’s still God. . . .
“You need Jesus,” Brandow pleaded at the vigil, just as he has been recently pleading with each player on the team. “Jesus has walked here. He’s walked it first, and death couldn’t hold him. He’s alive.”
“I have never seen the media in our country write about Jesus so openly,” Mary said, “or even dare to speak of Christ in a positive manner. But that small-town hockey chaplain, in his raw, honest brokenness, is opening doors for sharing the gospel in an unprecedented way.”