Jefferson City — What began as a relaxing break from mission work in El Salvador turned into tragedy when Keith Ward of Chaffee, a member of Fruitland Community Church near Cape Girardeau, drowned off a Pacific Ocean beach on April 21.
A mission team volunteer, Heber Mena, pastor of Familia Cristiana Internacional, an Hispanic congregation in Jefferson City, rescued Ward’s wife, Karen. But he and others could not get to her husband in time. When Keith Ward, 48, was pulled from the water about 10 minutes later, another mission team member administered CPR but was unable to revive him. He was pronounced dead at a local clinic.
The Wards were missionaries sent by their church in cooperation with the Missouri Baptist Convention to coordinate volunteers for MBC’s partnership with Baptists in El Salvador, according to Calvin Brown, director of missions for Concord Baptist Association and a member of the mission team. He and and Mena witnessed the accident.
“They had only been in the country for three weeks,” Brown wrote in an e-mail. “We got to know them and they accompanied us several times during the week.”
The Saturday visit to the beach followed a full week of meeting with church leaders to discuss partnership ideas, Brown wrote. The volunteers hoped to rest up before Sunday services. The team was accompanied by the Wards and El Salvadoran contacts.
“No one but Keith and Karen themselves know the full extent of what happened,” Brown wrote. “What we do know was that the surf was very rough and that the two of them…were taken out further from shore than they expected.
“All efforts were made to rescue them,” the director of missions wrote. “Heber Mena was able to get to Karen, saving her, but no one was able to reach Keith until it was too late.”
God was glorified in spite of the accident, Brown wrote.
On Sunday, team members had planned to preach in several churches across the country. “Instead, the national Baptist leaders and we agreed to hold one joint service in honor of Keith. Karen’s one request for this was that the gospel be preached.
“The Holy Spirit was very evident throughout the service,” Brown said. “During the invitation time, one came for salvation and six surrendered to the ministry, and a number of others came rededicating their lives.
According to the Southeast Missourian, the couple planned to serve in El Salvador for three years.
Ward is survived by three children: Jenny, 27; Matt, 22; and Christa, 18.
“Family was his focus, whether it was the church family or his immediate family,” his son told a reporter. “My father was the single hardest working individual I have ever met.”
Keith Ward was a cabinet maker; his wife taught in the Advance School District. They left their jobs to go to El Salvador, their mission work funded by their church.
A graveside service was held on April 30 at Cape County Memorial Park, followed by the funeral at Cape Bible Chapel, both in Cape Girardeau. (4-30-07)