GARNER — A Garner church group that just returned from a mission to Guatemala saw relief efforts turn tragic there.
Hurricane Mitch claimed dozens of lives in Guatemala, including those of eleven American missionaries. A church group from Garner was working with that mission when their plane went down during Mitch's downpour.
"You could see the devastation," explained Victory Fellowship member Eileen Johnson. "Part of the road was washed out. You could see where the mountains had fallen down into the road. They had to scrape them up with bulldozers."
Johnson and seven other members of Garner's Victory Fellowship returned this week from a mission to Guatemala. They joined the Texas-based Living Water Teaching Mission for ten days in the Guatemalan mountains.
The group provided medical aid to 7,000 people and distributed thousands of pounds of food to natives who lined up for help.
"They just live in tin shacks, just put together. Of course the wind and rain, it was just devastating to them," said Johnson.
Mudslides washed out roads, leaving entire communities isolated. Tragedy struck close to home when the mission's plane went down with 18 people on board.
"There's no radar. They had to land by visual sight. They found a hole in the clouds, but right behind the hole was a mountain," said Victory Fellowship pastor Mitch Horton.
Among the 11 who died in Sunday's crash were mission founder Jim Zirkle and four of his top leaders. Zirkle has ministered at Victory Fellowship in Garner. Church members say the mission's work will continue.
"Jim's wife Marion, as I understand, will take over as head of the ministry, and we believe it'll get larger and stronger, and we'll recoup from this terrible tragedy," said Horton.
The missionaries who died in the crash were buried Friday in Texas. In Guatemala, 27,000 people have been evacuated and 150 are missing.