Erica was 17 years old when she bought a school bus.
She was involved with the “Jesus People Army” youth movement in the Sardis area of the Fraser Valley in the mid-1970s, but the group didn’t have a vehicle.
Erica saved up from her job at A&W, bought a bus and hired a driver. The group was then able to travel to different activities, which often included arena roller-skating.
That anecdote encapsulates the generous and enterprising spirit that remained with Erica, 59, throughout her life, says her husband Henry Schmidt.
The life of the Abbotsford mom and grandmother will be celebrated today (Friday) at a memorial service starting at 1:30 p.m. at South Abbotsford Mennonite Brethren Church (32424 Huntingdon Rd.). The service is open to the public. It is also being live-streamed at http://www.alivestreaming.com/broadcasts/4323.
Erica’s body was found on New Year’s Day in dense brush in the 2100 block of Whatcom Road after she had walked away on Oct. 5 from the home she shared with Henry on Timberlane Drive.
She had taken her own life. It’s something Henry wants to be open about, but doesn’t want to dwell on.
“Her life was not in vain … She’s not on this Earth anymore, but her life is an inspiration,” he said.
Erica and Henry met in 1977. He had arrived at Pacific Life Bible College in Surrey for his first day of school and was parallel parking when he spotted Erica in his side mirror. She was walking purposefully, carrying a Bible.
“I thought, ‘There’s a woman who knows where she’s going,’ “ Henry said.
The couple were married in Surrey two years later and had three children – Michael, Amy and Sophia.
It was after the births of two of her children that Erica first experienced bouts of depression, which ran in her family.
Most of the time, her symptoms were manageable, and the couple spent years pastoring at local churches and even out of their home.
Erica was known for her powerful, fiery outspokenness.
“She could say in one minute what it would take me half an hour to say,” Henry laughed. “She had an ability to get right to the point.”
Henry said Erica had a heart for others and often greeted people with a warm hug and an open smile. People who had nowhere to spend Christmas were invited to their home for dinner.
When they would go for walks around the neighbourhood, Erica would stop and chat with everyone they met.
Henry recalls one occasion when they were first dating and had gone for a trek at Golden Ears Park. At one spot where they had to wait to cross the river, about 20 other people were waiting for their turn. Within 20 minutes, she was on a first-name basis with everyone.
The couple travelled extensively and Henry taught Bible school. They formed bonds with people everywhere they went – including India, Iceland, the U.K., Mexico, Singapore and the U.S. – but Erica was particularly drawn to a location in northern Uganda.
There they became involved with the Uganda Jesus Village Orphanage, where Erica grew to know the names of the more than 60 kids living there.
She packed suitcases filled with items – such as clothing and toiletries – to deliver to the kids on the four visits the couple made. One of these trips was at Christmas, and Erica carefully selected individual gifts for each of the children.
Before her death, she had packed another three suitcases filled with items for the next trip.
About three weeks before Erica disappeared, her depression began to take hold again after some issues occurred in her life, including a break-in at the couple’s home. She told Henry that she was feeling hopeless, and he ensured she went to her doctor, who adjusted her medication.
She seemed to be getting better, but she walked away on the morning of Oct. 5 without leaving a note or telling anyone where she was going.
The family quickly mobilized, fearful of a repeat of an incident four and a half years ago. At that time, Erica had left her home and was found a few hours later near death at Cascade Falls in Mission. She wasn’t expected to live, but she pulled through. The morning after, unable to speak through medical tubes, she scribbled a note that read in part, “I guess God’s not finished with me yet.”
Erica’s disappearance this time not only resulted in an official search effort, but the co-ordination of dozens of volunteers – many of them strangers – who papered the city with “missing person” posters, brought meals to the Schmidt family, sent messages of support, and prayed.
Henry said his family’s gratitude goes beyond words.
“I’d just say thank you, thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.”
Henry said the devastating news on the morning of Jan. 1 that Erica’s body had been found brought a sense of relief and closure, but also the realization “that it’s so final.”
The family has questions about why Erica’s life ended the way it did, but Henry said they cannot focus on that because they will probably never find the answer. Instead, they choose to celebrate the impact that Erica had on the world, and the exuberant, spontaneous person she was.
“In the midst of our sorrow, we’re going to rejoice,” Henry said.
(Photo below: Sympathy cards and flowers in memory of Erica Schmidt fill the dining room table of the home she shared with her husband Henry.)