He Was a Stranger

“He Was a Stranger,” New Era, July 1999, 34–37

He Was a Stranger

Terribly injured and far from home, Tyler woke from a coma to find himself among friends.

The first time I became aware of Tyler Bundy was when I saw his picture on a glass donation jar sitting on the counter at Pine View High School. I was registering my children for school after having just moved to St. George, Utah. I found out the next Sunday that he was a member of my new ward, the Little Valley Ward.

But Tyler wasn’t there. He was seven hours away in Bakersfield, California, at a rehabilitation center. As the weeks went by and I got to know my new neighbors, I found out that 16-year-old Tyler had been on the varsity basketball team, the soccer team, and the track team. Then in July he had been in a terrible car accident on the way to a rappelling trip in Zion National Park. He had suffered two collapsed lungs, internal bleeding, a broken arm, and, worst of all, severe head trauma that had left him in a coma. Others told me how members of three stakes had fasted for him. And his mother told me that when he received a blessing, he was promised that he would survive because of the faith of the people in St. George who were praying for him.

Some of the youth in the Bakersfield First Ward heard from one of their leaders that Tyler was at the rehabilitation center nearby and went to visit him on Halloween. Even though he was still in a coma, they liked visiting Tyler and came back several times, decorating his room for the holidays.

By Christmas Tyler was gradually regaining consciousness and was starting to speak again. The youth continued to visit him and even helped with his therapy. They would put bean bags on his head, and he would try to get his arm up high enough to knock them off. But mostly they would visit and talk, helping him pass long hours that would have otherwise been spent alone. “We got to see him progress,” says Abbey McCalab, “and got to know what he was really like.”

About the time he could knock a bean bag off his head, he was well enough to go to church. The Bakersfield ward welcomed him and any visiting family and friends who came. Having already become acquainted with some of the ward youth made it easy. On days when Tyler couldn’t make it to church, the ward would bring the sacrament to him.

“While the youth in Tyler’s ward were praying for him, the youth in the Bakersfield ward were answering those prayers,” says Linda Hatch, the Little Valley Ward’s Young Women president.

The California ward members decided it would be nice if his friends from his home ward could come visit him. So they invited all the youth, 14 years and older, to visit Tyler. They found places for all of them to stay in their homes.

“We met in the gym. Tyler was there and all the kids from the California ward. Because of Tyler, it was like we were already close friends with these young people, even though we had never met them before,” said Jocelyn Palmer, a member of his ward. The youth played games in the gym during the day and went to a youth dance together that night. The next day they had a special testimony meeting.

It was almost a year after the accident before Tyler could come home again. Before he could do that, changes had to be made to the Bundy house in order for Tyler to get around in his wheelchair. Everything was done by ward members who volunteered time, as well as construction, plumbing, and landscaping talents to make things comfortable for Tyler. Others, including the youth, organized a stake yard sale to help raise money for medical expenses. Everyone seemed to find something they could do to help.

Last June Tyler was in his ward building’s gym, trying to shoot baskets from his wheelchair. His hands were unsteady, and when he spoke it was hard to understand him.

A few months later he was sitting at the sacrament table. With the help of the two priests on each side of him, he was able to kneel down and bless the sacrament.

The following fast Sunday he struggled to the front of the chapel with his walker to bear his testimony. He spoke with conviction that wasn’t lessened by his faltering speech. He knew his Heavenly Father loved him, and he knew that he was still here because of Him and the prayers of all the people who knew him. He reminded us how precious each day was and then took a moment to smell the flowers by the podium before finishing his testimony. And that wasn’t the only time he bore his testimony. He did so frequently, and each time his words were of hope, gratitude, and conviction.

In the fall Tyler registered for his junior year in high school, which he had completely missed the previous year. He could have gone on to his senior year, but he was hoping to make enough progress physically to play basketball again before he graduated.

The members of the Little Valley Ward wanted the Bakersfield Saints to know how much they appreciated all they had done for Tyler. It was time to return a favor, so the Bakersfield youth were invited to St. George for the weekend. The Little Valley youth took them to The Best of Especially for Youth. Later that day they went to see the St. George Temple. Then they played sand volleyball and had a picnic among the red rocks of St. George. But the best part was seeing Tyler again and the other friends they now had in St. George.

It has been more than a year now since I moved into the Little Valley Ward. Moving is never easy for a family. But during hard times it was often Tyler that kept me going. His faith and courage, his conviction that if he just depended on his Heavenly Father he would keep progressing, would rub off on me when I was around him. If Tyler could rebuild his life, I could handle the challenges that came to me.

What makes a tragedy like Tyler’s an experience that touches so many in a positive way? People simply living the gospel as Jesus taught it. Youth who take to heart something they learned in seminary or Sunday School. Neighbors who fast and pray and volunteer to help. People 400 miles away who understand Jesus’ answer when asked, “Who is my neighbor?” And a young man with enough determination and faith to unfold a miracle for us.

Photography by Sally Beesley

With new friends in Bakersfield, California, helping him through the tough times following the accident, and old friends in St. George, Utah, waiting to take over and help him complete the healing process, Tyler has been doubly blessed. He has also served as a link between groups two states apart, widening their circles of friends.