CIY youth conference staffer killed in van crash: 'One of the saddest moments in our history'

Children attend a youth ministry event hosted by the national organization Christ in Youth.
Children attend a youth ministry event hosted by the national organization Christ in Youth. | (Photo: CIY)

A staffer for one of the nation’s leading youth ministry conference organizations died last month when a van carrying five employees of the organization was rear-ended by an 18-wheeler in Kentucky.

Christ in Youth staffer Jace Smothers, a 19-year-old youth ministry major who just completed his freshman year at Ozark Christian College in Missouri, was killed as a result of the June 28 multi-vehicle crash on I-24 near Paducah, Kentucky, according to local media reports. 

Clarksville Now reports that Smothers was helping to lead a Christ in Youth trip at the time the accident occurred. 

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Christ in Youth, which has been around since 1968, partners with churches nationwide to put on events for pre-teens, middle school and high school students. 

In a statement, Christ in Youth said Smothers’ passing marked one of the “saddest days” in the organization’s history and stated that Smothers “exemplified every good quality of a Kingdom worker and he will be missed by many.”

“While serving as a CIY summer Event Staff member, Jace made a profound impact on everyone he came in contact with,” the ministry stated. “Our entire team is heartbroken and have prayed constantly since we heard the news.”

Four other CIY event staffers were in the van and taken to regional hospitals to be treated for injuries. 

According to Ozark Christian College President Matt Procter, another Ozark student, Brandon Musselman, was also in the van working as an event staffer. Musselman, along with CIY staffers Katie Danhour, Andie Montgomery and Tyler Conway, are said to be recovering from injuries. 

As many as 12 vehicles were reportedly involved in the accident. Clarksville Now reports that the semi-truck collided with the church van, causing a chain of wrecks that left multiple injuries. 

Smothers was reportedly pronounced dead on the scene and as many as 13 people were transferred to local hospitals. 

“Please pray for Jace’s parents Terry and Sharon Smothers and the entire family,” Proctor said in a statement released by the school. “Of course, there are many others grieving: Jace’s home church in Norton, Kansas, Jace’s roommate Sam Kiefer and his dorm brothers in Strong [Hall], his CIY teammates, and the young people he served at Young Life.”

Proctor also called for the Ozark community to lift up the truck driver in prayer. 

“Psalm 34:18 promises that ‘the Lord is near to the brokenhearted,’ so ask God to make his presence known to all these folks as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” Proctor stated.

Smothers was an event staffer for CIY’s “Move” programming, which are five-day youth conferences for high school students. 

“CIY leadership will continue to be in constant communication with the families of the team members who were involved in the accident, including Jace’s,” CIY said. “A small group of CIY’s executive team has already been to both hospitals to meet with the families.”

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