First of a two part series. Click here for Part 2.
January 2006 – A large church in a small Southern town fell to its knees when a mission trip turned fatal on a mountain-side in Honduras. Six people were injured and a local dentist, a Christian pillar in the community, lost his life.
Seven hours of tragedy, seeming like an eternal nightmare, struck after an old pick-up truck carrying 17 people, seven of which were members of First Baptist Church in New Albany, Mississippi, crashed into the mountain when the vehicle’s brakes failed. Injured bodies rested on the rugged mountain terrain protected by plastic sheeting and broken boards as an ambulance slowly made the three-hour round trip up the mountain and down again, taking only two people at a time.
As night fell, it started to rain, but the presence of God burned bright as His will unfolded, changing a church, a community and a countless number of hearts.
It was 3:00 in the morning and a sense of excitement pervaded the need for sleep as a team of 20 met in a church parking lot. They loaded their luggage and boarded vans that would take them to Memphis International Airport – the first leg of a nearly 3,000-mile mission trip to Guaimaca, Honduras. It was the culmination of eight months of planning.
After being greeted with sausage and biscuits and orange juice prepared by women in the church, the team gathered to pray. The prayer of the team’s leader was drowned out by the noise of a passing street sweeper, but his pleas didn’t go unheard. The Lord’s ears were attuned as Shane Scott, medical doctor and trip coordinator, spoke the words he had been praying from the beginning.
“God change me, change our team and change our church,” he said.
Little did he realize how God would answer his prayers in the days ahead, although he already knew, first-hand, the impact missions can have on a church. Seeing people impacted by missions at a former church Scott and his wife attended spurred him to spearhead this trip.
“When people went out, it changed their perspective on everyday life, thus changing the way we were on mission locally,” he explained. “So my sense of calling, so to speak, was to invigorate the local church to experience missions.”
So as Scott made plans to relocate his family to New Albany, he was asking God to lead him to a local church that was motivated to do mission work. God did just that by directing him to the Rev. Malcolm Pinion, pastor of First Baptist Church.
“I talked to Bro. Mal about my ideas to see if there was an interest, and he said definitely,” Scott explained.
“I had been praying for our church to catch a vision for foreign missions,” Pinion said, “but I didn’t think such a trip would come so soon.
“Shane was an answer to prayer,” Pinion added.
“So that’s kind of how it all began,” Scott explained. “We began talking about it in November or December of 2004.”
But it was an Internet search Scott did three years prior that led him to the mission agency through with they would book the trip. While going through his bookmarks one day, Scott came across World Baptist Missions (WBM), a multi-faceted, non-profit mission organization that logistically coordinates trips to Honduras in an effort to lead people to Christ.
WBM was a good fit “because you pretty much show up with the man power, and they handle everything else,” he described. So the initial contact with WBM was made only to find that the church was already behind in planning such a trip. Tickets are usually booked a year in advance, and the church was only eight months away from the projected trip dates.
The provisions of God
But that didn’t stop the hand of God as He continued to orchestrate every aspect of the trip. He began by providing overwhelming support from the church body, as a whole. He continued by prompting people to give money that ended up being enough to purchase 50 cases of Bibles. God allowed the team to purchase medicine at cost and provided them with the appropriate witnessing tools to use and distribute among the Hondurans.
In fact, God went as far as to guide the luggage and supplies all the way through customs. After having their luggage packed and weighed ahead of time, the team was not even asked to weigh them once they got to the airport.
“It took days to get the luggage down to the correct ounce,” said Verna Collins, one of the injured team members who helped with the packing. “I stood there [in the airport] and followed it on the conveyor belt. I was standing there holding my breath, and when they took it through without weighing it, I thought, the Lord’s hand is on it. …Thank you Lord.
“We didn’t even have to take out a single Bible,” she added, which was her main concern. “Shane told us, the medicine won’t last; the eyeglasses may not work; the school supplies will be used up, but the Word will last.”
“And when we got down to Honduras, [even] going through customs was a breeze,” Scott said. “They didn’t go through any of our bags or confiscate anything.”
As God worked out the more minor details, He was just as much a part of the larger ones as evidenced in the team He brought together.
Scott initially envisioned 25 people going but ordered only 10 tickets in the beginning due to time restraints.
