Today Andy and Nikki Bray, directors of FamilyLife New Zealand, talk candidly to Dennis Rainey about the tragic flash flood that took the life of the their oldest daughter, Natasha, at the age of 16.
Today Andy and Nikki Bray, directors of FamilyLife New Zealand, talk candidly to Dennis Rainey about the tragic flash flood that took the life of the their oldest daughter, Natasha, at the age of 16.
Bob: For a number of years now, Andy and Nikki Bray have given leadership to FamilyLife’s ministry in New Zealand. In April of 2008 their marriage and their trust in God was put to the test when their daughter, Natasha was among a group of school students who died in a terrible flood.
Newscaster: Six students and a teacher from the Elim Christian College in Auckland died when they were swept down a rugged bush gorge in a flooded stream. Search and rescue staff and police battled rugged terrain to recover bodies following the tragedy.
Account given: I understand they were on a shelf which is above the water level. They had to make a quick decision. They made a decision to jump from the shelf into the water. It is at that stage when the group got taken away rapidly and seven lives were lost.
Rescue Worker: The first person we came across was Natasha.
Nikki: My heart goes out to people who don’t have a strong marriage to get through something like this.
Andy: There was some tension in our marriage because of the way we handled the situation differently. For example, Nikki wanted to talk about Natasha all the time, every single moment of the day.
Nikki: I would get frustrated because all Andy wanted to do was if the media came knocking and they wanted to hear about her, Andy would give them everything; and he would write about her and be writing his articles. I wanted that more privately but Andy wanted the world to know so we were handling it very, very differently. Again, it is one of those times when we really had to ask the Lord to give us His grace to extend to one another because we were finding it hard.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, January 26th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey; and I am Bob Lepine. Andy and Nikki Bray have had to learn how to lean on the grace of God in a number of settings over the last several months. They will talk about it with us today.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. We are going to hear an account today of a dark chapter from a couple’s life. You know, in the midst of those dark chapters, one of the things that sustains us is our relationship with Christ, who “walks through the valley of the shadow” with us. We have been encouraging listeners all this month, Dennis, to spend time together in God’s Word during 2010.
In fact, we have been beginning our programs here in January by pointing to a particular passage. We have been going through your book, Moments With You, the devotional guide you wrote for couples because each of those devotions begins with a Scripture. What is the Scripture for the 26th of January?
Dennis: It is the last verse in the Old Testament—Malachi4:6. It reads, “And He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”
This is really all about the relationship of a father and his children. When Jesus Christ invades our lives as dads, we have to become attractive to our children and be, may I say it, almost god-like to them where they are getting a picture of what God is like because of how you love them, how you care for them, how you discipline them. I think what a couple can do after reading this verse is talk about, “As a father, how are you doing?” On a one-to-ten-point scale, how do you feel you are doing in being a daddy?
Bob: And what score would your kids give you on that scale?
Dennis: That is what I was also going to advise is maybe if you are at the dinner table with them, could you dare ask them on a one-to-ten-point scale, “How is Daddy doing?” That might be too tough for a daddy, but I think the question is worth asking. It was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I think as dads we really need to come back to Scripture and evaluate, “Is my heart connected to my sons, to my daughters? Am I living out a Christ-like love and forgiveness in relationship with each of my children?”
Bob: Again, our hope is that you will be spending time together in God’s Word throughout 2010. If we can help you do that by sending you an email, the Moments With You devotionals are available via email; or if you would like to get a copy of the book, go to our website FamilyLifeToday.com. Keep this habit going in your marriage and in your family throughout the year. I think you will find that that daily diet of spending time together in God’s Word will pay dividends in your life.
In fact, the couple we are going to meet today is a couple who had to lean on their confidence in God and their rootedness in their Christian faith to get through a tragedy that struck their family back in April of 2008 when their daughter, Natasha, was along with a group of her schoolmates, caught up in a flood in New Zealand that ultimately took her life and took their lives.
Dennis: Yes. In fact, Bob, on the day that news occurred, I happened to have gotten up a bit early that morning—it was about four o’clock. I saw an email from my friends, Andy and Nikki Bray, in New Zealand. Andy and Nikki give leadership to FamilyLife there and have for a number of years.
