Erica Faith Hagan began coming to Hardin Baptist Church in high school. Serving as Youth Pastor, I was able to spend time with Erica on a weekly basis. In 2010, Erica decided to give up a week of her summer to travel to the country of Nicaragua for an international mission trip that would soon light a spark that would spread into an unquenchable flame. Now, this mission trip was not a “show up the day of and get on a plane” type of trip. No, this trip began in December with on-going meetings and planning stages in which students were to engage.
Erica did not merely show up to these meetings. She came alive during these meetings, planning and praying for the children of Nicaragua whom she would soon encounter. It was during our times of planning and then going to Nicaragua that I learned several things about Erica.
Erica loved her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and wanted to live for His honor and glory. Erica also loved people. Erica was a team player. She did not involve herself with cliques. She loved everyone. I can still see Erica sitting in a church in Nicaragua in 100 degree weather with three kids sitting in her lap. Erica loved travel and missions. Some kids tolerate travel for the sake of mission. Erica had a genuine love for both.
When I first heard the news of Erica’s death, I was in complete shock, as were you. Then as the days went on, I began to contact the family and friends of Erica. I had anticipated this very moment where I would be asked to speak at a service on Erica’s behalf. Then, I began to fear the uncertainty of what I was to discover in my endeavors. Now for all of you who have spent time with Erica in recent years, you know those fears were completely unwarranted. And now, so do I. After spending the past few weeks investigating Erica Faith Hagan’s life, instead of digging up skeletons, I uncovered her strong faith in God, deep love for people, and courageous compassion for the needs of the world. Erica truly was larger than life.
Erica’s blog revealed that Erica did not merely like to travel, she was a traveler! These are the words under her blog entitled “¿Donde en el Mundo? (Where in the world)”:
“I will always have a heart full of wanderlust (in a later post she defined wanderlust as: “A strong desire to travel”)…here is my attempt at logging some, if not all, of the adventure I might take in my traveling experiences.”
Erica quoted the great St. Augustine of Hippo who said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” Erica was not content in reading a mere page of this world’s book. Her heart’s desire was to read chapter after chapter.
There was one place that truly captured Erica’s heart, the country of Chile. She had visited Chile on a mission trip with Georgetown College. After graduation, she returned to work at a Baptist school, helping children learn the English language. In her own words she wrote:
“No masterpiece compares to God’s masterpiece. Chileans have a saying about Chile and all its natural wonders. It goes something like this: In the beginning of time, God created wonders of the world. When He was finished, however, he saw that He had many leftover pieces. He had parts of rivers and valleys, of oceans and lakes, of glaciers and deserts, of mountains and forests, and of meadow and hills. Rather than to let such beauty go to waste, God put them all together and cast them to the most remote corner of the earth. This is how Chile was born.”
Erica was proud of where she came from but she was always on the move. She wrote, “I love being from Kentucky. I love being able to come back from wherever I’ve been and call that sweet bluegrass state my home. Though in reality, staying put has never been in my blood.”
In all my fact-finding about Erica, I discovered over and over again a girl who loved Jesus, loved people, and who loved to travel. Even though we can all agree that Erica’s death was sudden and tragic, we can also agree that there is no other place in the world Erica would have rather been.
In moments like this it is really hard not to think about all the life Erica seemed to miss. In our minds, years and years were cut short from Erica but in reality, we do not mourn a girl who missed life. Instead, we celebrate a beautiful girl who actually lived life. Yes, there have been myriads of people who have lived much longer lives than Erica but there have been few people who have lived fuller and deeper lives. Erica was not on the sideline watching life pass by. She grabbed life by the horns and lived it to the fullest! The fact is, there have been many people who have lived to see 100 and beyond who didn’t live half the life that Erica Faith Hagan did. Some people idly waste a long life. Erica, on the other hand, took a short life and made it found for ten lifetimes!
As I spent some time reading through Erica’s blog this week, it struck me why Erica wanted to write down her traveling experiences and then post them for the whole world to read, (or at least those privileged enough to know her.) Erica wanted to share her experiences with those she loved. In Spain, she wanted us to taste the difference between tapas in Sevilla and Tapas in the Granada. She wanted us to “remember that time she was in Paris” with her and have the Eiffel tower steal our breath away as it did hers. She wanted us to taste the coffee in Chile or even better, Irish coffee in Ireland. She wanted us to laugh at Dave who said, “I like that ring. What is it?” To which she replied, “A Ring.” That became the best laugh of the day.
She wanted us to ride the big boat with her to Africa, see the sunrise over the Mediterranean sea, and know the reason why all homes are blue in Morocco, (to keep the mosquitoes at bay during the summer, of course.) She wanted us to cross the bridge with her that showed Big Ben on one side and the London Eye on the other and she wanted us to know how hard it is to get your picture taken on Abbey Road along with all the other tourists also trying to be like the Beetles. Of course, she wanted us to spend our Sunday’s going to church with her in Chile, walking up the hill towards the market in the rain, and then wasting the afternoon away in conversation with the locals she so deeply loved.
After reading all of her marvelous blog posts, I got to wondering: What if Erica could write one more? One more blog post just for us today. What would she say? What would she want us to experience about her experience right now?
I am not going to pretend to know exactly what Erica would say or how I should say it. Because Erica had such a clever way with words, I don’t dare to mimic. But, I do know what the content of that post would be about – The love of her Savior, Jesus, who loved her until the end and who loves her forever more.
Jesus Christ was Erica’s Savior. In order to save her, Jesus, the eternal Son of God, left His throne in Heaven to be born in a stable as a human being just like Erica. Then, as a human being, Jesus did the one thing Erica could not do, live a perfect life free of sin before God the Father. You see, even though today we have all said beautiful things about Erica, what we have left off is the fact that Erica was a sinner who fell short of God’s glory. That is why Erica needed a Savior. That is why Erica needed Jesus.
Because of this, Jesus came and lived the life Erica could not and then He died the death she deserved because of her sins. Three days later, He rose from the grave and lives forevermore. Here is the good news! In His death, He defeated her death. In His resurrection, He purchased her resurrection. And since Erica’s trust in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, He saved her from her sins and reconciled her back to God forevermore.
Because of the good news of the gospel, Paul’s encouragement to the Church of Thessalonians becomes our encouragement as well:
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:13
Yes, we grieve and we will continue to grieve in the days, weeks, and years to come. But we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Instead, we grieve with hope: hope in the Gospel, hope that we who have trusted Christ will see Erica again, and we hope in the eternal Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.
By Erica’s own definition she was a wanderlust, always seeking somewhere new because here and now were never enough. There were simply too many pages of this world to read.
And now in this final blog post, I think Erica would admit to us that her wanderlust is over because she has finally found the place that quenches the longings of her soul and that place is in the presence of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In His presence, there is fullness of joy and at His right hand there are pleasures forevermore. Where just one day in His courts are better than a thousand days elsewhere.
In her final post from Heaven, Erica would want us all to know that she has reached her final destination. For now, she is home.
(This post was adapted from Erica’s memorial message preached on September 27th, 2014. To visit Erica’s blog visit http://neverforgetalwaystravel.blogspot.com)