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Student+s death brings inspiration to campus

Jan. 21, 1997

Student's death brings inspiration to campus


By Michelle Van Rysselberge

Lariat Reporter

A memorial service for Summer Rae Austin, a 20-year-old Redlands, Calif., sophomore majoring in business, will be at 7 p.m. Jan. 30 at Highland Baptist Church, located at 3014 Maple Ave.

Austin died Jan. 6 in a car accident on California State Highway 48 in the San Bernardino Mountains. On the winding two-lane road, her Jeep hit a patch of ice. Austin was ejected from the vehicle and died due to head injuries. She fell 300 feet into an enormous rock slide terrain with her Jeep trailing behind and crashing more than 400 feet below the highway.

U.S. Forest Service firefighters were notified of the accident and repelled into the steep, rugged area. The recovery of two items fascinated the rescue workers. Austin's Bible and prayer journal were teetering on rocks beside her body.

'In my 18 years of working here I have never found anything like this. You virtually never find belongings in this rugged terrain,' said Steve Seltzner, engineer and chaplain of the U.S. Forest Service in the San Bernardino National Forest. 'Just the fact that they were recoverable was astounding. It is profound that they did not slip down in the crevices of the rocks.'

The Bible and prayer journal had been in Austin's Jeep, which landed more than 100 feet below her body. Seltzner interprets this mysterious discovery as a divine statement.

'[The recovery of these items] speaks volumes and is no accident,' Seltzner said. 'These things were meant to be found and to testify.'

The testimony of Austin's life continues to influence others.

'Austin's witness of her commitment to Jesus Christ has not been silenced by death. On the contrary, life has been born out of her death from the beginning,' said Jeff Abshire, college pastor of Highland Baptist Church. 'Hearing the testimony of Austin's life causes one to examine his or her own life.'

The captain of the firefighters found Austin. After discovering her prayer journal and Bible, he read passages she had written about God's father-heart for people and his desire for them to know him intimately.

Seltzner had been witnessing to the captain for three years. Finding these belongings and reading the entries got his attention and had an impact on him, Seltzner said.

Austin's closest friend, Sarah Harding, said she has found peace in the midst of a painful trial.

'The loss of my best friend hurts so bad, but God is truly the anchor in the storm. He desires that all who hear the testimony of Summer's life and of her death to know him more, love him more and give up their lives to serve him,' Harding, an Anchorage sophomore, said. 'Summer would want God to be glorified in all of this, and he truly has been.'

Austin's roommate Kristi Whitaker, a Waco sophomore, called Austin an 'angel.' Anyone who knew Austin could see her heavenly mission in life, she said.

During Welcome Week her freshman year, Austin gave her life to Jesus Christ. Last semester was incredible time of spiritual growth for her, Harding said.

'Every time I turned around, Summer was reading her Bible. She challenged me to dig deeper in God's word,' said Austin's roommate Amy McDonough, an Arlington sophomore. 'Summer had a passion for people and sharing God with others.'

Austin became a leader of a Lifegroup through Highland Baptist Church. She spent last semester investing her time in the lives of the individuals in her group. A list of their names was taped inside her Jeep to remind her to pray for them.

Austin's roommates knew where she was going every night before 10 p.m. She met with a group of students in the parking garage who pray every night for revival at the University. Homework, weather conditions and other activities never kept Austin from this commitment.

Many nights, she would go to the parking garage early to pray before the others arrived, said James Stalnaker, a Stockton, Calif., junior.

Last semester Austin sold more than 100 of her CDs and used the money to purchase praise and worship music in order to surround herself with an atmosphere of worship, Harding said.

During Christmas break, Austin spent several hours a day visiting her grandmother in a hospital and praying for other patients. She also called all of her high school friends to tell them about her relationship with Jesus. She wanted her friends and family to know the love of Christ, Stalnaker said.

Austin's one desire Christmas Day reveals what mattered most in her life, friends said.

The only present Austin asked for Christmas was money to finance a missions trip to South Africa with Royal Servants International. She hoped that her younger brother would go on the trip with her, said Stephanie Klutts, a Waterloo, Ill., junior.

Austin brought encouragement to those who knew her well.

'If you spent any time around Summer it made you want to know Jesus more. Her life compelled you to abandon your life,' said Jeff Faller, a Sherman Oaks, Calif., senior. 'She was full of joy and freedom and was always worshiping God.'

Austin's Chi Omega sorority sisters have experienced an outpouring of love during this difficult time.

'Our sorority has grown closer through this tragedy,' Whitaker said. 'We're pulling together and leaning on each other. Summer would have wanted this.'

The girls recalled Austin's contribution to Chi Omega as a 'servant who worked hard in the background and didn't want recognition,' Whitaker said. 'She was a sweet person who would do anything for you. Her life was such a testimony to so many people.

Many of Austin's friends described her as a servant.

'She was a wonderful friend and servant who gave her life away. She looked out for the interest of others, Baylor and her family,' Stalnaker said.

Just as those who knew Austin thought the world of her, it is obvious that her heart of compassion beat for them just as strongly. She truly did rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.

'One day Summer walked into my room while I was crying. When I looked up, she was crying too,' Klutts said. 'Summer was so compassionate, supportive and uplifting. She let her friends know they're precious gifts of God and never let them forget it.'

Seltzner said that it's not difficult to imagine Austin's last moments on earth.

'The mountain highway is a scenic solitude pristine area conducive to communing with the Lord. Here was a girl driving up the road listening to worship music and probably in prayer and communion with God at the moment of the accident when she went home to be with the Lord,' Seltzner said. 'It's a powerful testimony to commitment and faith. She lived with an eternal perspective and at the moment it was time to go home, she was ready to go.'

'The verse [Philippians 1:21] 'To live is Christ to die is gain' naturally applies to Summer,' Seltzner said.

Any students, whether or not they knew Austin, are invited to attend the service. Attendees are encouraged to bring letters, pictures and other memorabilia to Austin's parents, who will attend the service. There will be an opportunity for people to share memories during an open mic time. Jimmy Seibert, pastor of ministries at Highland, will also speak at the service. Joshua Davis, a Denton senior, will lead a chorus of Austin's favorite praise songs.

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