The email was asking for prayer. It basically said, “Dennis, there has been a tragic accident. We fear for our daughter. Please pray.” I immediately prayed and sent an email back to Andy. Through the miracle of the internet, here I was in Little Rock, Arkansas, chatting back and forth with a dad who was about to enter into a journey that has to be a parent’s worst nightmare.
We wanted our listeners to hear this story and to hear the heart of how God worked in the lives of not only in a pair of parents, but in a family, and in a nation because of what took place there. So we asked Andy and Nikki Bray to join us. They are listening in right now from New Zealand. Andy, Nikki, welcome to the broadcast.
Andy: Hi Dennis; hi Bob.
Nikki: Hi Dennis.
Bob: Great to be with you guys today. I think back to when Dennis shared the news with the whole staff, and we were all praying for you guys. Take us back to the beginning of this account. Your daughter had gone with schoolmates for a, this was like a camping trip that they were all going on together, is that right?
Andy: Each summer the Year-12 children from this particular school go off on an adventure trip to a place called the Outdoor Pursuit Center which is down in the middle of the north island. It is a mountainous area—lots of beautiful rivers. It is a lovely part of the country down there. The weekend of their going away, was just a tremendous terrible storm warning right around the country.
It was with bated breath that we sent them off. We remember having various conversations with Natasha before she left about the weather. We were all aware of bad the weather was. In fact, it was raining so hard on our ceiling of our roof that we could hardly hear ourselves in our own home. So that is how bad it was. We knew the weather was bad; but we sent these children off into the capable hands of the professionals, the outdoor instructors, believing that they would be safe.
We got the news very late in the night. Actually, we heard it first on the TV news that some Elim college students were missing on a river. We just thought they had been hiking and maybe had just lost their way and were resting on the side of the river, and searchers were trying to find them.
But this wasn’t to be the case. Apparently an instructor had actually taken them into a river in this terrible weather, and a huge flood of water had come down and just washed them away to their death, all seven of these children. We heard that eventually, actually we heard it on the internet first, can you believe it, rather than from the police or anything like that, we heard this news that we did not want to hear. Eventually when the policeman did come to our door and knock to confirm it, there was a terrible moment that is still etched in our memories, of course.
Bob: So what you heard on the internet and then on the television, that the accident had happened and that seven students had lost their lives in this flood?
Nikki: It was all very crazy. You know the media hears things, and it all comes out in different bits. Some things are true and some things are not true. Everyone was scrambling around trying to find out what had actually happened.
So yes, we heard that some students had been lost. We didn’t know it was our school. Then piece by piece, hour by hour, we found out it was our school. We were in discussion with the principal at the time. We didn’t know who particularly, there were 40 children who had gone down. We didn’t know which particular group it was, and then the principal told us, “Yes, it was our daughter’s group. Yes, our daughter was one of the missing because four of them did get out alive.”
Then, of course, we were hoping beyond anything. Then on the news, of course, we heard three deaths, and then we heard five deaths, and then it got to the stage where we didn’t know who they were that had died. There were still two who were missing for a long time. Then, of course, when the policeman came to our door, we knew, of course, Natasha was not one of them alive. We found out that actually none of them were alive. That was the worst nightmare that we have ever, ever lived through.
Dennis: You have three children. Natasha was your oldest daughter. Share with our listeners a little about her. I know all of your children are special to you; but she was “the apple of your eye” wasn’t she, Andy?
Andy: Yes, she certainly was! I’m sorry. There is something about the first I guess. They are born with leadership. She had an incredible love for God. As a dad, I just was so intrigued by her amazing faith that I had actually never seen in anyone before. She so wanted to dedicate her life to wanting to please the Lord in every single way that she lived her life. She was an example to me. I was just intrigued to see how this faith was going to play itself as she grew up and became an adult.
Bob: Andy, when news like this comes, I tend to be an optimist and think, “Things will work out. They will find the kids. Everything will be okay.”
