Washington may have been embroiled this week in President Trump’s firing of James Comey, the investigations of Russia’s role in the 2016 campaign and other political matters, but outside the Beltway many were mourning the horrific school-bus crash in Tanzania in which 32 people, mostly students, died.
A team from an Iowa-based ministry shared the grief, as members were in virtually the next vehicle on the muddy, slippery pathway where the accident happened in northern Tanzania.
They were the ones who scrambled down the steep, scrub-brush-covered slope to the mangled bus. They were the ones who pulled many of the bodies of the victims from the wreckage. They were the ones who found three students, although badly injured, still breathing.
They were the ones who frantically summoned help to get the survivors to the hospital.
And they now are the ones arranging for air ambulance transport to the United States of the three badly injured students, who are suffering broken bones and head injuries, with help from Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse.
The Iowans not only pre-arranged medical treatment and rehab for the students, they set up housing, food and clothing for the students’ mothers, who will accompany them Sunday on flights from Tanzania to Libya, then to Charlotte, North Carolina, and finally to Sioux City, Iowa.
Why, WND asked Steve Meyer, board chairman for Siouxland Tanzania Educational Medical Ministries, would the Midwest-based ministry take on a responsibility that may have no end?
He gave the same answer he gave to the Muslim father of a 12-year-old boy who suffered multiple broken limbs and dislocations in the accident.
“Because it’s the right thing to do.”
There were only three survivors of the crash. Al Jazeera reported May 6 the crash killed the bus driver, two teachers and 29 students — 12 boys and 17 girls — from the Lucky Vincent school in Arusha.
The bus veered off a steep road in rainy conditions near the town of Karatu and plunged into a river, Al Jazeera said.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli said it was a “national tragedy.”
A team from STEMM, which runs an orphanage and school, and teaches farming skills, health, safety and more in the region, already was in the country, among other things, marking the ministry’s 20th anniversary. They were planning a day off, some sight-seeing and were traveling on the same road as the crash, just minutes behind.
In “God’s providence” they were in the third vehicle to come upon the accident. After triage efforts and moving the three survivors to a local hospital, Meyer said, team members felt the burden to move the children to the best care they could find.
They spent 24 hours contacting federal officials, without arriving at a solution.
Eventually they were faced with a decision: whether or not to take on a liability of $280,000 for a round-the-world air ambulance trip.
Then, Meyer told WND, Franklin Graham of Samaritan’s Purse suddenly was on the phone.
“How can I help you?” Meyer said Graham asked.
Samaritan’s Purse made arrangements for jet transport, while STEMM canvassed its own community. They obtained assurances of hospital care, nurses volunteering for extra duty, families from the community arranging food, clothing, housing and more for the students’ mothers, who also were traveling.
“It was just amazing,” Meyer said.
“When I heard about the tragic bus accident in Tanzania and the three children who survived, I knew Samaritan’s Purse had to do everything we could to help. We sent our DC-8 aircraft to bring these injured children back to America for trauma care,” Graham said. “We are so grateful for Mercy Medical Center Sioux City providing the medical care they need. I believe God has a plan for these children and we are praying for their recovery. I am also thankful for members of Dr. Steven Meyer’s team who, like the Good Samaritan in the Bible, stopped to help when they came upon this horrific wreck.”
Meyer remembers sharing the plans with the children’s parents.
The father of the 12-year-old, a devout Muslim, simply asked, “Why? Why? Why?”
“Well, the God we serve reached out to Samaritans, Gentiles and it didn’t matter. That’s what we do,” he told WND he responded.
The injuries are not minor: legs fractured, a head injury, nerve injuries, a fractured jaw, spine fractures, broken shoulder, broken legs and elbow dislocations.
Meyer said it was a miracle that Tanzanian officials are allowing the children to leave, since they routinely reject outside aid.
And he said his own personal challenge came when he went to the memorial service and saw 32 caskets lined up.
But how can any ministry take on the obligation of hospitalization, care and rehab for such badly injured people?
“If nothing else, it’s an example of what our philosophy always has been – we believe God’s arms are never too short,” Meyer said.
STEMM already had put 10,000 children in school in the region, arranged for 1,000 medical operations over the years, and delivered instruction on farming and building bridges, roads and wells, he said.
“Every day we forget about the what, and think about the why,” he explained. “We really do believe God works in all things.”
He said restoring the children to health will create “a living legacy for decades of what people do when they’re faithful.”
See news video of the scene: