The Common Good
September-October 1998

The Death of a Young Activist

by Julienne Gage | September-October 1998

At midnight on May 21, I fell to the floor screaming when I learned that Krista Hunt
Ausland, my best friend for 24 years, had plunged to her death in a bus accident in

At midnight on May 21, I fell to the floor screaming when I learned that Krista Hunt Ausland, my best friend for 24 years, had plunged to her death in a bus accident in Bolivia. Her husband, Aaron, searched through the black of night to find her broken body in a mountain ravine. Six months earlier, the young couple had com-

mitted to a three-year volunteer project with the Mennonite Central Committee in a Bolivian village.

At 25, Krista had just begun her stewardship with the Mennonites, but her lifelong servanthood was exemplified in many unusual and creative ways. She was a high school student body president, honors student, and Save the Whales activist. Nominated as Spokane's Lilac Princess, she took the opportunity to deliver an untraditional pageant speech on justice for the people of Guatemala.

Krista defined the term "social justice"for me while standing in line at McDonald's in the ninth grade. She sounded like a cheerleader for the rainforests of Haiti. At 17, Krista and I cofounded Youth for World Awareness, and at 20 we traveled together on a Central America study-service tour. In college, she participated in the Christian Environmental Association.

But Krista's compassion was not limited to far-away lands. As our childhood friend Heather Koller battled years of cancer, Krista enthusiastically escorted her to summer cancer camp to ride horses and forget about the nightmarish bouts with chemotherapy. When Heather died at 21, Krista reminded us that Heather's life was not a tragedy, but a testimony to keep on living when things were at their worst.

As an inner-city high school teacher in Tacoma, Washington, Krista was honored for creating a peer-mentoring program. Struggling to save her students from delinquency, she valued the expressive energy of the kid who tried to break the world record for the largest afro. "He's just so creative!"she exclaimed.

In their marriage, Krista and Aaron's spontaneity infused those around them with joy. Krista hoped that even if her formal service in Bolivia was in vain, her peace-loving relationship with Aaron would serve as an example in the midst of a community where domestic abuse is common.

Mennonite volunteer Jeremy Funk, who has cerebral palsy, fondly remembers the day Krista pulled him to his feet to dance to an Argentine gaucho band. He protested that his feet were too heavy, but she refused to listen. She swung him around, encouraging him to stomp his feet to the rhythm.

Krista danced gracefully through this world unwilling to be dragged down by the despair that comes with the struggle of activism. She never stopped celebrating the simple joys of daisies, practical jokes, and playing chess by candlelight. When she made the mistake of paying $6 for a perm at a Bolivian beauty school, her "two-bit matted floozy"story made me cry with fits of

laughter. Krista's fun-loving attitude allowed her to stay seriously committed to the chaos of community service.

We are a generation that takes risks to serve others. In her life, Krista exemplified the spirit we should hold while taking those risks. She did not set out to change the world single-handedly, she simply wanted to be a light in the midst of its brokenness. The lessons of her life are more about her Christ-like attitude than her many accomplishments.

In the bitter aftermath of her death, we are left with a choice. We may remain crippled by tragedy, unable to find beauty in the gifts of laughter and nature. Or we may pick up our sad hearts and our heavy feet and begin to stomp until we too experience the joy of dancing through life and serving each other in the spirit of Krista's young life.

JULIENNE GAGE is spending the year in El Salvador and Cuba, where she is working on her master's thesis in cultural anthropology. Memorial gifts to Krista Hunt Ausland may be made to the Mennonite Central Committee Bolivian Microloan Fund (P.O. Box 500, 21 South 12th St., Akron, PA, 17501). Krista's husband, Aaron, has returned to work with MCC in Bolivia.

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