Andy: That is exactly right. Yes. I had everybody in the lounge with me, standing in a circle. There was still one person who hadn’t been found, and I knew that had been Natasha. She will be fine; she will be the one who made it through. Let’s pray that it is going to be her. So we had everybody in the lounge praying that Natasha would come through this. Of course, that wasn’t to be.
Bob: Nikki, let me ask you. How did you as a mom help your kids process the loss of their sister, and how did you help them deal with faith in the middle of that?
Nikki: That is a very good question. I think helping them to deal with it is tremendous. They watched us go through incredible agony and incredible grief. I remember Olivia saying to me on my birthday, which was a couple of months later—we give speeches to honor the birthday person when it is their birthday—and she was speaking to me. She said to me, “When Natasha died,” she said, “I just thought you would give up on life, and you would give up on us, and that we would never have our mother back again. But I just want to thank you for not doing that and for trusting God for the outcome of all of this.”
Dennis: Nikki, in the book that Andy has written, he shares a letter that your son Ben wrote about his sister’s death. I’m just wondering if you wouldn’t mind sharing that letter with our listeners.
Nikki: Sure. He says, “I lay my tender red face down onto the seeping-wet pillow, waiting, wondering in a mental cloud of darkness, peering at the clock reading, “16 April, 2:47 AM.” I silently begged God to spare an older sister and also an amazing friend. Cries in the lounge made me spring to my feet. I steadily opened the door as light from the lounge crept into the somber room. Through the diminutive space, I wearily gazed across the lounge to see a mournful police officer, grasping a police hat in his shaky hand, surrounded by tearful, blood-shot eyes. Just at a slight glance, I knew. Suddenly I felt light-headed and confused. I felt like I was going to faint or completely lose it and pulverize everything in sight, but all I could do was flee, hide, and cry. Lying in bed, unable to sleep, I concealed myself in the covers, praying that this mournful night was just a horrible dream.”
Dennis: You know, at that point you do wish you could wake up and discover it truly was a dream that hadn’t happened; but it did. A couple of days after the event, I gave Andy a call to ask him how he was feeling and what was going on in his life. Andy and Nikki, I know you probably haven’t heard this, but we actually recorded that phone call. I would like to play it right now just to be reminded of what you were feeling and experiencing there less than two days after Natasha’s death.
(Recorded phone conversation.)
Andy: “We saw it on the news, you see, that some school children had been lost on a river. It was all we knew, seven kids lost on a river.”
Dennis: “Oh, I am so sorry.”
Andy: “Yes. Amazingly enough God has kept us really strong. We hurt all over inside, but we don’t have too many questions. We have talked about the whole side of faith; and I said, ‘If we really believe this, honey, we know that she is a much better place and we don’t need to know the reasons why. If we are living our faith, we ultimately want to be with Jesus.’ Well, that is what happened. She is where she always wanted to be—in worship. In worship—she always wanted to be every day of her life, she would sing those songs. Ultimately our greatest wish has come true, really.”
(Broadcast conversation resumed)
Bob: You know, Andy, listening back to that, you had the opportunity in the days following Natasha’s death to give testimony of your faith in God in a number of different settings, both of you did. The nation of New Zealand was fixed on this story. They got to hear you guys talking about “jumping in puddles.”
Nikki: The night before they left to go down to OPC--as Andy said before, it was raging a storm—I said, “How will you feel, honey, if it is rains the whole time you are there?” because they had been looking forward to this for so long. She said, “Oh, Mum, Portia and I have come up with a little saying. ‘We are going to jump in puddles,’ meaning that even if it gets really bad, we are going to make the most of whatever comes our way.” That was kind of how she epitomized life, and that is how we have endeavored to face the days ahead without her.
But going back to what you said about Andy and addressing the media, so many people have said to us afterwards, Christians and non-Christians, how the country really did stop and take a look at the Lord that we worshipped. They wanted to know how a bunch of Christians were going to deal with this. They really got to see a glimpse of true faith, I think, in action. Murray Burton, the principal, did just a fantastic job. Andy represented the parents really well. I remember one of the media reporters saying, “I don’t know whatever it is they are drinking; but whatever it is, I want a sip of it.” (Laughter) That is kind of the attitude of everybody. They really took the Lord seriously.
