It has been said that there is no greater love than for a man to give his life for his friends. Kelly Clarke, youth pastor of New Covenant Church in Tyler, lived his life by these words, and ended it by these words, sacrificing his own life to save a child from drowning off the beaches of Costa Rica over Christmas.
“They went to the beach with Manuel Garcia and his family, Costa Ricans they'd known for years,” said Hannah Bower, outreach coordinator at New Covenant and a lifelong friend of Clarke's. “Johnny's son was in the ocean swimming, and the waves were getting high and there was a strong undercurrent, and he started going under. So Manuel swam out to try to save the boy, but he started getting tired. Kelly swam out there and saved both of them, but the undercurrent pulled him down."
Bower said she received the call on Christmas Eve telling her Clarke had died. She said paramedics attempted to resuscitate him for 30 minutes, but pronounced him dead on the scene, in front of his family.
“He was one of the most compassionate people I've ever met,” Bower said. “He was extremely funny, always smiling, with a joke ready. He was super faithful, and would do whatever the Lord said… He was our youth pastor, but when he felt called, he moved his family to Costa Rica to minister there, even though people said he was crazy. When he came back in November, he said these had been the happiest months of his life, and he couldn't wait to go back down."
Clarke is survived by his wife, Tracey, his two daughters, 18 and 16, and a son, 10.
Tylerite David Beard has started a GoFundMe page to raise money to pay for the family's flights home, and for the cost of the funeral. As of Wednesday, it has raised nearly $13,000 of its $15,000 goal in only one day. To donate, visit gofundme.com and search for Bring Kelly Clarke Home.
"Kelly's wife Tracey and the kids will come back to Tyler and these funds will go to pay for bringing them and Kelly back and assist Tracey finding a place for her and the kids to live," the GoFundMe page reads.