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Church's charitable mission turns tragic

/ Source: The Associated Press

The flag was at half-staff Wednesday at Tabernacle Baptist Church.

Inside, the church was hushed as solemn-faced staff tried to go about the work in front of them. But a few staff members are working on something they've never done before — trying to bring the bodies of two dead church members back from Honduras.

Perry Goad, 45, and Richard Mason, 58, were killed — along with Martha Aline Fuller, 66, also from Georgia — when a truck filled with charity workers overturned Tuesday in eastern Honduras. The truck the group was riding in flipped over in rugged terrain in eastern Olancho province near the border with Nicaragua, said Honduran police spokesman Jose Andino.

Goad and Mason — both longtime members at Tabernacle — had been on multiple mission trips to Honduras over the last few years through the church. Family members and friends said both men's eyes lit up when they talked about their work helping build houses and set up latrines in impoverished Honduran villages.

The men were part of a group of 28 adults from four church groups organized by Decatur, Ga.-based Honduras Outreach Inc. The organization said that about 10 others on the mission team were injured, "ranging from head injuries to a broken femur as well as other non life-threatening injuries."

They were airlifted by the U.S. Army to a Honduran hospital, the group said.

Fuller was a member of Newnan First United Methodist Church in Newnan, Ga., according to Honduras Outreach. A call by The Associated Press to the Newnan church was not immediately returned.

Mission will continue
Tabernacle pastor Don Hattaway said the church will go ahead with other mission trips planned this year, including one where college students will travel to Thailand. The church, which has about 1,200 members, held a special vigil Tuesday evening to remember Goad and Mason.

"We were stunned. We were shocked," Hattaway said Wednesday standing in the church's parking lot. "But we are hopeful. We trust the Lord."

Hattaway said the church also would hold special prayers Wednesday night for the families of the two men and of the others who were on the trip. Two other Tabernacle members, Carey Roth and David Apple, sustained minor injuries and are expected to return home in the next few days.

The church is working with the U.S. Embassy in Honduras and local funeral homes to expedite the return of Goad and Mason's bodies, Hattaway said.

Ledy Pacheco, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Honduras, told the AP the Embassy would return the victim's bodies to Georgia as soon as possible, but she did not give an exact time frame.

At Goad's home in White, Ga., a crowd of family and friends gathered Wednesday.

Goad owned his own heating and air conditioning repair business and loved to work with his hands, family members said.

‘Inspired by helping others’
"He was a fix-it person," said his brother, Danny Gibson, of Dalton. "That's why they liked to take him on mission trips. Perry has always been inspired by helping others." Gibson said Goad often described Honduras as "where my heart is."

This was Goad's third trip to Honduras — he paid for all the trips out of his own pocket, family said.

His daughter, Kendra, a 20-year-old sophomore and basketball player at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in south Georgia, said her father had always been her coach.

"It's going to be hard playing basketball and not having him there," Kendra Goad said.

Mason, 58, was executive director of The Etowah Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money for college scholarships for Bartow County students. This was his fifth trip to Honduras.

A man who answered the phone at Mason's home Wednesday said the family did not want to comment.

DeeJay Jackson, program director at the foundation, said her boss often talked of his mission trips. When he returned last year, he was proud that some of the villagers had recognized him from previous trips, Jackson said.

LaDonna Jordan, chairwoman of the foundation, said Mason was involved in nearly every aspect of the Cartersville community, serving on boards and volunteering his time. Before coming to the foundation, he owned several restaurants in town.

"You name it and he had either done it or was doing it currently," Jordan said. "That was his whole life: church, family and the community."

A ‘heartbreaking loss’
Honduras Outreach chairman Jerry Eickhoff said in the statement that the organization is "devastated that this tragic accident occurred with the heartbreaking loss of three members of this outreach effort. Our hearts go out to the families of these individuals."

The group's short-term mission teams help bring fresh water to villages, build chimneys and concrete floors in Honduran homes and construct latrines. About 1,110 people take part in short-term mission trips organized by Honduras Outreach, Inc. each year, the group said.

Honduras Outreach describes itself as a non-denominational, Christian organization "dedicated to building life-changing relationships between the people of the Olancho province of Honduras and caring North Americans."

In addition to Tabernacle Baptist and Newnan First United Methodist Church the churches sponsoring the trip included First Baptist Church of Newnan and Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Newnan.