The year is 2011. At the time, the senior class is about 13-years-old. They are beginning seventh grade, looking forward to a new year in secondary school with high school being right around the corner.
Only a few months into the year, one of the students gets an injury, and while visiting the doctor, finds out he has far more than a minor injury- he has cancer.
The student is Ethan Tepera, a fromer member of the Grace Prep Class of 2017.
Ethan was active in his community. People knew and loved him.When they found out about the diagnosis they were all heartbroken…everyone.
Senior Maggie Bullington recounts the day she heard his diagnosis saying, “When we found out that morning he had Leukemia, and we had to go to class, everyone was crying.”
GPA Classmates did not stand by and do nothing. They visited him when possible, wrote him notes, helped his family, prayed diligently, and even helped to organize a bone marrow drive for him which drew in hundreds of people, even complete strangers!
He went through five bouts of chemotherapy, two bone marrow transplants, and quarantines- so much at such a young age! But Ethan did not go through it alone. He had family, friends, and his community here.
“Ethan has a great sense of humor, and I remember fun times with him as he went through treatments, like playing video games with him [laughing],” said Senior Jay Sedwick. “He’d say, ‘But Jay, I have cancer,’ and use it as his trump card for me to go easy on him.”
Today, Ethan is alive and well!
“Yeah,” said Maggie, “I saw him last week at Prom!”
He survived cancer, and everyone who knows him is overjoyed that he did. Ethan no longer goes to Grace Prep, as his family moved to Brock, TX, but he will forever have a home here, and will always be an honorary member of the class of 2017.
Of course, what happened to Ethan was devastating, but good came out of it.
“It matured us,” said Bullington. “We are a more tight-knit class because we walked through this together. It made my faith stronger and more solidified in Junior high.”
Maggie continued saying,“Ethan started taking a new medicine that gave him night terrors, so as a class, we asked people to pray around the clock for him, so he could sleep. I remember my mom waking me up at 3am to pray for him. One night, when I slept perfectly through the night and no one woke me to pray, he never had a night terror again. It must have been God giving me peace. As young as we were, that so stood out to me, proving God is real.”
This was not the only tragedy the senior class went through together. In fact, due to the great number of tragedies their class has been through, Maggie says they are often called the “Job Class”.
Death of parents, fire, floods, and numerous other accidents have touched their lives in different ways. Each incident making the Class of 2017 stronger and wiser.
The boys in the class of 2017 began a Bible study in response to Ethan’s fight for life.
“We started the Bible Study because we were mentored by Coach Josh Proctor and he challenged us to be more outgoing with our faith, to grow our faith and to help other people grow in their faith,” said Senior James Walsh. “We continue those studies every summer with about 30-35 seniors coming, and we use it as a tool to reach out to newcomers to Grace also. We plan to continue it this summer for the last time.”
Other classes took notice and planned similar gatherings.
Most students here know, or know of Lance Smith. Lance has always been a key component of the class of 2017. However, his family was called to move to Oklahoma his Sophomore year. His class was heartbroken to see him go.
“Lance is hard to describe: He is a character! He’s the one that puts himself out there on a regular basis, even at Grace Prep events despite the fact that he lives in Oklahoma,” said Sedwick.
Smith’s loyalty to his teams and GPA family is evident. The Oklahoma border doesn’t stop him from coming to support his friends here.
“Lance has always been one of my best friends, and even though he lives in Oklahoma, he has flown, driven and even taken a train to get here to watch us play football or just to hang out- only a brother would do that,” said Walsh.
Some may have seen him at the state football game this year, wearing a Santa Claus suit, cheering his lungs out in the GPA student section.
“At one game this year, I saw him walking around on the football field – no one was supposed to be on the field but the players-Yet, there he was! Only Lance,” said Sedwick. “It just cracked me up!”
Lance has maintained his friendships and stayed close with the Grace Prep community. So you can imagine the pain felt when on October 28, 2015, Lance was involved in a life threatening car crash and was thrust instantly into a coma.
Lance’s pain was widespread: everyone felt it, everyone was devastated.
“At first, I wasn’t aware of how serious it was,” said Sedwick. “I remember telling my mom this really stinks because I really want to talk about this, but the person I want to talk about it with… is Lance.”
The whole school felt more somber. Yet in the midst of it all, the class chose to unite-to come together with their grief and join in prayer.
“He could not speak, swallow, breathe on his own, hold his head up, sit up, or control his limbs,” said Wendy Smith of her 17-year-old son, Lance, “Over the next 3-4 months, he did therapy 3-6 hours a day, and slowly regained most of those skills. It took another ten months to refine them and he is still working on some things.”
Despite how devastating these conditions may sound, Lance’s recovery has actually been far faster than doctors predicted.
According to James, Lance is even driving again now, and has worked all year to catch up academically and graduate on time.
“Lance has taught me to never give up no matter what. He was told he may never walk, drive or run again, but in less than a year, he was walking, driving and running,” said James.
Tables were turned when Ethan’s mom, Melissa Tepera returned index cards which Wendy Smith had posted in Ethan’s hospital room. The cards contained scriptures to pray over Ethan during his illness. Now, years later Lance’s mom used them to do the same.
“I kept Ethan’s cards by Lance’s bed,” said Wendy. “Each night when everyone would leave, I would stand by his bed and read the scriptures over him inserting his name where I had written Ethan’s. It was a holy time and critical in making it through each day.”
The support displayed through something even as simple as note cards with Bible verses on them, meant so much. Especially in such difficult times.
It took Lance months to recover and to regain his former abilities. Many times, GPA seniors drove to Oklahoma to visit him, or visited him locally when he transferred to a rehab center here. It was a difficult time for everyone. Yet through it all, he and those around him chose nothing but gratitude.
Jay testifies to this. “When I asked Lance, ‘What are you thinking about what happened?’ He responded saying, ‘I feel lucky, I feel like God has saved me for a reason- to do something.’”
Ethan and Lance’s situations were not the only tragedies the class of 2017 walked through- there was many more.
I could write much more telling you about them, but truly that is not the point of this article- to simply speak about pain- but rather to explain what the pain did. How it united, the class of 2017.
The class which like Job, is a faithful follower of the Lord. They did not lose hope- did not stop praising God’s name, even through the pain.