KANSAS CITY, Mo. >> A small southwest Missouri church that serves people from Micronesia is trying to carry on after six of its members apparently were lost at sea earlier this year during a mission trip to their native land, the church’s pastor said.
The four men and two women from the House of Mercy Church in Neosho have not been seen since they boarded a boat on March 9 in Chuuk, an island in the Federated States of Micronesia, to travel to an island 60 miles away to spread their Christian faith, said Pastor Tonis Mathew, who was on the trip but had gone ahead of the others to the mission site.
A Coast Guard spokeswoman in Hawaii said the search for the missing mariners was conducted by the Guam Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy and other vessels. The official search turned up a gas can belonging to the owner of the boat was found, but no other trace of the mariners.
Mathew said he also searched but did not locate the church members, who are all natives of Micronesia. No active search has been conducted since then. Despite the long odds, Mathew said the church has not completely given up hope that their friends washed up on one of the many uninhabited islands in that area of the Pacific Ocean.
“That’s what we are hoping and praying that somehow they can be recovered,” he said. “If not, we know they are in a better place.”
The church’s tragedy has only recently become public because Micronesian people are not comfortable asking for help, said Mathew. Between 100 and 150 people now worship in the church he established in 2004.
“We are from a culture that is wary of putting people out, we try to solve our problems within our community,” he said. “I don’t really know how to handle situations like this.”
That began to change when Lisa Baldwin, who taught one of the missing men’s daughter, heard the story and offered to help the girl’s family. She and other Neosho residents wanted to help but hesitated because the church members keep to themselves. Finally, Baldwin said her faith prompted her to “get out of her comfort zone” and approach Mathew.
The pastor acknowledged the aftermath has been a struggle, both financially and emotionally. He said Micronesian men are generally the breadwinners and the women stay home. One of the women who disappeared was the sole provider for three children.
“There are several children and now the families have to scramble to come up with plans to help them,” he said. “Right now the church is sort of the income for all the families and children.”
A GoFundMe campaign for the families has raised $2,195 of its $20,000 goal as of today. A bank fund also is available and more fundraisers are planned.
“I think they’ll make it with or without us but I feel like, in my heart, we can’t sit back and do nothing,” Baldwin said. “It is very hard for them to accept help. They aren’t seeking handouts. I have no doubt in my mind, once they get up on their feet, they’ll pay it forward.”
Mathew said he has learned to accept help from others as a gift from God.
“I know now we are not an island unto ourselves, that there are godly people who want to help you,” he said. “I thank God for the people who have helped us.”