Dennis: One thing we haven’t talked about here is how her death has impacted your marriage.
Andy: Yes. We are really a strong couple. We have got an amazing marriage. I think maybe because of FamilyLife, because of their commitment to marriage. There has never been any doubt about our marriage being strong throughout all of this, but we did handle it differently.
I remember in the early days, soon after the tragedy, there was some tension in our marriage because of the way we handled the situation differently. For example, Nikki wanted to talk about Natasha all the time, every single moment of the day. You know, the hat that Olivia was wearing was Natasha’s hat. “That is where Natasha used to go in the park.” Every little bit of conversation that Nikki had was all about Natasha. That is how she processed it; that is just the way that she handled it.
Whereas, for me, I would rather pull away, be more reflective, and sit alone. So it was just a different way we handled it. There was tension around those areas because I would get sick of Nikki constantly talking about Natasha when I wasn’t really strong enough to handle that.
Nikki: I would get frustrated because all Andy wanted to do was if the media came knocking and they wanted to hear about her, Andy would give them everything; and he would write about her and be writing all these articles. I wanted that more private but Andy wanted the world to know so we were handling it very, very differently. Again, it is one of those times when we really had to ask the Lord to give us His grace to extend to one another because we were finding it hard.
Bob: You know, in the opening night of the Weekend to Remember conference, we talk about the inevitable trials and difficulties that couples are going to face in a marriage relationship. We may not all face the trial and the difficulty that you guys faced in the loss of a daughter, but the reality is there are going to be moments in a marriage, there are going to be times in a life, when trial comes and the question is, “Does that press you towards isolation or does it press you toward oneness?” If you are going to go toward oneness, you have to be purposeful, you have to be intentional, and you have to walk in faith. I think you guys have demonstrated that in the midst of this situation.
Andy: We have also seen the Weekend to Remember®, the FamilyLife conference, really come to the fore as a result of this tragedy too because the impact on some of those other couples, the other families that lost loved ones, on their marriages has been intense. We have seen some of the other marriages just fray at the edges of it. We have had to be in there and, in fact, offered them all a free conference. A number of them have attended, haven’t they, darling?
Andy: Just seeing that Weekend to Remember®, that FamilyLife conference, strengthen those couples that have been going through this crisis with us. It is an extraordinary weekend of just building couples up and strengthening them, re-motivating them, I guess, inspiring them to hang on, no matter what.
Dennis: You know, as I listen to your story again, I just have to say to both of you, Andy and Nikki, what a remarkable pair of Christ-followers you guys are. I know your book, Treasures in the Darkness is really written after Isaiah 45:3. It really exemplifies your lives here. I want to read this verse. It says, “And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness, secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the One who calls you by name.”
I just want to thank you guys for being “finishers of your faith,” and not merely just processing your trust in God for your own lives but being willing to be used throughout New Zealand, and really other countries as well. And now here in the United States as a great model of a couple who are building their house on the Rock and not on the sand. I love you guys. I am proud of you and count it a privilege to be in the spiritual battle for the family with you. I pray for God’s favor on you.
Andy: Thank you, Dennis.
Nikki: Thank you so much.
Andy: You know, I think what those treasures are, Dennis as we close is, I think they are the experiences that God gives us as we travel the journey with Him. It is those little experiencing God along the way which are becoming the treasures in our lives. They may not be the things we necessarily want; but as we look back, we realize what a treasure they really are.
Bob: Dennis, I know that you and Barbara have recommended to a lot of people Gerry Sittser’s book, A Grace Disguised, that God used in your own lives when your granddaughter Molly was born and lived for seven days. That may be a book that our listeners want to get a hold of if they have been through the kind of tragedy that Andy and Nikki have gone through in the loss of their daughter Natasha.
We have that book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. It is a great book to pass along to someone you know who has been through any kind of personal grief or loss. Again, it is called A Grace Disguised. There is more information about the book on our website, FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call for more information at 1-800-358-6329. That is 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word TODAY. We can let you know how we can get a copy of that book sent to you.
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I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team for all their work on today’s program. Thanks to our guests, Andy and Nikki Bray. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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