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Missionaries shot down in Peru lauded for commitment, passion

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–The death of a missionary and her seven-month-old daughter aboard a single-engine aircraft shot down over the Amazon “reminds us of how vulnerable missionaries are and how deep is their commitment to our Lord,” Jerry Rankin, president of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board April 23.

Roni Bowers, 35, a missionary with the Association of Baptists for World Evangelization, and her daughter, Charity, were killed Friday morning, April 20, when the pontoon-equipped Cessna in which they were passengers was mistakenly identified as carrying drug-runners and shot down by a Peruvian military jet.

The Peruvian pilot had received information about the small plane’s location from a four-man U.S. drug interdiction jet flying about a mile away from the missionary aircraft. The U.S. aircraft, owned by the Air Force and flown by a crew of three under CIA contract accompanied by a Peruvian military office, is among numerous U.S. aircraft helping Peru and Colombia combat the cocaine trade.

The missionary pilot, Kevin Donaldson, managed to land the Cessna in the Amazon River after the plane was riddled with bullets. Donaldson suffered injuries to both legs, including a broken and shattered bone in his right leg and two wounded blood veins in his left leg, according to a report on the Association of Baptists for World Evangelization’s website, www.abwe.org.

Bowers’ husband, Jim, and their 6-year-old son, Cory, were not hit by the gunfire.

The Association of Baptists for World Evangelization is based in Harrisburg, Pa.

The Bowerses, of Muskegon, Mich., had been missionaries in Peru since 1993, working along the Amazon River from a houseboat. They had adopted their son in 1994 and their daughter last December.

“Their willingness to take risks in order to penetrate remote areas of the world with the gospel reflects the passion we should all have for reaching a lost world,” Rankin said.

“We have been in touch with our friends with the Association of Baptists for World Evangelization, and share the grief being experienced by the families of the victims and their missionary colleagues.”

Jim Bowers and his son returned to the United States Sunday, April 22.

In a statement on the ABWE website, Bowers said, “My son Cory and I would like to thank you all for your interest in us, and for your prayers for us at this difficult time of our lives. Roni and Charity were tragically killed, and we are suffering that loss. I’m sure we will feel the loss more as time goes by. In spite of that, we still are trusting in God.

“Above all we want to honor God and honor Roni’s work and ministry,” Bowers continued. “She enjoyed so much serving the Peruvians whom she loved. One of my main concerns is that I was not able to properly say goodbye to our dear Peruvian friends because of the urgency in leaving the country.”

The pilot, Kevin Donaldson, underwent surgery on both legs after being flown to the Philadelphia area April 22.

The Bowerses were returning from a trip to the Peru-Brazil border to tend to visa matters relating to their daughter.

The ABWE, in a statement on its website, reported, “All regulations were followed [by Donaldson], such as a flight plan, remaining in Peruvian airspace, and maintaining contact with the flight towers. The plane had recently been refurbished and was in top condition and was well marked.”

Just prior to 11 a.m. local time, Kevin radioed a local tower with his position, the ministry recounted. “Shortly thereafter, they were intercepted by a military plane; shots were fired. Kevin’s two legs were injured and Roni and Charity were shot and killed. Kevin was able to land the float plane on the river, saving his life and the lives of Jim and Cory.

“Jim was able to get Roni and Charity unbuckled and out of the plane. Cory jumped out of the plane and Kevin was able to pull himself out. They were rescued by a Peruvian in a dugout canoe and were taken to the clinic in the town of Pevas. Many of the believers from the church came to meet them and to help them, getting Cory into dry clothes and assisting in any way they could,” the ministry stated, with the Peruvian military, along with some U.S. personnel, subsequently evacuating the victims and the deceased from the region.

Roni Bowers, in a missionary testimony posted on the ABWE website, had once recounted, “God sparked an interest in my heart for missions very early. At the age of thirteen, I knew I wanted to be a missionary. My parents allowed me to graduate from high school a year early so I could attend a Bible college. Looking back, it seems like I was very young to graduate at sixteen years of age and start college at seventeen, but God was in it all.”

Her family had just moved into a home after her father retired from a 20-year Air Force career, when “a pastor came to welcome us to the community. He invited us to church and, surprisingly, we all went the following Sunday. For the first time, we heard that Jesus Christ gave his life as a living sacrifice so that people could be forgiven, and could spend eternity with a righteous God. I vividly remember the night, several weeks later, that my dad got on his knees and asked Jesus Christ to be his Savior. I was twelve years old when I saw my need for a Savior.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: LINE OF FIRE and A COMMITTED LIFE.