A Letter From Darlene Cunningham (Arusha Tragedy)

Published on: February 26, 2024

Dear YWAM Family,

By now, you have heard of the tragic bus accident in Tanzania on February 24 that took the lives of eleven key YWAM leaders. At this time, eight more are still in the hospital. (You can read the names and all of the background information on ywam.org).

In these days, tears are being poured out across the world by individuals, families and YWAMers worldwide. I am personally reeling from the weight of this news, as I knew and loved many of these individuals personally. But I am leaning into the character of God for what I know to be true about who He is!

The background: Participants in the “Executive Masters in Leadership” course, based at YWAM Arusha, Tanzania, took a field trip in two buses to Maasai land, where they observed our thriving community development program. They had a very good day together. On the return trip to Arusha, a truck that had lost its brakes smashed into our 2nd bus, literally crushing it from top to bottom. Eleven of our beloved friends were killed and eight others are severely wounded, battling for their lives. We have not seen a tragedy of this magnitude in all of YWAM’s history and we are all devastated.

Not only have husbands and wives, friends and co-workers been lost, but also YWAM ministry leaders. The individuals involved in running the Executive Masters were key YWAM leaders in the region – some leading flourishing YWAM bases; others giving leadership in the field of education and other spheres; others ministering in restricted-access locations where no one else would dare to go – and seeing the hand of God upon their ministries in amazing ways. The students attracted to the Executive Masters were the same caliber of people – life-long committed YWAM missionary pioneers. So their deaths create a massive vacuum in this part of the world for YWAM as a missionary movement.

Our brothers and sisters in Tanzania are carrying so much at this time. Those who survived the accident and were first on the scene to render aid are suffering a trauma that will be deep and long lasting. The practical tasks that need to be done by survivors at the base after a tragedy like this are enormous, all the while trying to walk through their own grief (the Arusha base leader and training director were among those who lost their lives).

The base has erected two tents on the property where family members and community members can come, pay their respects and grieve together. The Executive Masters students that are still there are sleeping in rooms where there’s an empty bed and eating meals without their fellow cohorts. And then there are those who have lost a partner, or a father or mother who will need our continual love and support. Ministry teams will need to adjust and fill leadership gaps that were not there before. The void and the needs go on and on….

Local and international YWAM leaders are gathering to support the remaining team members on the ground as they face the many details of repatriation, medical evacuation, family support, funeral arrangements, and many other logistics. (Current expenses are approximately USD $350,000).

In the midst of all of this, let us choose to be stronger than we were before. Wounded? Yes we are wounded. But just as with a natural wound, when treated correctly, the surrounding muscles become even stronger than before. Where you may have easily lost your balance previously, with the right care, you move onto good balance and are able to be stronger than you were before the wounding.

Let us commit – for ourselves personally, and for those most closely impacted by this – to get the right care, to become stronger than ever before. Healing is not going to take place overnight. We will have to work, care deeply for each other, and be ready to go the extra mile. But with God’s help, I know it’s wonderfully possible.

Here are a few reminders I would encourage you to take hold of, as we mourn this profound loss:

  • Hang onto the fact that, no matter what, we know that God is just and kind in all His ways (Ps 145:17).
  • Remind yourself of Job 42:2. Job had lost everything and his response was “I know that You can do all things and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” Let’s hang onto that word!
  • Remind yourself of Isaiah 41:10: “…do not fear, for I am with you, do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
  • Remind yourself of the word over and over, especially the Psalms, where God promises us that He will protect us with His strong right arm and keep us from falling.

I have found myself in these days lifting my right arm toward heaven, and extending my hand to the Lord saying, “I feel like I’m slipping, but I hang onto Your strong right arm and know that I can be secure in Your loving care!” And then I hang on with all my might!

Let’s increase our prayer, and specifically include every nation and YWAM base around the globe by name.

Let’s ask: How can we support the ministries that have lost their loved ones? May our prayer be, “here am I; send me.”

Dear missionary family, it is at this time we hold onto our God and each other, proving that He is always great enough to see us through every trial that we encounter.

I like to think of Loren being there at the gates of heaven to greet and welcome these eleven beloved YWAMers! Our hearts rejoice knowing that they are rejoicing to be with Jesus, while at the same time, we weep for the loss of their presence among us.

Blessings and love to each one of you!


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