“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” — John 3-16
Lizzy Castorena had a curiosity and thirst for learning and life, and her enthusiasm was contagious.
Lizzy’s pastor and her violin instructor spoke Friday evening at a community service to celebrate the 7-year-old whose life was cut short Monday. While the tragedy of her death consumed a community’s conversation and thoughts this week, the brief service brought into focus the joy that Lizzy gave to her community, her teacher and her church.
Lizzy began attending Berean Baptist Church in Parsons in July. She wasn’t satisfied to attend Sunday school in the morning. She wanted to return for Sunday evening worship and Wednesday church activities, Berean Pastor Darren Dusher said Friday. Dusher was the main speaker at the celebration at Seaton Family Pavilion in Forest Park.
He encouraged those attending to keep a thought with them: “Let’s be like Lizzy.” Attendees mostly wore blue, Lizzy’s favorite color.
Dusher recalled watching Lizzy walk up to the church, a Bible in her arm and a smile on her face.
“Lizzy was a happy little girl,” he said.
“She had sunshine and enthusiasm. She brought assurance and peace to people. She had a great smile that was infectious. She was eager to learn and she was willing to work,” he said.
She learned about Jesus and his love for her and all others. She shared that compassion. She had everyone she knew on the prayer list at church, from her mom to her grandma to others. Their names had to be spelled right, Dusher said.
“Lizzy was not only hopeful, but she knew hope. She had faith in Jesus. She believed that he was and is the son of God and she believed that he had the power to work in her life.”
On Sundays, the youth memorized Bible verses and recited them to adults in the church.
On Sunday, the day Lizzy suffered the injury that led to her death, she wrote out and tried to memorize John 3:16. The Gospel verse reads: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
“She almost had it,” Dusher said. He remembers that Lizzy told the ladies to whom she would recite: “I don’t quite got it yet” and that she would continue to work on it.
At church on Wednesday, someone found Lizzy’s book. It had her name on it.
Dusher said he’s confident that Lizzy knows John 3:16 now. She understands Jesus’ love. She knows that Jesus died for her. And she knew she was a child of God.
Dusher recalled asking on Sunday who knows that they are saved. Lizzy’s hand was one of the first to go up.
Lizzy held Jesus in her heart. Between July and Sunday, she learned and she “nailed it down,” he said.
John 14 talks about Jesus going away to prepare a place for us. Dusher said he believes on Monday morning that Lizzy’s Savior came and picked her up.
“It was time for her to be with him,” he said.
After the tragedy in Parsons, people question many things, he said. How did this happen? Why did this happen? A lot of answers don’t come easy, he said.
Dusher said he turns to scripture that says Jesus’ mercy is everlasting and his truth will endure for all generations. Lizzy knew that his truth would last forever. He also thinks Lizzy would ask him to share with those attending the service what she knew.
Lauren Burke, orchestra and violin teacher in USD 503, spoke about teaching Lizzy the violin.
She said she tried to think of three words that would describe Lizzy, but she could not.
“Her smile and her enthusiasm for life and everything she did was infectious,” Burke said.
As a music teacher, she said many students hesitate to do things the correct way. Lizzy was different.
“She was like a sponge. She listened to what I was saying with more depth than I’ve ever seen from a 7-year-old,” Burke said.
Her attentiveness showed. Lizzy had a passion for violin.
“She never stopped playing, even when the teacher was talking,” Burke said.
Burke said she learned from Lizzy’s spirit and she’s reminded that even the two-note bunny song was beautiful.
“She was the type of student who made teaching feel like it wasn’t a job,” she said.
Burke then played “You Are My Sunshine” on the violin, a song chosen by Lizzy’s mother, Victoria Castorena.
Burke said she was glad that Victoria chose that, “because Lizzy was a ray of sunshine in my life.”
Dusher at the end of the service asked all in attendance to sing “Jesus Loves Me,” twice. Then children grabbed balloons and they let them go, a final good-bye to the ray of sunshine that Lizzy was.