By Tim Poppen
The trip to Tanzania was scheduled for last May. Kevin Negaard wanted to go on a mission trip with STEMM (Siouxland Tanzania Educational Medical Ministries), but he was planning for a trip later in the year. His job as executive director of Sunnybrook Community Church (RCA) in Sioux City, Iowa, and his baseball coaching at Morningside College made the trip in May very bad timing. But at the insistence of Jeff Moes, Sunnybrook’s senior pastor, and Steve Meyer, president of STEMM, Negaard reluctantly said yes and signed up to go to Tanzania.
Formerly an athletic trainer, Negaard worked in the physical therapy and medical fields for many years, but his purpose on the trip was primarily to explore the possibility of a partnership between STEMM and Sunnybrook. The team spent the week learning about STEMM’s projects—including an orphanage and an agriculture program—and helping with other tasks.
Near the end of the trip, the team planned to take a day off and go on an African safari. But Negaard and the team’s two other medical professionals, Manda Volkers and Jennifer Milby, were running behind. Although they were late from the team’s perspective, God made good use of the delay.
As the team headed out for the safari, their vehicle came across a horrific accident: a school bus had fallen into a ravine. A few locals had gathered to help, but no other vehicles were at the scene. The team pleaded with their driver to pull over. He eventually agreed. Without hesitation, Negaard, Milby, and Volkers began trying to rescue the victims—32 children and 6 adults.
With no one else around who had medical training, it was up to Negaard, Milby, and Volkers to pull bodies from the wreckage. As they did, they found three children who, despite massive injuries, still had heartbeats. The adults helped move the children into arriving ambulances that rushed them to a local hospital.
“I was amazed at what we did,” says Negaard. “All our medical training seemed to kick in at once, and Jen, Manda, and I worked as team.”
The team contacted the governments of both the U.S. and Tanzania, requesting that the children be allowed to travel to Sioux City for treatment not available in Tanzania. While all parties were amenable to the idea, no one would make the commitment to actually transport them.
Before a decision could be made, the mission trip ended, and Negaard and the team left Tanzania. On their layover in Amsterdam, they received a message from the international relief agency Samaritan’s Purse, which committed one of its DC-8 cargo planes to transport the children to the U.S. as soon as possible.
When the children arrived in Sioux City, they received immediate medical treatment. Two of the children are doing very well. The third was more severely injured and needs additional care, but even she has seen great progress—from paralysis to walking!
Negaard spent nearly every day with the children throughout their recovery in Iowa. In August, he accompanied them on their trip home, and he returned in December to see them off to school.
“I’m still in contact with them everyday,” says Negaard. “I am looking forward to seeing these miracle kids start their secondary education.
“I have been so blessed by these kids and this experience. … It’s amazing what [God] can do if we just say yes.”
Tim Poppen is a member of Sunnybrook Community Church (RCA) and media specialist for the Synod of the Heartland.