Youth pastor drowns in Lake Michigan; firefighters injured in failed rescue attempt

A light tower sits in the distance in Muskegon, Michigan, in June 2015. | NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory

A 29-year-old youth pastor drowned in Lake Michigan on Sunday night after he and two others were swept off a pier at Pere Marquette Park in Muskegon. Failed rescue attempts led to injuries of several firefighters who were also swept off a pier. 

Lance “Chris” Jenkins, who served as youth pastor at Broadway Baptist Church, died. The two others survived. 

Jenkins is remembered as a man who “gave his heart to every one of the teens he worked with.”

According to a statement by a local firefighters union, Muskegon Fire Department rescue crews were dispatched around 10 p.m. and reported wind speeds of over 50 miles per hour and waves of 12 feet pummeling the pier.  

“The victim was observed in the rocks and rescue efforts were initiated. E24 made multiple attempts to reach the victim. During this attempt, a firefighter was swept off the pier,” the statement reads. “The injured crew member self-rescued and the team reorganized for a second attempt led by arriving mutual aid from Norton Shores Fire Department E421. E421s crew made valiant efforts to reach the victim, but they, too, sustained injuries after being swept off the pier twice.”

According to the Muskegon Professional Firefighters Union – IAFF Local 370, the second crew made it back to land safely but conditions prohibited further rescue attempts. Conditions also prevented the fire department from making a boat rescue. 

“Fire crews redeployed to provide land support to the U.S. Coast Guard as their rescue helicopter was arriving on the scene,” the union reports. “Due to the weather conditions, rescue by air was also found to be impossible. Yet another land rescue attempt was made by a crew of USCG and North Muskegon Fire Department members with support from MFD and NSFD. This crew of five was also swept into the water.” 

One firefighter from the crew of five was seriously injured and transported to a hospital for treatment. According to IAFF Local 370, eight rescuers were swept into the lake and nine sustained minor injuries. 

On Tuesday, authorities announced that Jenkins' body was recovered in the water near Muskegon State Park, according to NBC News affiliate WOODTV

According to his online obituary, Jenkins grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, and was led to Christ by his grandmother at the age of 6. Raised in the church, he went to study at The Crown College before returning to Florida to serve as a youth pastor at his home church, Harvest Baptist Church.

After serving there for three years, Jenkins moved to Kentucky to finish his education. He met his wife, Laura, while in Kentucky. The two got married in 2016. After graduating with a Bible and pastoral theology degree, Jenkins worked for a year in Iowa with his father-in-law who was a pastor. He later moved to Michigan to serve as an assistant pastor at Broadway Baptist Church. 

“Christopher dearly loved his Lord, wife, family, pastor, and church. He was a dedicated husband, loyal son, and protective big brother,” the obituary reads. “He gave his heart to every one of the teens he worked with. His dedication to bringing himself and others closer to the Lord was evident to all who knew him. He cared for his friends and encouraged them to always live their best for Christ.”

Jenkins’ death shocked the community at Broadway Baptist Church. Church member Jeff Cooke told MLive that the youth at the church “loved” Jenkins. 

“We were all just devastated,” Cooke was quoted as saying. “It’s just such a shock. He was just a great Christian."

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