After a day filled with swimming, exploring caves, and hiking through the Belizian jungle, 16 members of an Upper Bucks family were looking forward to one final dinner together.
Most were scheduled to fly back to the United States the next day after a week-long visit, leaving Nathanael and Spring Davis and their four children behind to continue their missionary work on behalf of the deaf community in the Central American country.
“Everything had been perfect,” recalls Nathanael.
And then, in a split second, it wasn’t.
Shortly after 7 p.m. on Sept. 6, the van they were traveling in slammed into the back of an unlit, fully loaded dump truck in the city of Spanish Lookout. Nathanael, who was driving, didn’t see the slow-moving truck until a car in front of him turned. But by then, it was too late. Davis figures he was doing between 40 and 50 mph, slower than the posted speed limit.
“After the car turned, I looked up, and the first thing I saw was what I thought was a wall,” he says. “It didn’t make sense. I hit the brakes right away.”
“It was a perfect storm,” adds Nathanael, who was briefly trapped behind the wheel, sustained a broken rib, multiple fractures of a toe, and several bruises and lacerations. “If we had come along a few minutes later or if the car in front of us had turned earlier, we probably would have been fine.”
Among the injured were Spring’s parents — Rand and Mary Ruth Ziegler, of Sellersville. Rand, 71, suffered a broken hip, while Mary Ruth, 72, sustained a brain hemorrhage, jaw fractures, and extensive dental damage. Both underwent emergency surgery in Belize but have since returned to Bucks County for extended rehabilitation at Grand View Hospital. Additional surgeries are expected for Mary Ruth, a longtime nurse at Ridge Crest in Sellersville. Rand’s recovery has been complicated by pneumonia.
Spring Davis, 44, sustained two broken legs and a shattered shoulder, requiring surgery in Mexico. The Sellersville native faces a challenging recovery during which she is expected to be unable to walk for at least three months.
The Davis family’s four children were also injured. Zephaniah, 12, required stitches to the inside of his mouth. Zion, 15, suffered an injury to her knee and was awaiting further testing to determine whether any fractures are present. Selah, 17, sustained contusions to her face and shoulder, while Abi, 19, suffered minor injuries and plans to leave soon on a mission experience with Youth with a Mission (YWAM).
Spring’s sister — Summer Bennetch, of Lancaster County — and her family were also injured. Summer, 42, sustained a broken wrist for which she underwent surgery after returning to the United States. Her husband, Isaac, 42, sustained lacerations on his leg. Their children were also hurt: Evander, 8, sustained a nasal fracture; Mackenzie, 9, suffered fractures of her left knee and right arm; Emily, 14, sustained a nasal fracture and facial lacerations; and Savannah, 16, fractured her clavicle. Three of the four children will require surgery for their injuries.
“I’ve never had to experience this level of trauma with almost every single direct family member in my life,” said Sellersville resident Mark Ziegler, Spring’s brother. He sustained multiple facial fractures.
“We all got hurt extremely badly, either physically, emotionally, or both,” Ziegler said. “But we definitely were surrounded by His [God’s] angels that night.”
The Davis family, members of Finland Mennonite Church in Pennsburg, has served in Belize for six of the past eight years, currently working with a sign language program in partnership with the Fountain of Life Church in Spanish Lookout. Their goal, says Nathanael, is to “empower deaf people” by making sure they have equal access to church, school, medical and legal services.
For now, the family plans to resume its ministry as soon as Spring is back on her feet, and they replace the van Nathanael had used for the 2.5-hour commute between his two missions. In the meantime, they will guide others to help carry out their mission.
Despite the pain and suffering of family members, the Davis’s say they haven’t questioned why God allowed such a horrific accident to happen.
“When we’re doing God’s work, it doesn’t mean bad stuff won’t happen,” says Nathanael. “We just have to slow down and work together. By the grace of God, we just try to take it and respond well to it. It’s not easy, it’s difficult, it’s challenging. But God will get us through it.”
A GoFundMe account has been set up for the families to help with medical expenses. So far, about $78,000 toward the $100,000 goal has been raised. To contribute, go to https://www.gofundme.com/f/ptr3zk-davis-family-emergency. Follow family updates on Facebook.