EL DORADO, Texas. Congregants of the First Baptist Church in El Dorado came together for an emotional prayer service, Wednesday night, as they remembered the bus accident that claimed the lives of eight senior members, October 13.
"This is an opportunity for us all to begin the healing process," the Rev. Andy Anderson said as the service opened.
Singing the hymns, Near to the Heart of God and It Is Well With My Soul, members of First Baptist lifted their voices to heaven in tear filled remembrances of those who died.
"What dear, dear friends we have lost," said Corrine Hext, 80, one of about 100 people who attended the service. "They have been in our Sunday school. They have been in our choir. ... These are my brothers and sisters."
"It's really been an awesome and overwhelming thing to experience," Anderson said.
The group of senior citizens left Eldorado on Sunday for a 16-day tour of national historic sites. However, it crashed into a cotton-hauling tractor-trailer parked on the shoulder of Interstate 20 in Tallulah, La.
The bus driver, Kenneth Thomas, 66, of Eldorado, survived the wreck and told investigators he fell asleep at the wheel before crashing into the truck, Louisiana state police said. Thomas is a deacon at the church.
Five of the eight people killed were members of the First Baptist Church: Domingo Pina, 65, and his wife, Delia Pina, 72; Kennith Richardson and his wife, Betty Richardson, both 81; and Mary Ruth Robinson, whose age was unavailable. Three funeral services are planned Friday at the church for the two married couples and Robinson, whose husband, James Robinson, survived the crash.
The three other victims were Jean Demere, 74, of Water Valley; LaVerne Shannon, 76, of San Angelo; and Jimmy Teele, 68, of Water Valley. They were friends of church members.
On the day after the wreck, Anderson was struggling to find time to prepare for three funerals of accident victims scheduled at his church on Oct. 17. The Richardsons' service was slated for 11 a.m., Mary Ruth Robinson's at 2 p.m., and the Pinas' at 4:30 p.m. He wasn't yet sure what he would say.
"I'll attempt to preach a message of comfort to the families, based on the hope we have in Jesus Christ," Anderson said.
"Of course, this is as much of a shock for us as it would be for anyone. The big difference is our faith in Christ and our hope of a future beyond this life. We don't understand tragedy, but we know the Lord is with us. We can't understand and can't see his hand in this, but we know his heart. And that makes it possible to get through it."
Anderson expressed appreciation for the support offered by churches of all denominations in his community, from the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and particularly to Director of Missions Roger English in Concho Valley Baptist Association.
"It's going to take a long time even to discover all that we lost. But we will rally, and through it all, we pray the Lord will be glorified," he said.