Friday, January 6, 2023

Love in the Aftermath of Columbia

[Originally published in the Monroe News on January 6, 2023]

I want to share with you today a story of love.  But in order to get to that part of the story we first need to talk about a tragedy.  In just under a month’s time our nation will mark the 20th anniversary of the shuttle Columbia breaking apart upon reentry into earth’s atmosphere.  Seven beloved astronauts were on their way home to their families and loved ones when the unthinkable happened.  It was February 1, 2003.  

For our nation it was one of those moments that you will never forget where you were when it happened.  I was in the state of Indiana at the time. I was playing basketball for my seminary team and we were on our way home from a game when we heard the news.  It was shocking.  It was heartbreaking.  I was a little too young to remember when the shuttle Challenger was lost during takeoff in 1986. But I remember hearing people talk about it.  I remember watching videos of that event.  Likewise, the memories of the various clips of Columbia breaking apart are now etched forever in my mind.

I remember hearing stories of the investigation and the attempts to understand what had happened.  What I don’t remember is the amazing story of the search for the remnants of the shuttle and the crew.  I don’t remember hearing about how thousands of individuals volunteered their time and their efforts to find the remains of this disaster to help lay the astronauts to rest and to help bring closure and understanding to this disaster.  

This is where the story of love comes in.  I’ve read stories of how people in the communities of east Texas, where the remnants of the shuttle rained down to earth, donated food and goods and time and service to help the disaster recovery teams.  People opened their homes and businesses.  They brought food to the gathering places where volunteers had spent 14 hour days looking for pieces of the shuttle.  They walked through thick forests and brush and thorns to look for any clues that could be found.

I read about one story of an individual who anonymously donated a cake that was decorated as the American flag and had the names of the seven astronauts written on it.  The donation was so moving and so beautiful that none of the volunteers could bring themselves to cut it up and consume it and so they preserved it and put it on display.  So many acts of love in the aftermath of a national tragedy.

We’re all of us aware of the terrible depths of evil that can be found in the human heart. We see it all too often with each new story in the news of violence and hate. We see it close to home in broken relationships and the harm we do one another.  Yet when we hear stories of how people come together to care for one another and love one another, especially in times of such immense need, it warms up the heart and brings tears of joy to the eyes.

When we see love in action we are reminded of the example our Lord Jesus set.  He was the love of God in the flesh. This is what our Christmas celebrations in the past weeks were all about.  He showed us what it means and what it looks like to love your neighbor.  He showed us how true love involves self-sacrifice.  It involves putting your neighbor first.  This was on display in the aftermath of the Columbia tragedy.  It was a tough moment that miraculously brought out the best in people.  

Join me in praying for our community, our nation, our world, that love would flow forth from our hearts everyday.  We all hope and pray it doesn’t take yet another tragedy to move us into action to set aside selfishness and replace it with selfless love for the well-being of others.  When this kind of love shines forth in our lives everyone wins.  Life is joyful and exciting when we care for each other and help anyone in time of need.  In fact, we would rightly say it is a little taste of heaven on earth when we love as Christ first loved us.

May we as a nation honor those seven astronauts who gave up their lives 20 years ago in the name of hope and exploration for the sake of our human race.  May we pray for all others today and tomorrow who continue to serve and to put their well-being on the line for the sake of others.  And may the Lord Jesus fill the hearts of all mankind with His love.

To God be the glory.

Mark Witte is the pastor at Grace Lutheran Church.
You can contact him at

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