JACKSON, Tenn. – Jan. 25, 2008– Talk to those who knew Amber Mathenia best, and some common themes quickly emerge.
She was joyful and silly. She loved life and she loved to laugh. She was inspirational and encouraging. She was a devoted wife and mother.
And, most importantly, she was a faithful servant of the God who graciously saved her and called her to minister in a far-off place to those who needed to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
Mathenia, 28, a 2001 Union graduate and native of Millington, Tenn., was killed in an automobile accident Jan. 22 in Munford, Tenn. Her two children, Ellie, 4, and Isaac, 6 months, were uninjured, as was the woman driving the vehicle that hit Mathenia on U.S. 51.
Her husband Anthony was on a two-week trip to Ethiopia, where the Mathenias have served as full-time missionaries working primarily with local churches in the Addis Kidan denomination. He returned home Jan. 23.
The visitation for Amber will be at 5 p.m. today at Munford Funeral Home. Her funeral will be at First Baptist Church of Millington Jan. 26 at 2 p.m.
“She was a lady who loved Christ, and it was evident in the way she lived and the way she talked, and the way she interacted with other people, and the way she loved her husband and her children,” said Lauren Chipman of Memphis, a friend of Amber’s since eighth grade and a fellow Union graduate. “Especially in the last few years, she always had a word that would spur me on in my walk with Christ.”
“She was a ray of sunshine,” said Karen Taylor, an administrative assistant in Union’s student life office and Zeta Tau Alpha sorority sister of Amber’s during their time at Union together. “She was so happy. She was beautiful on the outside, but she had an inner beauty that radiated. And I think whether you knew her well or just casually, you could see that beauty.”
Robert Hooker, pastor of First Baptist Church of Huber Heights, Ohio, and a 1992 Union graduate, was Amber’s youth pastor in high school. Hooker said through the years he was able to see a transformation in Amber’s life as she grew to love the Lord more deeply. Hooker said Philippians 1:21 was an appropriate verse to describe Amber: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
“That’s what I saw displayed throughout the years as she grew,” Hooker said. “For her to live was Christ, and that became a dominant theme throughout the years. Christ through the years has just captured her heart and her love. That transformed the way that she loved her family and her friends, her church and Ethiopia. She loved the Lord and it was manifest in every area of her life.”
Michelle (Hardee) Gilmore, a 2002 Union graduate, was Amber’s little sister in Zeta and described her as a perfect balance of silliness and sincerity.
“I met Amber when I was going through rush, and I instantly gravitated towards her,” Gilmore said. “She has a very contagious personality. She’s probably the silliest person I know. She can always make you laugh.”
Gilmore also said that Amber had a solid relationship with the Lord and that she held her friends and family members accountable.
“She always encouraged us and inspired us to strive to have a closer relationship with the Lord, and she lived out that example every day of her life,” Gilmore said. “I will definitely miss having that accountability.”
Matt Crawford, a 2005 Union graduate, and his wife Brandy are friends with the Mathenias, as Anthony played a large role in Brandy becoming a Christian.
“She was able to laugh at herself,” Matt said about Amber. “It was fun to see how she was able to make Anthony laugh more than anyone else. She was also a consummate hostess. She was always making sure that our coffee was warm and that we had everything we needed. She was very kind and generous in that way.”
Brandy Crawford said their relationship with the Mathenias grew stronger as Anthony and Amber were starting to think that God was calling them to Ethiopia.
“We would pray for them,” Brandy said. “Over the years I think I would consider her one of my best friends. She was always there to listen and always had advice that she tried to pull straight from the Word of God. I never doubted that she prayed for me when I asked her to. She was always very open about the sin in her life and her need of grace. She was always very open to share that with me.”
Amanda Lemonds, a 2001 Union graduate, was Amber’s roommate in college. Lemonds described Amber as a “true example of a godly wife, mother, friend and child of God.”
The day before Amber’s death, she and Lemonds were together and spent some time in prayer.
“That was so her,” Lemonds said. “She thanked God for the gift of life, and that he had sustained us, even for that day. It was so indicative of what God’s plan was. That’s one thing I will always hold dear.”
In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that monetary donations be sent to Christ Community Church in New Albany, Miss., where the Mathenias receive their support. Gift cards from Target, Wal-Mart or Babies R’ Us are also needed to provide for their children. The church’s address is P.O. Box 795, New Albany, Miss., 38652.