Olivia the homebuilder

Family of late 10-year-old is on a mission to construct houses for poor in her name

— It has only been five months, and the tears still come quickly when John and Jane Ray talk about their daughter Olivia.

The girl was struck and killed in October by an SUV while in a crosswalk on Razorback Road. Olivia was attending a festival sponsored by Arkansas Athletes Outreach at the Randal Tyson Track Center. She and her sister Hannah and a friend were crossing the street to participate in a fun run when Olivia was hit. She died at the hospital a few hours later. She was 10 years, 5 months old.

Olivia’s death turned the Ray

family’s life upside down. In the

days and weeks that followed,

friends the world over offered

words of support to the Rays and

their daughters Hope, 18; Hannah,

16; and Naomi, 12.

The missionary family also

relied on their faith as they faced

each new morning without Olivia.

And they found a way to honor

her memory in a way Olivia surely

would have approved - 10 mis

sion projects to celebrate her 10


Young Olivia was already a mis

sion-trip veteran. With parents as

missionaries, traveling and help

ing others was a way of life for theenergetic girl and her three sisters. The Rays have long been involved with Youth With a Mission and also operate their own nonprofit missionary organization, Mission Enablers. So honoring Olivia by serving others seemed a perfect fit.

“We were getting flowers ... and I understand people’s need to give, to do something, but we didn’t need stuff,” John says. “So we thought, let’s just build a house and if people want to give something they can help.”

The family started Olivia’s Basket and began planning projects. Last month the family and a groupof friends traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, and built a small house for a young couple expecting their first child. Working with Homes of Hope, they also helped furnish the house with a bed, kitchen table, stove and other necessities. They brought baby clothes, and they gave the young couple a picture of Olivia.

“She would love this. Seriously. She loved doing stuff like this,” Jane says of the project.

This month, the family is traveling again, this time to Honduras with Mercy International for another homebuilding project. They were accompanied by a group of students and church members from New Heights in Fayetteville. They’ll return Friday and then have a couple of months to prepare for two more projects in June and July in Ensenada, Mexico.

“We had such a tremendous response,” John says. “We kind of thought when we threw the idea out there that it would be one house ... but over $25,000 has been donated to Olivia’s Basket and that’s allowing these [building projects].”

The Rays say the projects aren’t meant to be a way to give meaning to Olivia’s life. Her life already had meaning, they say.

“I really firmly believe we’re put here to produce fruit and the purpose of our life is to live our lives in such a way that God gets what he wants,” John says. “I can see this as a way that God gets what hewants out of her life.”

That doesn’t mean it’s easy to accept or easy to do.

“It was really hard for us to go to Tijuana,” Jane says. “Olivia had been to Mexico so many times it was like going home for her.”

The trip was filled with tears and laughter and memories of their freckle-faced Olivia.

“She was the kid you wanted in your class,” Jane says. “She was attentive and respectful and she always had friends around her. She was kind. She loved learning ... she was energetic and intensely creative.”

Olivia had recently finished creating her first comic book, and most nights she would use an old typewriter to prepare a newscast for the family. She was also active in the University of Arkansas children’s choir, Girl Scouts and a gardening club.

“She was really, really an exceptional kid,” Jane says. “Now she could be whiny, too, and a very picky eater. I have not forgotten those aspects.”

Although they have dedicated their lives to serving God, Olivia’s death forced the Rays to reflect on their faith. Jane recalled talking to a friend about the accident and asking how anyone could go through such a tragedy without knowing God.

“Because it was so hard and I thought if I didn’t have God to rely on right now I don’t think I could survive,” she says. “Whether I understand or agree with it, I know God knew what was going on and was there the entire time.”

John says the accident has given them the opportunity totest their faith.

“Honestly, I don’t like some of the answers, but I’m satisfied with it,” he says. “But this forced us to really question what our perceptions were of God.”

“You know, there’s not a whole lot that’s very consoling about all of this quite honestly,” Jane says. “But I do know this - that even before Olivia was born I wanted her to be where she is now. I wanted her to be in the arms of God. Of course I didn’t want it to be this early, but I can’t negate that. It’s what I always wanted for my children.”

Both parents feel the loss acutely but say their faith in God remains firm.

“I’ve had some intense conversations with God, unlike any I’ve ever had in my life,” Jane says. “And I don’t think God’s afraid of that. It’s a weird balance, because you’re weak because you’ve had a tremendous loss in your life and you feel it every second of the day, but you are stronger in a sense that [you] still trust God.”

To honor that trust and to honor Olivia, the projects will continue. Future ones include missions to Africa, Belarus and Asia. The Rays are also planning a family field day in Olivia’s honor at the Arkansas Athletes Outreach complex as a way to say “thank you” to all those who have helped and offered support, including Olivia’s fourthgrade classmates at LeverettElementary School. A bench in Olivia’s honor is planned for the school grounds.

“I wrote on one of my blog entries that doing what we do I’ve had to imagine whatwould happen if something like this happened, but it’s always been a muddy mountain road in Mexico or a drive-by [shooting] in Tijuana, getting sick in the mountains of Honduras ... but this was a mile from our house with an organization [Arkansas Athletes Outreach] we’ve worked with for over a decade,” John says. “These are people we explicitly love and trust. .. we cross that crosswalk all the time. She was surrounded by people who know us and love us, that we love, and we want to have something that is a really God-honoring, joyful thing to say thank you to them.”

They also hope to get more people involved in the projects and in missions in general.

“I really believe if you can get someone to do this once, they’ll probably do it again. It’s not a complicated process and I think that’s part of the attraction,” Jane says. “People say, ‘OK I do have five days. I can do that and besides I can go eat fish tacos with the Ray family.’” Information about the remaining projects is available online at



Religion, Pages 14 on 03/27/2010