Seventh-day Adventists, in Chiapas, Mexico, are still in shock after a rented bus carrying 46 church members, mostly young people, fell into a 270 foot, or 90-meter, ravine yesterday killing 16 and sending 26 to nearby hospital. One 17-year-old girl died this morning due to her injuries, bringing the total to 17 deceased, church leaders said. The group was returning from a youth spiritual retreat held on the beach in Costa del Sol, in the Pijijiapan district, on the pacific coast in southern Chiapas.
Officials are still investigating the cause of the accident that occurred in the mountainous region in Motozintla.
“This is a terrible tragedy,” said Ignacio Navarro, president of the church in Chiapas, Mexico, during a telephone interview today.
“Our hearts are heavy and broken with sadness right now,” said Navarro, who drove four hours to Motozintla with fellow administrators and union leaders after hearing of the accident last night. “One young person lost his little sister, brother and mother, another lost his wife, daughter and mother-- so there’s really not much we can say other than hug them and let them know we are here to support, and that they will soon see their loved ones when the Lord returns.”
Throughout the evening, church leaders worked with the local authorities and relatives of the deceased on transportation arrangements and prayed for the surviving family members who traveled to Motozintla. Dozens of pastors from throughout the different conferences and missions in Chiapas stayed with families at hospitals and churches to pray and offer hope in the midst of the tragic news.
It is the first time a tragedy of such large scale has happened among the church membership in Chiapas and the rest of the country, said Jose Luis Bouchot, executive secretary of the church in Chiapas. “Our hearts are in pain seeing so many young people in coffins.”
“We have a church membership who is mourning and praying for all these affected families,” said Bouchot of the more than 223,000 members living in Chiapas. Church members are providing food to family members and clothing for the deceased as they prepare for memorial services in their churches in the coming days, added Bouchot.
Nine victims were from La Trinitaria Adventist Church where leaders were to hold a special memorial service later today. Services for other victims will be held in local churches during the coming days.
The news went viral with coverage from media outlets. Even the president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, tweeted his condolences to the survivors.
“We join our brothers and sisters in Chiapas who are mourning the loss of their loved ones,” said Israel Leito, president of the church in Inter-America. “Words are not enough to express our deepest sadness during this time. These young people had a full life ahead of them, coming from a spiritual retreat together, but the Lord knows best and will continue to bless everyone who is mourning at this time. We must dedicate every minute to be ready for the coming of the Lord because we never know when our life will end.”
More than 1,000 young people and leaders gathered for one of two regional youth congress retreats organized by the Altos de Chiapas Conference held every year. Some traveled up to 14 hours to attend, church leaders said.
Erwin González, publishing ministries director for the church in Inter-America, was the guest speaker during the three-day spiritual retreat.
As González was heading back from the event he heard of the accident and traveled to Motozintla to assist local leaders in the logistics of the tragedy and to pray for the surviving families.
González also spoke during a memorial service at 2 a.m. this morning to more than 1,500 people in Motozintla who gathered from different church denominations.
“God is always in control and we will one day know why this tragedy happened,” said González. “We mourn with you, as a united global church in prayer, in this message of hope in Jesus, looking toward His Second Coming when we will see them again,” he said.
During the service, Navarro assured family members that the church would cover funeral costs for each one of the victims. He said church would join in caring for the mourning families and those still in the hospital.