Tributes have been flooding in for a Texas pastor who died whilst trying to save a fellow church leader from drowning. The incident took place on Christmas day in the Central American country of Costa Rica, where Pastor Kelly Clarke was working as a missionary.
Pastor Carke’s congregation, New Covenant Church in Tyler, Texas, issued a statement on Facebook two days after Kelly’s death:
“Unfortunately, I need to share some very difficult information with you. Christmas afternoon Tracy Clarke called to let us know that Kelly had died in a tragic accident in Costa Rica.
Kelly drowned in the process of saving someone else. In talking with Tracy there was an amazing evidence of God’s grace and strength carrying her in the midst of this crisis. For now please be diligent in praying for her and the children as they make arrangements to get home and plan for Kelly’s funeral.”
The youth pastor had moved to Costa Rica to serve local tribes and bring people to Christ. He had been swimming with his family and the family of another church leader, Pastor Manuel. When Manuel got caught in a riptide with his son, Kelly rushed to help him. Manuel and his son managed to escape unharmed, but sadly Pastor Clarke never made it back to the shore.
The last Facebook post from Pastor Clarke was on Christmas Eve and read:
“First Christmas Eve in Costa Rica and first one ever away from my mom and family. It was good but different. Miss you mom! Spent the night celebrating with Pastor Manuel and the family.”
“Please pray for my family, my little brother Kelly Clarke died today saving a person drowning,” Clarke’s sister Kerry Drinkard posted to Facebook. “He is a true Hero in my eyes and my heart!!!! Love you little brother for all the memories and all the good work you where doing for God in Costa Rica!!!!!! I will dearly miss you Love you with all my heart!!!!!!”
“It’s shocking to hear what happened, it’s not shocking to hear that Kelly did that, to sacrifice himself to help someone else,” Sam Fisher, New Covenant Church pastor, said, as reported by KXAN.
“That was my brother, I mean he would give his life if that meant saving another,” Tammy Beard, his sister, said. “He loved the Lord and wanted to be the hands and feet of Jesus.”
“Even when he was a teenager, he would say mom, one day I’m gonna be a pastor. And he became a pastor,” his mother said. “We had the opportunity to go out in the rainforest and jungle areas to do ministry together there, which was just a real strong part of his heart.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up to fly Kelly Clarke’s body back to the United States. The $15,000 goal has already been exceeded, hitting almost $20,000 in less than ten days.
The page reads:
“Our Beloved Kelly Clarke went home to be with the Lord Christmas Day. He and his family were in Costa Rica doing missionary work sharing the love of Christ to the tribes. He passed away saving the life of another christian. Your help and support to bring the family home for burial services will be greatly appreciated. May God bless each and every one of you!”
Pastor Kelly’s church issued another statement on his death, paying tribute to an “incredible husband, father, youth pastor and man of God.”
Losing Pastor Kelly has been hard on everyone. He was incredibly loved and appreciated by everyone he came in contact…
Despite the obvious dangers, Clarke’s family friends describe a man who constantly put others before himself, and in the end, that heroism cost him his life.
“He would have had to know what he was getting himself into when he went into the water because if it was sweeping other people under and he saw them struggling you know, he would have known it would have been a struggle going in there, but he still went after those people,” said Hannah Bower, a close family friend.
“A very great husband, a wonderful father, and a fantastic brother,” added brother Kerry Drinkard. “To me, he’s a true hero.”
People donating to the GoFundMe campaign have been posting their own messages of support and condolence.
“Thank you Kelly for your selfless and courageous action to save others. Some gave all, and you were one of them. ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,'” one person wrote.
“Now with our Maker and King, may God bless those who remain with the comfort and peace knowing that you will see him again,” another added.
A further update on the campaign page detailed that it was becoming impossible to get Kelly’s body back to the US:
“To all friends and family. We have unfortunately gotten the final word that our beloved Kelly will not be coming home whole. The government of Costa Rica basically is making it so difficult to do this that the family has decided that the best thing for all is cremation. This is not what we wanted but we know our God is great and will give us the grace needed to get through this.
With that, all funds will still be given to Tracey to use as she needs to get back on her feet and to take care of Ariel, Ashley, and Aiden.
Your support is greatly appreciated and we will continue to pray that God blesses each one for your sacrifice in giving and your loving prayers.