Roughly one week ago, Christine Larsen set up a website to raise funds for the family of Taylor Ward, a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who recently died from injuries he sustained in a car accident in Bingham County, Idaho.
Larsen, who attends church with the Ward family in Vacaville, Calif., and considers them to be close friends, said she was hoping to raise a few hundred dollars to help them with funeral expenses. But she had no idea how many “angels” would come forward to offer their love and support to the family at this difficult time.
As of Tuesday evening, people had donated more than $15,500 to help the family, and numerous others had left messages of support on the site, www.gofundme.com/46w1ro, called “Elder Taylor Ward — A Great Missionary.”
“It’s so touching to me,” Larsen said, adding that she’s been amazed by the love people have shown. “(Many who) don’t know the family and are not of our faith are supporting Taylor.”
Ward’s parents, Trevor and Deidre, brother, Brandon, and sister, Krista, have also been amazed by the support.
“We are overwhelmed by the love we have received that extends from the US, Canada, UK, Mongolia and Taiwan; the support has been worldwide. There are simply no words to express our heartfelt appreciation for the sympathy each one of you have extended towards our family. Each day that passes is difficult but through your prayers and compassion it has given us strength,” the Ward family said in an email submitted to the Idaho State Journal. “We especially want to thank the people of Pocatello, Idaho, and Blackfoot, Idaho. They are simply the nicest people you will ever meet. We appreciate their tremendous kindness and we are filled with the love our son felt on his mission for the wonderful people he served.”
Nineteen-year-old Ward, who began serving his mission in the Pocatello area in July, died on Friday, just three days after the accident occurred. Idaho State Police said fellow missionary John Floyd, 20, of North Carolina, was driving a Chevrolet Cruze when he failed to yield at the intersection of State Highway 39 and 100 South in Bingham County. The vehicle was subsequently struck by a Ford F350, driven by Blackfoot resident Joshua Morris, 23.
The Ward family said they wish to offer their support to those young men who have also been impacted by this tragedy.
“Our family’s prayers are with Elder John Floyd and Joshua Morris and their families at this time. We want them to know how much we love them,” they said in the email, adding that they believe they will be able to be with their son and brother again one day.
Ward was placed on life support before he died, and his family chose to donate his organs.
“With the donations of Taylor’s organs, we know that he will live on. It brings us peace knowing that other people can live longer because of Taylor,” the family said in the email.
Ward is the 10th missionary to have died while serving this year, according to LDS Church officials.
“For the Church and particularly for the families of these missionaries who have lost their lives we know that the loss of even one missionary is far too many,” Elder David F. Evans, executive director of the LDS Church’s Missionary Department, said in a news release. “To these remarkable families we extend our love, our faith, our hope and our prayers. And we pray that peace and comfort will be yours during these times of sorrow."
The LDS Church has more than 77,000 missionaries serving throughout the world, and officials say they work hard to keep them safe.
“The Church does everything it can to ensure the safety of its missionaries, including providing training in personal safety and good health practices, repeated instruction for missionaries on auto and bicycle safety, and ongoing consultation with local Church leaders about the safety of specific areas and neighborhoods,” according to the news release.
Although the vast majority of missionaries return home safely, LDS Church officials say members feel the loss of any missionary in a “deep and personal way,” according to the news release.
Larsen said she was heartbroken when she learned of Ward’s death. He had a knack for making people feel good, she said. And although he was soft-spoken, he had a lot of wisdom.
“He said things in a profound way that portrayed someone older than he was,” Larsen said.
She took pictures of Ward before he left on his mission, and he shared with her a statement about why he wanted to serve.
In that statement, he said ice hockey was his life at one time and he went to a foreign country to try and fulfill his dream of playing in the National Hockey League as a pro.
“But while I was there the Lord told me that I needed to go back home and go on a mission even though it was only half way through the season,” he said in his statement. “Now a lot of people, especially my teammates and coaches from past teams, have asked why I would give up on that dream especially when I had a good shot of making it. My answer is because the Lord has called me to do this marvelous work and I dare not miss this glorious opportunity that will allow me to come closer to God and allow others to come closer to him as well.”
Ward’s family said many people have told them about their encounters with Taylor while he was serving as a missionary.
“We are so appreciative of those who have shared missionary experiences of Taylor,” they said in their statement. “It helps us to know how he has touched so many lives in such a short amount of time.”
Ward’s funeral is set to take place on Friday at 11 a.m. at the LDS Church building located at 311 Alamo Drive, Vacaville, Calif. He will be buried at the Vacaville-Elmira Cemetery.