December 16, 2016

Despite family tragedy, speaker offers message of hope and healing

Robert Rogers is pictured with his family hours before a flash flood on Aug. 30, 2003, resulted in the death of his wife Melissa and their four children. Robert is shown holding Alenah, 1, and Zachary, 5. Melissa has her arms around Makenah, 8, and Nicholas, 3. (Photo courtesy Robert Rogers)

Robert Rogers is pictured with his family hours before a flash flood on Aug. 30, 2003, resulted in the death of his wife Melissa and their four children. Robert is shown holding Alenah, 1, and Zachary, 5. Melissa has her arms around Makenah, 8, and Nicholas, 3. (Photo courtesy Robert Rogers)

By Katie Breidenbach (Special to The Criterion)

FORT WAYNE—Robert Rogers never dreamed that he would be engaged in full‑time ministry.

A little more than 13 years ago, he was employed as an electrical engineer and happily married to his wife Melissa with four children—ages 8, 5, 3 and 1. But on the heartbreaking evening of Aug. 30, 2003, he lost them all.

The entire family was on their way home to Kansas City from a wedding in Wichita, Kan. Suddenly, their minivan was caught in a flash flood and swept off the interstate by a 6-foot wall of water. Plunged down into a rushing torrent, Rogers was flushed out of the vehicle and sent tumbling through the waters, eventually washing up on high ground “only by the grace of God.” In the hours and days that followed, rescue teams discovered that his wife and four children had all drowned.

“I still grieve,” Rogers said. “I still cry even 13 years later. I still miss them. But when we know Christ, we can grieve with hope. I know one day, I’ll see them.”

Now a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Fort Wayne, Ind., Rogers operates a ministry called Mighty in the Land. He travels the country sharing his story with others and urging them to turn to Christ for healing. He estimates that he has spoken to more than 250,000 people, crossing lines of denomination and tradition.

“This seems to be a story that surpasses denominational differences because we all need hope, we all need the good news,” he told The Criterion.

The good news of hope and healing is especially needed at this time of year, when many experience the pain of bereavement more acutely. As families and friends gather to celebrate Christmas, the absence of one member can become more pronounced.

“There’s that deafening silence in your home, an empty chair, an empty spot at the dinner table,” Rogers said. “I can relate in some ways. I’ll never say I understand because every loss is uniquely devastating.”

Rogers’ first event this month took place on Dec. 1 at The Chapel, a nondenominational church in Fort Wayne. He shared his story with the Senior Connection, a fellowship group for adults over 60. Many of the attendees already knew the pain of losing a loved one.

Sharon Greenhow’s husband Peter passed away four years ago. She says Christmas Day is still particularly painful—Peter’s birthday was on Dec. 25.

“Prayer is what got me through. I asked the Spirit of the Lord to go before me and behind me and to cover me,” she related. “God never leaves you alone.”

For those mourning the loss of a loved one, Rogers suggests an action that he says “sounds rather backward”—to give God thanks. When he started thanking God for the lives of his wife and children, it helped to ease the pain of their deaths.

“I began thanking God that I got to be a father for eight years. I got to be a husband for almost 12 years,” Rogers recalled, “and that helped get my mind’s focus off the negative side of it and onto the positive, onto the gift that God has given me.”

The American Psychology Association notes that telling stories about the deceased and speaking with others who are also bereaved can further the healing process. Rogers relates that sharing his story and encouraging others brings him great joy in the midst of his grief.

“One of the best ways to heal is to help someone else in need,” he said. “As I started seeing people’s lives change, that blessed me. And that gave glory to God.”

An accomplished pianist and singer, Rogers also played several songs for those gathered at The Chapel. Some pieces were bright and full of cheer, others emotional and moving.

One of his most poignant pieces was the contemporary Christmas song titled “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song).” The lyrics are written from the Virgin Mary’s perspective and imagine her desolation as she, nine months pregnant, is forced to travel to an unknown city far from family and friends.

“Even though the season is full of holly jolly and lights and carols, you know Mary and Joseph weren’t all that comfortable. They were suffering,” Rogers explained. “They had, in a sense, lost their reputation. She was pregnant out of wedlock. There was no room for them at the inn.”

The Holy Family’s story, Rogers said, is proof that God can bring forth good from the most difficult circumstances.

“Out of that suffering that she and Joseph endured came the greatest gift that the world has ever known,” he said.

Mighty in the Land Ministry has sponsored seven orphanages in six countries to honor Rogers’ family members. His speaking schedule, along with several books he has written, are available on his website, www.mightyintheland.com.
 

(Katie Breidenbach is a freelance writer in Bloomington.)

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