Accident in Honduras Leaves Two Missionaries Dead

Mar 15, 2003 10:57 AM EST

NORCROSS, Ga. – An accident in Honduras killed one missionary and critically injured another. T.J. Lathe, 49, died on the spot; Chuck Brittain, 72, died from complications related to the accident, March 12.

Missionaries from Glover Baptist Church in Norcross Ga partnered with Grace Fellowship Church in Snellville to assist a small Honduran hospital named Loma de La Luz since 2001. The fatal accident took place Feb. 23 2003, one day before a round of missionaries headed back to the States; the missionaries were crossing a bridge connecting to a nearby city when the bridge snapped from beneath them.

Despite the heartbreaking accident, missionaries and church members say they sensed God’s presence throughout their stay.

"Short of this tragic accident, we had a successful, God-inspired mission trip," said Ron Sheintal, a Glover church member. "We truly sensed the spirit of God the whole week. Even though we were from two different churches and working with another church from Minnesota, we operated like one group. We dug ditches, we worked hard. But it went well. At night Bill (Cordrey) would pull out his guitar and we'd sing for hours.

"It was better than family. It was sweet fellowship."

Cordrey, the team leader from Glover, said, "When we were working, it was in a spirit of praise."

The group finished their work Saturday morning, the day before they were scheduled to leave. After lunch, they cleaned up and made plans to go to Drozek's home to rest before heading out for a last meal at a local restaurant.

"We thought it would be a great time to get a picture together," Cruce recalled. "A lot of teams had their picture made on the suspension bridge that stretched across the ravine between two hills. It connected the housing area with the hospital.

"We had no fear of the bridge, we'd been crossing it all week with wheelbarrows of bricks and concrete and building materials."

When the bridge gave way under the combined weight of the missionaries, some of the members were immediately thrown from the bridge, others hung on and dropped minutes later. Two team members were able to hang on until they were rescued.

Survivors say the experience strengthened their faith.

"I know in times like these, non-believers will question where is God. But believers will know that God was present with us on the bridge," Bill Cordrey said.

"We already had a special bond because of the work we were doing there. I think this is going to make our church even stronger."

Every team member has already decided not to let the disaster short-circuit their commitment to future mission trips.

"It's all about being obedient to that still, small voice, that call from God. At T.J.'s memorial service we discussed his legacy and his encouraging others to be true to their calling. Those of us who survived want our legacy to be one of trusting God in all things, of going forward in obedience to his call."

The team returned as scheduled, including T.J.'s widow, Carol.

"I was so glad I could come back at the regular time and I didn't have to be alone," she said. Her three children, ages 24, 21, and 17, were glad she returned to Atlanta.

"It's been difficult, but the Lord's good. He's the God of all comfort. I just don't want this to discourage people from going or letting their children go on mission trips," she said. "[T.J.'s death] could have happened on the interstate. He would have said this was better, to go while serving his Lord."

That same spirit is showing itself in other team members and in her youngest son, who will be spending six weeks in Peru this summer.

"He wants to go and I want him to go," Lathe said. "I like what Jim Elliot said, 'Only one life to live will soon be past, only what's done for Christ will last.'"

By Pauline J.