Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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April 8, 2012

Ocean claims ex local on missions trip

Israel Yoder, a 21-year-old former resident of Ligonier who recently deactivated his Facebook account so he could focus his attention on spiritual efforts, died in a swimming accident in Haiti while on a mission trip.

Yoder, known to friends as “Izzy,” was swept away by an undercurrent while swimming with friends in a remote part of Haiti early Thursday afternoon, according to Matt Gingerich, a pastor at Eden Worship Center in Topeka. He was a life-long friend of Yoder's.

Yoder was in the middle of a week-long trip and was with a group of about eight people, Gingerich said. He said he believed Yoder was a good swimmer and familiar with swimming in the ocean.

“This kid was too good to be true,” Gingerich said. “You hope that even in the midst of a tragedy like this, people’s lives can be changed just by his short example.”

Gingerich said efforts to have Yoder’s body returned to the United States were proving slow, partly because of the holiday weekend, but U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman’s office is working with his parents, Dan and Laura, to assist in the matter.

Yeager Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. In the meantime, Yoder’s home church, Eden Worship Center, Topeka, updated its website as a tribute to Yoder.

Yoder was the oldest of five siblings and the entire family had moved to Florida about three years ago, but some family members had begun returning to northern Indiana earlier this year.

He was homeschooled and was working in construction, Gingerich said.

“He was always going as fast as he could. He was loud; he was fun,” Gingerich said. “Everybody who knew him just loved this kid.”

He said Yoder was extremely passionate in his love of God and that Yoder asked one of his sisters to deactivate his Facebook account so he could focus more clearly on his work for God.

In one of his last posts on Facebook, Gingerich said, Yoder wrote, “I want to die to set others free.”

A sister, Naomi Yoder, 19, said Saturday that she was hoping she and Israel could take a bike trip to New Hampshire before she headed to Asia in July for mission work.

She said they were especially close and that he was proud of her plans.

She said he was serving as a youth leader at the church in Sarasota, Fla., and believed he was incredibly influential in his work with people.

“Izzy was amazing,” Naomi said. “He was so passionate about God. He only wanted to do the right thing.”

She said family and friends had found some of his personal paperwork after he died and that the top item on his “bucket list” was a desire to “save a soul from hell.”

Naomi said members of the church’s youth group in Sarasota had gathered after his death and shared some of their favorite stories about Yoder. She said the group has begun using the term “Love Like Izzy,” that it was showing up on Facebook status updates and that some people were planning to print T-shirts with the phrase.

She said she was told when rescuers found his body, his hands were clasped as if he were praying.

“And his face was peaceful,” Naomi said she was told.

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