YWAM co-founder 'reeling' from death of missionaries in bus crash

A road accident that occurred in the Ngaramtoni suburb of Arusha, northern Tanzania, led to the deaths of at least 15 people, including three foreigners. Twelve others were seriously injured in the accident involving four vehicles on February, 24, 2024.(Photo: YouTube/Wasafi Media)

(CP) Youth With a Mission elder, Darlene Cunningham, who co-founded the interdenominational Christian training organization with her late-husband Loren Cunningham in 1960, said the 11 missionaries killed and eight others injured in a grisly crash near Arusha, Tanzania, on Saturday, is a historic loss for the ministry and tears are falling around the world over the event.

"In these days, tears are being poured out across the world by individuals, families and YWAMers worldwide. I am personally reeling from the weight of this news, as I knew and loved many of these individuals personally. But I am leaning into the character of God for what I know to be true about who He is!" said Cunningham.

The missionaries were participants in a University of the Nations Executive Masters course intensive based in Arusha and had traveled to Maasai land in two buses where they observed the ministry's "thriving community development program," she said.

"They had a very good day together," Cunningham recalled.

Video shared online from one of the buses as the group traveled to Maasai land shows participants singing "This Is The Day the Lord Has Made."

Tragedy disrupted the success of the trip on their way back to Arusha, however, when a truck that "had lost its brakes smashed into our 2nd bus, literally crushing it from top to bottom," Cunningham said.

"Eleven of our beloved friends were killed and eight others are severely wounded, battling for their lives. We have not seen a tragedy of this magnitude in all of YWAM's history and we are all devastated," she said.

"Not only have husbands and wives, friends and co-workers been lost, but also YWAM ministry leaders. The individuals involved in running the Executive Masters were key YWAM leaders in the region — some leading flourishing YWAM bases; others giving leadership in the field of education and other spheres; others ministering in restricted-access locations where no one else would dare to go — and seeing the hand of God upon their ministries in amazing ways," she said.

"The students attracted to the Executive Masters were the same caliber of people — life-long committed YWAM missionary pioneers. So their deaths create a massive vacuum in this part of the world for YWAM as a missionary movement."

Cunningham's statement comes as prayers continued to go up for the victims of the crash and the ministry.

Missionary and activist Sean Feucht was among the first outside the East African nation to publicize the crash Saturday in an appeal for prayers on X.

"Please pray for the families, loved ones and those currently injured and in critical condition right now!" Feucht said in an appeal to his followers.

YWAM previously released only partial names of the 11 missionaries killed and others injured online for security reasons. The dead were noted as: Claire M., Zabulon T., Emmanuel D., Vicent K., John M., Blaise G., Ime E., Andrew D., Chimene D., Lova R., and Lordienne N.

The injured were listed as: Mathurin B. and Joelle Z. are in critical condition, and Paul Dav., Isaac B., Janet F., Cyrille A., Benjamin N., and Paulo M.

Isaac B. has since been released from hospital to return home.

Despite the ministry sharing only partial names of the victims, their family members and friends, like Gracelynn Mataia of Kansas City, Missouri, have been publicly providing photos of their full portraits online.

Mataia said her father, Paulo Mataia, who is shown singing in video, was traveling in the second of the two buses. He survived the crash but his wife, Claire, to whom he had been married for less than a year, did not.

"Yesterday we received word that Claire, beloved wife to our Dad, has gone to be with Jesus. Claire was a long-time YWAMer and proud Kansan, who served as a teacher across Africa and the Middle East. And when she married our father in May of last year, her heart for our people in the Pacific was one that was filled with daily prayers. We have no words that can describe such a loss to our family, so please continue to pray for us as well as our Kueffer Ohana."

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