VIENTIANE, Laos (BP) — It is an airline route often taken by tourists, aid workers and believers. It is a route that 49 people died taking on Wednesday.
A Lao Airlines flight crashed at 4 p.m. local time, 4 a.m. EST Oct. 16 in Pakse, a city in southern Laos. The airplane crashed in bad weather and skidded into the Mekong River.
There are no known survivors. The Bangkok Post reported that nearly 20 bodies had been recovered by Friday morning as relief teams continue to search for bodies in the water.
Seventeen Laotians were on board as well as seven French, six Australians, five Thais, three Koreans, three Vietnamese and one person from five other countries: the United States, Canada, China, Taiwan and Malaysia.
Joel Babcock was the American on board. He was a “third culture kid,” or TCK, who grew up in Asia and served in Southeast Asia as an adult. In high school he attended Dalat International School in Penang, Malaysia, where a number of children of Christian workers in Asia attended.
Heavy rain and wind, unusual for this time of year in Laos, are suspected to be the cause of the crash.
“(B)ut locally there is a lot being said about superstitious beliefs,” said Ethan Chase*, an American living in Laos.
Chase estimates that 50 percent of people in his area believe that river spirits and the river god were upset and this was the reason for the crash.
The majority of people in Laos, 60 to 70 percent, are Buddhist. Animism mixes in with beliefs in many areas. The crash happened at the beginning of Buddhist Lent and before two festivals, Loy Kratong and the Boat Racing Festival. Loy Kratong is a Buddhist festival celebrated in Laos, Thailand and parts of Myanmar.
Boat races have been suspended. “It’s going to be a very solemn weekend; it normally would be very festive,” Chase said.
Three families living near Chase and his family lost someone in the crash. Chase had not talked with the families yet but has had opportunities in the past two days to talk with his neighbors about death and eternal security.
“The great Spirit [Holy Spirit] doesn’t get mad at us and do things to us,” Chase shared.
Loneliness and loss
The co-pilot on the Lao Airlines flight was the son of her former landlord, said Becky McBrady*, who has lived in Laos.
McBrady said she didn’t know the son but was close with the rest of the family and is especially close to the co-pilot’s mother. The father died a number of years ago.
“I had many talks with the mom about her life, her sadness and her loneliness,” McBrady said. “I shared with her a few times that the most powerful Spirit loves her and will bring her peace, but I don’t think she ever really listened to me.”
The family, who are devout Buddhists and animists, had dedicated an entire room in their house as a shrine to the deceased father.
“Before this plane crash she was a woman in deep pain with no hope for herself and really didn’t even have a resolve to help herself find hope,” McBrady said. “Her outlook was just that she was lonely and she would always be.”
McBrady said the mother told her she loved her like a daughter. McBrady asks for prayers for the family.
“I know this is hitting her hard, so please pray for her heart to soften in this deep sorrow,” McBrady said. “She has heard the Good News from me, so pray that she remembers and that she would seek out a way to learn more in this time of even deeper sorrow in losing a beloved son.”
Finding eternal security
At a small group Bible study on Thursday night, Chase asked Laotian believers how many people on the plane they thought knew the Lord.
Most likely, not many did.
“How many on the plane had friends who were believers?” Chase asked. “How many of the people had heard from their friend about the Lord?”
The believers read Romans 10 and discussed their responsibility as believers to tell others about Christ and about the urgency of sharing the Gospel with those who have never heard.
Chase challenged the believers to tell their friends about the Good News and not wait until it is too late. Death can come at any time and happen to anyone.
Death could have come for IMB representative James White*.
“It’s a route I’ve flown — a number of us have flown this route,” White said. “We are thankful that none of our people are on that plane, but it could have been easily one of us.”
When White heard about the crash, he was reminded of the apostle Paul’s testimony of the dangers associated with spreading the Gospel.
“Paul talked about the dangers of the road — robbery, thievery — we face those same dangers,” White said. “We are called to suffer for His name — that may mean death in a fiery crash.”
There are risks in ministry; White said, Christian workers are not immune to trouble; the good news, though, is that God is greater than any tragedy.
“Our prayer request is that we would trust God as we travel,” White said.
Chase, White and McBrady ask for prayer for:
— hearts that are open to the Gospel
— God to would break down spiritual barriers
— Laos, a closed country where open sharing of the Gospel is prohibited. Pray for opportunities to share.
*Names changed. Caroline Anderson writes for the International Mission Board from Southeast Asia. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).