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YWAM Rallies After 11 Missionaries Killed, 8 Wounded in Tanzania Bus Accident

Darlene Cunningham: “We have not seen a tragedy of this magnitude in all of [our] history … [leaders’] deaths create a massive vacuum” for Youth With a Mission.”
YWAM Rallies After 11 Missionaries Killed, 8 Wounded in Tanzania Bus Accident
Image: Video screen grab / Wasafi Media / YouTube / RNS
An accident involving four vehicles occurred in the Ngaramtoni suburb of Arusha, northern Tanzania, on Feb. 24, 2024.

Days after a bus accident claimed 11 of its missionaries in Tanzania, leaders of Youth With a Mission (YWAM) are “devastated” but rallying prayer and support to aid medical evacuations, repatriations, and funeral arrangements expected to total hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Christian missionaries, seven of whom were from other countries, including one from the United States, died in the Ngaramtoni area near the city of Arusha in the eastern African country’s north.

Authorities say a construction truck hit one of two mini-buses carrying the missionaries. The participants in an “Executive Masters in Leadership” course were returning from a field trip in Maasai land when the truck lost its brakes, smashing into the bus.

“We have not seen a tragedy of this magnitude in all of YWAM’s history and we are all devastated,” stated YWAM cofounder Darlene Cunningham in a letter dated February 26. She explained:

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. 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.

On Wednesday (Feb. 28), members of YWAM in the region held prayers and send-off services for their departed colleagues.

“The mood is very sad,” Bernard Ojiwa, an official of YWAM in Tanzania, told Religion News Service in a phone call from Arusha. “We started the journey for burials of the local members.”

“We are also planning how the bodies of the foreign members could be sent home. For now, the bodies remain in the morgue,” he added.

Police sources in Arusha said the seven foreign nationals were from Kenya, Togo, Madagascar, Burkina Faso, South Africa, Nigeria, and the US.

YWAM has withheld the full names of its lost missionaries because many worked in non-Christian nations with security risks. “All of those that died were leaders of projects, training centers and ministries,” the ministry noted in an update on its website. “It is a major hit for our mission, especially the continent of Africa and the Middle East and Europe.”

The accident, which involved four motor vehicles in all, killed 25 people, 11 of them members of YWAM, and injured 21, eight of them with the mission group. John Mukolwe, a Kenyan and the base leader of the Arusha station, was among the dead.

“Mukolwe was a friend for more than 30 years. His death makes me very sad,” said Karin Kea, the administrator for YWAM’s base in the Athi River area in Kenya.

Abel Sibo, a Burundian member of the mission, posted a video on Facebook of YWAM missionaries singing the hymn “This Is the Day the Lord Has Made,” saying the group was singing before the accident occurred.

According to officials, members of the mission from around the globe have gone to the region to offer moral, pastoral, and counseling support.

“Our brothers and sisters in Tanzania are carrying so much at this time,” wrote Cunningham in her letter to the YWAM family. “Those who survived the accident and were first on the scene to render aid are suffering a trauma that will be deep and long lasting. The practical tasks that need to be done by survivors at the base after a tragedy like this are enormous, all the while trying to walk through their own grief.”

YWAM was founded by Loren and Darlene Cunningham in 1960 with an emphasis on sending young volunteers of different denominations to serve on short-term evangelization missions. The group now has some 2,000 offices worldwide and involves missionaries from 200 countries.

YWAM established its presence in Arusha in 2000 and has since established three fully staffed offices in the region. The center’s education programs include classes in discipleship ministry, tailoring, computer skills, and English language, among others.

“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,” wrote Cunningham. She encouraged the use of three Bible verses:

  • Hang on to the fact that, no matter what, we know that God is just and kind in all his ways (Ps. 145:17).
  • Remind yourself of Job 42:2. Job had lost everything and his response to God was I know that you can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Let’s hang on to that word!
  • Remind yourself of Isaiah 41:10: Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Tanzanian president Samia Suluhu Hassan sent a message of condolence and urged increased vehicle inspection and traffic law enforcement to prevent further loss of lives.

“These accidents take the lives of our loved ones, national workforce and family members. I continue to call upon everyone to follow traffic laws in the use of vehicles,” Suluhu wrote on X (formerly Twitter). “I send my condolences to family and friends who lost their loved ones. May the Almighty God rest them in peace! Ameen!”

“I like to think of Loren being there at the gates of heaven to greet and welcome these eleven beloved YWAMers!” wrote Darlene Cunnigham. “Our hearts rejoice knowing that they are rejoicing to be with Jesus, while at the same time, we weep for the loss of their presence among us.”

Additional reporting by CT staff.

[ This article is also available in Português Français Indonesian русский, and Українська. ]

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