Christian ministries major Kris Sledge '13 stepped out of his comfort zone while on a mission trip to Uganda after his freshman year. It nearly cost him his life, yet deepened his faith.
In 2010, Sledge convinced a few of his friends to stay an extra week abroad to immerse themselves in the culture of the East African country they'd been serving. On the evening of July 11, 2010, he and his friends went to a crowded outdoor café to watch a World Cup soccer game. Toward the end of the game's first half, they noticed a man walking back and forth in front of the screen. He seemed agitated. Sledge's friend invited the man to take an empty seat at their table.
"Little did we know that we had invited a terrorist to sit with us that evening," he said.
The man was wearing a suicide vest of explosives. Minutes later, the vest detonated, killing the bomber and 75 others, including three of Sledge's Ugandan friends. Sledge suffered a severely broken leg, an orbital fracture and a temporary loss of hearing.
It took 10 surgeries, six months of rehab and extensive therapy for the young pastor to recover physically, mentally and emotionally. But Sledge says in the chaos of that horrific crime, one simple expression of faith at the bombing site rose above the din and rooted him to the truth he still believed to be true.
"Two of my team members were there, and I remember one of them looked at me and said "Kris, sing us a song." I remember telling her, "Pam, I can't." And then her 14-year-old son began to sing 'Jesus Loves Me This I Know.' So we were sitting there singing 'Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so,'" he recalls. "In that moment, it gave us peace, because we didn't know what was going on. It took 12 hours before I really knew what had happened."
In the months afterward, as Sledge grappled with survivor guilt and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, he was led to a Bible verse that helped him make sense of where God is in such times of inexplicable suffering.
"Romans 8:31: 'What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?' It gave me hope, but also a lens to look at other incidents that happen in the world today," said Sledge, who credits the support of his peers and professors at Messiah for his ability to recover as quickly as he did. "There is evil in this world; from the beauty of free will, there's pain and difficulty. And I was a part of that that night."
Sledge, now a pastor at State Line Methodist Church in State Line, Pennsylvania, says he now understands, perhaps better than most, that safety in this life is not guaranteed. Yet his Messiah experience left him convicted that Christ is with us and acts through us for the good of people everywhere.
"I am convinced that God is active in all places, including the worst moments," Sledge said. "I saw God so much clearer in the worst moment of my life."
- Robyn Passante