Randy and Suzy Storms believed that even in the midst of terrible things, God is good.
The Stormses, said friends, loved Jesus and believed he had brought them together, which was why they loved others and were able to influence so many lives, particularly as leaders of a group of single young adults, called “242,” at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita.
“A lot of people viewed Randy as president and leader, and Suzy was kind of the First Lady,” said Paul Bammel, associate pastor at Eastminster who grew up learning the ropes from Mr. Storms.
Mr. Storms often provided premarital counseling and performed marriage ceremonies. Suzy Storms counseled young girls and helped them answer questions of faith and God’s will and direction, Bammel said.
“The two of them together had such an influence on my generation. You always wanted to be close to Randy and Suzy,” Bammel said.
The Stormses died in a one-vehicle accident on Sunday. Investigators suspect a medical condition caused Mr. Storms, 56, to lose control of their 2010 Chrysler Town and Country van and veer into a drainage ditch at Central and Brookside, near Edgemoor, on the city’s east side, shortly before 3 p.m. The accident also killed Mr. Storms’ service dog, Henley. Friends said the couple was returning from a hospital where they had been visiting and praying with a patient.
Funeral services are set for 3 p.m. Friday at Central Christian Church, 2900 N. Rock Road.
The van had been modified so that Mr. Storms, who used a wheelchair, could drive it. Mr. Storms had been a quadriplegic since a 1981 accident at a summer camp in Tennessee.
In a 2008 story in Eastminster’s news magazine, “Eastwind,” Mr. Storms discussed the accident as well as an auto accident eight years later that finally led him to a truer relationship with God.
Mr. Storms, who graduated from Wichita Collegiate, where his father, Randall, was founding headmaster, and from Friends University, was a summer director at a wilderness camp in Tennessee. As he was running an obstacle course with some of the kids, Mr. Storms, who was athletic and competitive, dove into a pool of muddy water and struck the bottom with his chin, severing his spinal cord.
While he learned to deal with the challenges and limitations of his injuries as he ministered to youth, he continued to suffer from denial and despair.
In 1989, at a Young Life Camp in Colorado, Mr. Storms drove up a mountain to join a kids on a hike. His van couldn’t make the steep climb on an old logging road, and slid backward down the mountain, rolling over and inflicting more injuries.
“That was the summer I came face to face with who I was and who I wasn’t,” Storms said in the article. “When life got rough, I would avoid uncomfortable feelings. That summer, God had other plans – to confront me and force me to deal with my stuff.”
Mr. Storms said he began releasing emotions such as anger, bitterness and resentment and surrendering them to Jesus. The more he surrendered to Jesus, the more compassion and kindness Jesus gave him for others, he said in the article.
Mr. Storms wrote a book, “Between the Lightning and the Thunder,” in which he discussed his accidents and God’s role in his life.
The “242” group – the title is from Acts 2:42 , which refers to believers devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching – led to the marriages of 24 couples, said Courtney Browning, director of communications at Eastminster, who was in the group.
“Randy was somebody who constantly lived out his faith,” Browning said. “His ministry touched more than we’ll ever know.”
Mr. Storms did their premarital counseling and married Browning and her husband, Matt, she said.
“He influenced who I became as an adult.” she said. “He’s probably been the biggest influence in my life other than my parents, just his constant faith, and someone who is always joyous and always positive, which is an incredible thing for a quadriplegic.”
Mr. Storms, she said, talked often about his auto accident and how it led him to God.
“He was not shy about how he was being self centered and not being real about the Lord until he was injured in that. It made him understand who God was and the calling in his life,” she said.
“Suzy helped a lot of my friends if they were thinking of getting married – just an incredibly selfless wife, constantly caring for Randy, and a very outgoing, vivacious woman who just lit up the room.”
Joey McLaughlin, student ministries coordinator at Eastminster, said Storms helped her through the most difficult year of her life .
“Randy walked me through some things I never thought I could walk through,” she said. “He used to say to me, ‘Until your threshold of pain is higher than your need for change, you will not change.’ He was an encourager. He had a way of relating to every single person; his love for the Lord was so strong, so evident,” she said.
Sean Spencer, former youth leader at Eastminster, met his fiance through the “242” group and was due to begin premarital counseling with Mr. Storms this week. Spencer took care of Mr. Storms’ physical needs on retreats, helping him shower, and dress and getting him in and out of bed.
Spencer said he didn’t see that as a burden, but as a privilege.
“I got to spend time with a man I really loved and who made the man I am today,” he said.
Mr. Storms had a strong sense of identity, and it wasn’t as a man in a wheelchair, but as an ambassador for Christ, Spencer said.
“God had put him in that chair, and he’s made the most of it,” Spencer said.
“That wheelchair and the dog he always kept made him one of the most approachable people in Wichita,’ said Matt Shepherd, area director of Wichita Young Life, who credits Mr. Storms for teaching him how to work with kids. “Kids who were broken, rebellious, would find themselves standing beside him at a high school football game and they shared their stories with him. He was able to speak, not at them, but somehow he looked into them in a way that’s really unique.”
Casey Casamento, lead pastor at City Life Church, collaborated with Mr. Storms on a relationship retreat in Wichita over the weekend. They met in the early 1990s when Casamento was a high school student and Mr. Storms began reaching out to young people. Over the years, they became friends and partners.
At the retreat, Mr. Storms spoke on emotional intimacy in marriage, Casamento said.
“He taught that first and foremost you need intimacy with Jesus, and to understand who you are in Christ,” Casamento said. “From out of that, you can experience true intimacy emotionally, because you bare all, because there’s no shame, there’s not guilt and there’s no secrets.”
“In that talk, he praised his wife in such a beautiful way.”
Mr. Storms understood that his life was a calling by God to walk with others in their worst and darkest days, and to counsel them, Casamento said..
“And when you take a man who is compassionate, understand and loving, with a sense of calling to walk with people in their most challenging and dark days, people will follow you anywhere,” he said. “He was able to do those things because his wife was a rock. She was strong and she was mature and she shared the same attributes of loving people and of understanding.”