(Photo: Chitokoloki Mission Hospital)
A funeral was held Tuesday for a young missionary couple that died over the weekend in a tragic plane crash in Zambia.
Gordon Hanna, a missionary and administrator of the Chitokoloki Mission Hospital, has been posting daily updates to the hospital's website ever since his friends and colleagues, Jay and Katrina Erickson, were killed late Saturday afternoon. The couple crashed into the Zambezi River, he reports, during a return trip to the hospital after dropping off a nurse in another town.
After the plane went down, the hospital was notified and several people rushed to the river only to find that the plane had been completely submerged when they arrived. They tried to obtain a boat with an engine so they could search for the crash site, but stopped searching that evening when it began to get dark.
"We feel absolutely distraught and completely overwhelmed with sadness, agony and grief over this and so helpless that we could not do something more," wrote Hanna.
When they returned to the mission that night, he says, they found Christians gathered at the site's church building "singing quietly and expressing their sympathy in the traditional way."
The next day, after several hours of searching, they located the aircraft. Zambia air force divers and other officials showed up afterward, and were able to recover the couple's bodies.
Sadly, the trip was the first one Katrina had taken with her husband since they began serving at the station several months ago. Their two daughters – two-year-old Marina and one-year-old Coral – stayed behind at the hospital while their parents took the flight.
Jay received his training as an aircraft mechanic and bush pilot from Moody Aviation, a branch of the Moody Bible Institute that works in partnership with Spokane Community College in Spokane, Wash., according to his blog. He and his wife, both in their late 20s, were serving as full-time volunteers at the hospital, where she played a number of roles and he transported medical supplies, food, doctors, nurses, missionaries and more in the hospital's Cessna 206 plane.
Hanna told The Christian Post via email Tuesday that those serving at the hospital have relied on their faith to get them through this difficult time.
"[It is] hard to understand, but we have to put our faith into practice knowing fully that God knows why and is a loving God, and that, as it was His will, we must press on," said Hanna.
The Ericksons had planned to work at the hospital until February 2013, when they would have considered whether or not they should stay longer. With the approval of both of their parents, a funeral service was held for Jay and Katrina in Zambia, where they were buried.
Hanna described the funeral as "emotional, respectful, honoring to the Lord and very dignified, but great sorrow." He says it was attended by over 2,000 people, most of them from Zambia and a few from Zimbabwe as well.
According to Ron Ulmer, who was the Erickson family's pastor at Hillyard Baptist Church in Spokane, Katrina's parents and Jay's mother are traveling to the African nation this week and will work out the details of bringing Marina and Coral back to the United States.
Ulmer says the Ericksons were "very faithful Christians who worked hard at what they were doing," and their deaths were a "blow to the congregation." He added that God's timing is different from man's, and said, "They were doing what they wanted to do. They had planned for it, and they felt like it was the Lord's will and that's what He had for them."
In April, Jay posted his thoughts about death on his blog, saying, "There is nothing sad about the death of a Christian."
He continued, "The only sadness (and I do not intend to belittle this aspect) is in the loss of companionship by those left behind. And yet, to contrast this, the level of tragedy is so vast for the passing of an unbeliever. To borrow from physics, it seems the 'equal and opposite reaction.' It warms my heart to hear the frequent and fervent preaching of the Gospel here."
Hanna says he still does not know what caused the plane to crash.