NOTE:This story originally appeared in a February 2007 issue of The Index.
CARTERSVILLE — One moment, Cary Roth was riding in the back of the truck with fellow missionaries, Hondurans, and construction supplies. The next, he was on the ground.
Roth moved some roofing materials off himself and stood up. A quick assessment showed he wasn’t hurt that bad. His raincoat was dirty but not ripped. His pants were a little torn. Somehow, his helmet had stayed on.
He could hear voices from underneath the overturned truck. Others were helping pull the injured out.
His first thoughts now echo the ones of others since three volunteer missionaries – two of them Georgia Baptists – died on a remote stretch of road in Honduras last week.
“I thought ‘This isn’t supposed to happen on a mission trip,’ but then I got up and realized, ‘Yes it does,’” said Roth five days later at his home church of Tabernacle Baptist in Cartersville.
Roth, 33, had suffered only a few scrapes in the accident. Fellow Tabernacle members Perry Goad, 46, and Ric Mason, 58, died as did 66-year-old Martha Fuller, a member of Newnan First United Methodist Church.
A fourth volunteer from Tabernacle, 52-year-old David Apple, suffered a separated shoulder. Five members of First Newnan were injured. Among those was the church’s minister of missions, Mike Emeott.
Fourteen members from First Baptist Newnan took part in the trip, as did members of Cornerstone United Methodist in Newnan.
Emeott, who suffered a large laceration to the side of his head, was transported home Feb. 9 by a medivac airplane. First Newnan member Don Clifton was still recuperating from injuries at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta as The Index went to press on Feb. 12.
“I was standing at the front of the bed of the truck beside Perry, admiring the scenery and God’s handiwork, when it happened,” said Emeott, who was quick to add that the driver of the truck did everything possible to avoid the accident and likely saved the lives of many others.
“During the accident I hung on pretty tight to some wooden slats right beside me. Because of the way I was facing, I couldn’t see anybody else. I could hear people scrambling to get out from underneath. I was trapped, but a hacksaw I just happened to have brought that morning was used to get me free.”
“After gathering myself, I prayed,” said Roth. “I prayed for God to help us – to give us strength and his power. In my life I’ve learned to trust Him, no matter what.”
What had started as an idyllic day to assist residents of Mal Pais, a village in this mountainous area, had turned tragic. The crew on the truck had just left the main part of the village two miles back. The group of 28 missionaries – working through Honduras Outreach International in Decatur – had split up to aid in construction in various locations.
Apple, a father of four, had separated his shoulder in the accident. It popped back in while he was helping others at the scene, then came out again while waiting for help.
“I didn’t know what had happened,” said Apple of the accident. “All of a sudden I was on the ground and my shoulder hurt. I worked it back in but then it popped out two hours later when I raised my hand to point at something.”
Roth and Apple had both been among the last to get on the truck, sitting at the back. Both confirm that Fuller was riding in the cab while Goad and Mason were standing in the bed at front, just behind the cab.
The morning had started well enough. The missionaries left the ranch base at 7:30 a.m., arriving two hours later at Mal Pais. After getting supplies loaded onto trucks, groups headed to their separate work stations around the valley.
“There were a lot of us on the truck, around 20,” said Apple, still reluctant to talk about the incident in detail. “To be honest, I felt less safe on the paved roads in the city than on the one we were on [at the time of the accident].”
“The road we were on was just a regular logging road, nothing horrible about it,” Apple added.
When word reached authorities, two Black Hawks and a Chinook were scrambled from a U.S. military base 135 miles away. A mixup in GPS coordinates required all three to return to base for refueling before reaching Mal Pais. A third Black Hawk carrying extra fuel was sent when it was learned the first two didn’t have enough fuel to return.
By that time it had been close to six hours since the accident. The injured had been stabilized. Local doctors told missionaries Mason, Goad, and Fuller had died instantly.
“The medical team that came from the nearest town were well-equipped and well-prepared,” said Apple.
When it hit
Due to the adrenaline surge, both Roth and Apple say it was a little later when the weight of losing their friends started to settle in on them.
For Roth, it came through a local boy no older than eight. He and Apple had remained with the bodies, which had been loaded into the back of a truck belonging to a villager. Roth sat in the truck along with the boy, who was crying.
“I was sitting there beside him and told him in my best broken Spanish that the people in the back of the truck were my friends and they were in heaven,” said Roth. “They had peace.”
Reverting back to words taught to him by his high school Spanish teacher – a former missionary to Honduras, incidentally – Roth asked the little boy, “Jesucristo en mi corazon. En su corazon?”
“At this point the little boy’s father, who owned the truck, came up. They pointed to a Bible on the truck’s dash and I knew they understood. I just wanted to communicate that Jesus was in our hearts and things would be okay,” said Roth.
Roth tried to comfort the boy some more, reaching back to the only Spanish song he knew:
Yo tengo un amigo que me ama, me
Yo tengo un amigo que me ama
Su nombre es Jesus.
The boy knew the song about having a friend whose name was Jesus. Together, they sang.
Apple had been keeping a journal for the trip since Monday night. By Friday he had 12 handwritten pages in a spiral notebook.
“I thought a lot about Ric and Perry during that time,” Apple said. “I thought about his kids. I lost my own dad when I was 24. It hurt at the time. It hurt even more later.”
“I personally think this is going to make our missions outreach even stronger,” said Emeott. “One gentleman at church yesterday said he was going to Honduras next year. He had never done something like this before.
“Jesus never promised things were going to be easy … or safe,” he added.
Survivors are adamant that those lost a week ago were walking examples of what it means to have a heart for missions.
“Perry’s wife said that he was doing what he loved to do,” said Apple. “When your desires align with God’s will it’s a cool thing.”
Roth had been raised in a family where missions was a common practice. Admitting his zeal for mission had cooled a bit, he credits Goad and Mason for firing it back up.
“Perry was a great man of integrity,” he said. “When he did a job he wanted it done right. Ric was an inspiration for [mission work in] Honduras. You could feel the passion in his voice about it.
“I prayed on this mission trip that I would seize the moment and share the love of God with these people. Ric, Perry, and Martha did the same thing, but became an example of doing it now, today.
“They seized the moment. I know they had no regrets because of that.”