PHOENIX – A car crash with a fatality on South Mountain derailed a mission team’s trip to Mexico even as it forged strong bonds between two Southern Baptist churches.
Randy Stover, leader of an eight-person mission team from Ten Mile Church in McLeansboro, Ill., experienced a medical emergency and the SUV he was driving Nov. 9 sailed 40 feet down off a ledge on South Mountain Preserve. He died at the scene and three passengers were transported by ambulance to a local hospital.
The Illinois church was in its first partnership with Foothills Baptist Church in Ahwatukee, a southernmost Phoenix community. It won’t be the last, said Pastor Jacob Gray of Ten Mile Church.
“We were just building the relationship with Foothills,” Gray told Arizona Baptists’ Portraits news magazine. “To ride with them and work with them, we thought, was a great way to do missions together.”
The plan was for the eight-person Ten Mile team to join with the 12-person Foothills team, and together build an 11 x 22 – that’s 242 square foot – home for a family who previously lived in a shack formed by pallets covered in cardboard.
In the aftermath of the crash, “Foothills has loved us and our church in a way I can never be able to say thank you enough,” Gray continued. Ten Mile Church anticipates sending a team again next year to work with Foothills.
“Several of our church members opened their homes to family members [in Phoenix after hearing of the crash] so they could rest, take a shower, or whatever they needed,” Foothills’ Missions Director Jeanne Nation told Portraits. “Whatever they need, it’s available whenever they need it.”
Several Foothills members provide a “ministry of presence” at the hospital, sitting with Ten Mile members, praying with them, consoling them and engaging them in conversation to relieve some of the stress.
“I think we just see ourselves as one body of Christ because we were partnering on this trip together,” Nation said. “We just want to do our part to help them out while they’re here, away from their support group.”
The injured – two teen boys and one adult man – all have moved from “life-threatening” or “very serious” to “serious” conditions. They’re now all awake, aware their family and friends are with them, and talking, often about Randy Stover.
“Randy was passionate about missions and helping our church be passionate about missions,” said Gray from his office at Ten Mile Church. He had traveled immediately to Phoenix when he heard about the accident but had to return Saturday evening to preach on Sunday.
Over the last week up to 20 different people from Ten Mile Church have made the 1,600-mile (if by land) flight to Phoenix to be with their loved ones and to join their hearts with the Foothills church that shares in the loss.
“We’re going to honor Randy by continuing to be passionate about missions and not let hearts grow cold,” Gray said.
Stover was born in Benton, Ill., and grew up at Ten Mile Church, where his parents were missional members. His dad was a deacon and, in time, Randy became a deacon, too.
He parlayed his engineering degree and construction career into missions projects often involving a pen – for drawing architectural renderings – or hammering handicap ramps locally and houses in Mexico.
Stover, who was 65 when he died, had moved with his family in the late 1990s to Phoenix for work, and home again two years ago, where he rejoined Ten Mile after having been at Foothills during his stay in Arizona’s largest city.
He had co-started and gone on most of Foothills’ mission trips to build one house a year for residents in Rocky Point (Puerto Penasco) in Mexico, about four hours southwest of Phoenix, on the Bay of California, between Baja California and the mainland.
They partnered with Amor Ministries, a California Christian-based nonprofit that has helped those who have built more than 200,000 homes over the last 43 years.
When Stover returned two years ago to Illinois, he again was called as a Ten Mile deacon and also served on the missions team. Last year he invited an initially disinterested Pastor Gray to join him in Foothills’ missions endeavor south of the border. Gray had never been on an international mission trip.
“It was life-changing for me,” Gray said. “It was an amazing trip, seeing how something as simple as a one-room home can change someone’s life forever, can change an entire family’s life forever.”
He would return every year there were slots available, the pastor said, but all eight slots for Ten Mile’s first-ever churchwide mission trip to Mexico this year were quickly filled by four men and four teen boys.
Four in the lead vehicle – with Stover showing off one of his favorite areas of Phoenix – and four in the second vehicle had made it all the way to Dobbins Lookout near the top of South Mountain Preserve, home to three mountain ranges: the Ma Ha Tauk, Gila and Guadalupe.
From there the eight mission team members from Ten Mile Church hiked parts of a few of the preserve’s 50 trails in the area and had an unobstructed panoramic view of the valley that contains Phoenix, with its metro population of about 5 million.
The medical emergency on the return down the mountain caused Stover to stomp on the gas. Seconds later they were airborne, only to land wheels down in the desert below with a crunching thud and the people in the second vehicle looking on in horror.
The Ten Mile team had just arrived that morning from Illinois and were to leave from Foothills Church at 6 a.m. the next morning for the four-hour drive to Puerto Penasco.
The Foothills team did not go to Mexico. “We refocused on meeting the needs of the people from Ten Mile Church flying in to be with their family members,” Nation said.
At Foothills Church Sunday, time was given to pray for Stover’s wife, two daughters and mother, as well as for the Ten Mile members injured in the crash, for their families, and for the people from the Illinois church who were in Phoenix, and for members from both churches who knew Stover.
At Ten Mile Church there were three nights of prayer, “One for our church, one for youth and one for the community,” Gray said. “Randy was known for his love for missions and for helping people in need.”
Despite the crash, loss of life and serious injuries, the house got built.
Amor Ministries’ Mexico-based team, already onsite in Puerto Penasco, built the house with help from a Catholic youth group there building a different house, and some village residents.
The family gave the completed home an inscription in wet concrete to memorialize Stover, “En memoria de Randy Stover Foothills B.Ch.”
“While this tragedy has made us all heartsick, the Father has used it to knit the hearts of our two congregations together around this mission to not just build a home but to bring the gospel to those who need Christ,” Foothills Pastor Brian McCoy told Portraits.
“Lord willing, Foothills will return to Rocky Point to engage this mission again,” the pastor continued. “We look forward to welcoming members of Ten Mile Church as we engage in this mission together.”