“So we got 10 names, and then more people wanted to go. … Things just started snowballing so more people got involved,” and more tickets were ordered for what ended up being a team of 20.
“From the time it was announced, I knew I wanted to go,” Collins explained. “I have a special love for the Hispanic culture, [and] … I knew … I was meant to go.
“The last thought when I knew we were going too fast [on the mountain that day] was that I am where I am supposed to be,” she added.
The formation of the team was “definitely providential,” according to Scott. “I felt like there was a cross-section of the church that was representative of a team that couldn’t have been more prayerfully [put together].”
From grandparents to teenagers, each person found a place of service.
The work of His people
Although labeled as a medical mission trip, “anybody who wanted to go could surely find something to do,” Scott explained. “It wasn’t that you just have to take blood pressures or do medical exams. There were plenty of opportunities to be involved.”
That was obvious from the span of work the team members did while in Honduras, especially since only 4 of the 20 had medical experience: two dentists, a doctor and a nurse.
As described by WBM, its ministries include church planting, pastor training and well drilling as well as a feeding program, medical ministry, container ministry, eyeglass ministry and memorial loan ministry. But at the heart of the organization’s ministry is Hospital Bautista, a developing hospital staffed by 33 people who offer natives medical service. Located in Guaimaca, about a two-hour bus ride from the capital city, Tegucigalpa, the hospital is serving an estimated 300,000 people in the surrounding areas.
“[It] actually started as a little tin shed that . . . by midday was too hot to even see patients,” explained Jason Hollen, director of development for WBM, who said it’s been awesome to watch God grow the hospital into what it is today.
Hospital Bautista became a home base for the First Baptist team who stayed on the hospital property in a dormitory designed to accommodate 52 people. From there, the team split into different groups and ministered in a variety of ways through dental and medical care, construction work, digging ditches, cutting hair, counting and labeling pills and telling Bible stories in a Vacation Bible School-type setting.
“The main purpose is just to let as many people as possible know about Jesus Christ,” Hollen said, which is what the team members did before, during and even after the tragic accident which took the life of team member, Dr. Ronald L. Feather, while critically injuring several others.
“I knew that something big would come of the trip – 1,000 salvations maybe. That would have been cool,” Scott said. “But I never would have guessed something like this would happen.”
The purpose of His call
Yet the unforeseen happenings didn’t change the purpose of the team’s mission. In fact, it solidified their calling to take the Gospel to the world.
“I think it very simply comes down to [the belief] that we’re bought with a price,” Scott explained. “I think, in the South [especially], we view Christianity or our salvation as an event and not as a calling.
“It’s not an event that gets you saved and then you move on,” Scott added. “It’s got to be a daily mission opportunity, and that’s something I think mission work – getting outside of your comfort zone – does. …You’re seeing how it is to live on someone else’s terms so you may minister to them.”
Viewing circumstances from this perspective allowed the New Albany team to see the reason meeting medical needs, eating unfamiliar food, taking cold showers and risking their lives were actually opportunities rather than discomforts.
“I think a lot of times we view missions as God needs us, and the reality is that He doesn’t,” Hollen explained. “Missions is not a … sacrifice [or] a really hard thing you have to do. It’s a blessing. …”
“We’ve got to realize that when we accept Christ … our life as we know it – living it for ourselves – is finished,” Scott added. This can mean “not living the American dream because God asks us to do something else with our finances or … going on a mission trip and being prepared not to come back because He calls us to stay in that country … or [because] He calls us to sacrifice our lives on a mountain like Ron did.”
“The real sacrifice, to me, is the people who pass up God’s calling and … stay in their comfort zones,” Hollen agreed.
“Jesus ministered on our terms,” Scott said. “He came from glory in a place where it couldn’t get any better, yet He came so that we might have life [in Him].”
Life in Christ is a lifestyle as pointed out in a devotion Feather shared two nights prior to his death.
“He [Feather] said they were there to show the Gospel to as many people as possible before they left, and from what I understand, … that seemed to be their main purpose…,” Hollen said.
As a result, a Christian lifestyle is being adopted by many as they come to know Jesus as Savior through the witness of those who answered the call to share His love in the mountains of Honduras.
AFA is familiar with and recommends the work of the following mission organizations:
• Global Outreach International
P.O. Box 1, Tupelo, MS 38801
International Mission Board, SBC
P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230-0767