Michigan UCC community remembers volunteer killed on mission trip

Michigan UCC community remembers volunteer killed on mission trip

January 17, 2013
Written by Anthony Moujaes

Matt Kutsche is being remembered by members of First Park Congregational Church United Church of Christ in Grand Rapids, Mich., as a caring individual and a mentor, whose promising life ended suddenly last week during a mission trip to Haiti.

Matt was one of four passengers killed when the SUV they were traveling in went off a narrow, winding road and into a ravine on the first day of the mission trip. The group, made up of volunteers from two churches, went to assist the island nation with medical relief. He was 24 years old.

Mary LaPonsie, and Jim and Rita Cwengros — all members of Holy Spirit Parish, which organizes the annual mission trip — were the other three passengers in the car with Matt. The Cwengros had participated in mission work in Haiti several times before, and LaPonsie had also been to the island-nation previously.

Other members of First Park UCC on the trip included Matt's father, who was in a different car. The driver of the vehicle, a Haitian man, remains in critical condition after the accident, which has been attributed to brake failure.

Matt is survived by his fiancée Carly Andrews, parents, Dr. David and Mary Kutsche; brother and sister-in-law, Kyle and Melissa, and sister, Sarah. His memorial service is scheduled for Monday afternoon at First Park UCC.

"Matt was a good guy. He was a very caring person and volunteered quite a bit," said the Rev. Todd Petty, senior pastor at First Park UCC. He estimates there have been six to seven generations of Kutsche family in the congregation. "[Matt] was excited to be going down to Haiti for a medical mission trip. They're a great family."

Friends and family remember Matt as a person who gave tirelessly to his community. He was part of the Big Brother program, coached children on an elementary basketball team, organized charity events and traveled on youth mission trips.

"Matt and his family are extremely well known in the church and, understandably, the entire community is devastated," said the Rev. Jim A. Moos, the executive minister of the UCC's Wider Church Ministries.

His online obituary at the Grand Rapids press had more than 70 comments in two days expressing sorrow and extending prayers. "Our hearts are broken to hear of the loss of your precious son Matthew," one individual wrote. "Words cannot adequately express our deepest sympathy or heartfelt condolences to you all."

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Connie N. Larkman
Managing Editor & News Director
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Anthony Moujaes
UC News Coordinator
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44115