Garrett Coble did not have a single mission in life. He had many.
Those missions took the former ORU marketing professor all over the world to places like Russia, Panama, South Africa, Mexico, Guatemala, South Korea, Thailand and many times to Peru.
Those adventures ended May 11, 2012, just as they had begun in 1999 – with Teen Mania, the global ministry dedicated to reaching teens for Christ.
Coble, 29, died with three friends aboard a plane that crashed in Kansas while en route to an Acquire the Fire youth rally in Iowa. The lone survivor was Hannah Luce, the daughter of Teen Mania founder Ron Luce.
On Thursday, Ron Luce spoke at a memorial service for Coble inside Christ’s Chapel at ORU. More than 1,000 people gathered to remember a life well lived.
“They were on their way to rescue a generation,” Ron Luce said of the five passengers on that plane. He called Coble the “quintessential” soldier in that battle for souls.
“I couldn’t script it any better,” Luce said, citing Coble’s vision and passion for missions.
Luce shared how he had just gone to dinner with Coble one week earlier near Teen Mania’s office near Tyler, Texas. That’s part of what has made Coble’s death so difficult to understand.
“I have wrestled the last several days,” Luce said, recalling the phone call he received May 11 from a passer-by in rural Kansas who stumbled upon the crash site.
The woman on the phone told Luce his daughter Hannah was OK and that she was with Austin Anderson, who had survived the crash initially and helped rescue Hannah.
“Where’s everybody else?” Luce asked the stranger on the phone.
Luce said the woman didn’t know about anyone else, not realizing three others perished amid the wreckage when it caught fire after an emergency landing in a field and wooded area near Chanute, Kan.
“I’m not understanding any of this,” he remembered thinking, demanding to speak to someone in charge of the investigation.
Luce said he fully expected all five of the passengers to walk away from the crash alive.
Coble died in the crash alongside the pilot, Luke Sheets; and Sheets’ roommate, Stephen Luth. Anderson, who Luce described as Coble’s best friend, died 12 hours later, having suffered burns over 90 percent of his body.
All five passengers had ties to ORU. Sheets, Luth and Anderson had graduated a week earlier, on May 5. Coble took six classes at ORU in the summer and fall of 2002 while pursuing an undergraduate degree. Coble later returned to teach marketing at ORU in 2010-11. That’s where he had met the others, including Hannah Luce. She and the three others knew Coble as their marketing instructor.
Anderson and Luth had just been hired in marketing roles at Teen Mania, and Coble had been instrumental in introducing them to Teen Mania. On May 11, they were flying to Council Bluffs, Iowa, to attend the last Acquire the Fire youth rally of the 2011-12 school year.
Hannah Luce survived the crash but suffered burns to more than 20 percent of her body. She remains in a Kansas City hospital, where she is undergoing skin grafts to heal the burns on her hands and legs. Anderson’s funeral was held Wednesday in Enid, Okla., a few miles east of his hometown of Ringwood. Luth’s memorial service was scheduled Thursday in Muscatine, Iowa, and Sheets’ funeral was set for Saturday in Wisconsin, where he had learned to fly.
Ron Luce spoke at Anderson’s funeral and planned to be at the services for Luth and Sheets, along with ORU President Mark Rutland and ORU Board of Trustees Chairman Mart Green. On Thursday, Luce said the five young adults on that plane were “in pursuit of the destiny of God on their lives.”
He said that in wrestling with the question of why this happened he was drawn to one of Coble’s favorite quotes by slain missionary Jim Elliot: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Elliott died along with four other missionaries in 1956 at the hands of the Waodani people of Ecuador, who Elliott and his friends were trying to reach with the Gospel. His life story was recorded in “Through Gates of Splendor,” written by his widow,” and that missionary story was captured on film in the 2006 motion picture “End of the Spear,” produced by Green’s EthnoGraphic Media company.
Luce said that amid last weekend’s tragedies he prayed, “Lord, there better be a Jim Elliott miracle in the middle of all of this.”
Earlier at Thursday’s memorial service, Dr. Steve Greene, dean of ORU’s College of Business, eulogized Coble by saying, “Today we celebrate what we cannot lose – his memory.”
Greene celebrated Coble’s life as one full of passion, fun and scholarship.
Coble graduated as valedictorian at the high school in Henryetta, Okla., where his parents live along with two brothers. Coble’s third brother and a sister live in Tulsa. Coble attended school at Tulsa Community College, Oral Roberts University, the University of Lima in Peru, the University of Colima in Mexico and Oklahoma State University. He had finished studies on his doctorate and was just a few months from completing his dissertation on immigration when he died.
He also was engaged to be married to ORU student Rachel Fouts of Shreveport, La.
Coble taught marketing classes at OSU, ORU and this past school year at the Broken Arrow campus of Northeastern State University. He loved rooting for the OSU football team and hunting wildlife – from spear fishing in Oklahoma to caribou in the Arctic Circle and monkeys in the jungles of Peru.
One of his greatest passions was the El Nino Emanuel orphanage in Peru. The extended Coble family, who filled more than 70 seats at Thursday’s memorial service, has designated the orphanage as the place for memorial contributions to be made.
Greene shared how Coble himself had penned these words before he died: “I don’t want to save the world. I want to help children every day of my life.”
Ron Luce used that as a rallying cry for others in closing out his remarks at the memorial service.
“Today we have a fallen soldier,” he said. “My question to all of us: Who will rise to take his place?”