Youth minister keeps boy's memory alive

by Jenni Carlson Modified: December 19, 2007 at 11:46 am •  Published: December 16, 2007
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BETHANY — Chris Wall made a promise to Dave and Juliann Sullivan the day they buried their only son.

"For the rest of my life, for the rest of my ministry,” he told them, "I will tell Justin's story.”


He never imagined he'd do it this way.

For five years, the youth pastor told about the young baseball star who was named player of the year on a Sunday, then killed on Monday. Wall told them about the boy Justin taught to hit because the boy's mom was in a wheelchair and about the talks Justin had with his granddad about the Bible.

He told, too, about Justin swerving his car, saving his passengers and taking the fatal brunt when two big-rig tires bounded across Interstate 44 one summer afternoon in 2002.

But Wall always knew he had to do more. He could not shake the feeling that Justin's story had been entrusted to him, that it was in his hands.

Now, his hands hold "A Life Worth Following,” a book inspired by Justin.

Wall spent almost three years writing the devotional journal, using entries from Justin's own journal and weaving in stories about Justin's life. The work was as painful and tedious as it was uplifting and motivational. The book was so important Wall turned down a publishing house so he could make sure it was done the right way.

The book breathed new life into Justin's story and Wall's faith.

"God, this can't be the end of his story,” Wall prayed in those days after the accident. "It just can't.”

Because of Wall, it isn't.

Don't seek the spotlight, but if God wants you noticed, don't say no.

— Justin Sullivan, March 22, 2002

Wall heard the big news when he got to church that Sunday morning.

Justin was The Oklahoman state baseball player of the year.

Wall met Justin when he entered Council Road Baptist Church's youth group as a seventh grader. Justin came every week, even sat in about the same spot in the middle center.

Over the next six years, Wall watched Justin flourish. Valedictorian at Yukon High School. Aspiring surgeon. All-Star catcher.

"Dude, all I want is tickets,” Wall told Justin when they talked about Justin's Major League aspirations. "I want to sit next to the dugout. I want to big time it in front of my son.”

Wall would smile, and Justin would blush, and they'd laugh at what might be.

Justin blushed a lot that Sunday morning, too. Having his picture splashed all over the cover of the Sunday sports page was unnerving for the reserved superstar. Church became a gauntlet of hand shakes and back pats.

The last time Wall saw him, Justin was headed to a nearby burger place with a bunch of his buddies. While they were there, Justin went to the rest room and his friends told everyone there that he'd been on the cover of the sports section that morning.

When he came out, everyone in the restaurant cheered wildly.

There will come a day when we will all see God face to face. This is when we will understand things fully. When God asks me to believe something that's beyond belief, I decide if I will trust my five senses or have enough sense to believe in Him.

— Justin Sullivan, March 19, 2002

Wall heard the bad news when his cell phone rang at lunch the next day.

Justin's been in an accident. I think it's bad.

Wall raced to the hospital, all the while thinking about what he'd say to Justin. This would be a test of faith, a challenge like no other. There would be recovery and rehab, but he could still realize all of his dreams.

When Wall walked into the emergency room, Justin's sister spotted him. Sydni ran down the hallway toward him and buried her head in his chest.

"Did he die?” he asked.

It was 2 on a June afternoon. People weren't supposed to die in car accidents in the middle of the day. And someone as young and bright and promising as Justin wasn't supposed to die at all. But he had.

An 800-pound pair of tractor-trailer wheels had broken off an eastbound rig on I-44, bounced across the concrete median near May Avenue and slammed head-on into the windshield of Justin's sport utility vehicle as it headed west.

Continue reading this story on the...

by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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