An Iowa Southern Baptist was among two American missionaries killed in Jamaica April 30 in what appeared to be a violent attack.
Randy Hentzel, 48, a member of First Family Church in Ankeny, Iowa, was serving with the Pennsylvania-based Teams for Medical Missions when he was slain in a remote, rural area of Jamaica along with fellow missionary Harold Nichols, 53. The two men went for a motorcycle ride at approximately 8 a.m., and Hentzel’s body was found hours later beside a motorcycle in some bushes, according to a news release from the Jamaica Constabulary Force. Nichols’ body was found the next day in a separate area.
St. Mary parish, where the deaths occurred, is a region known for violence, according to media reports.
Nichols was a member of East Randolph (N.Y.) United Methodist Church.
Photo courtesy of First Family Church
Missionary Randy Hentzel (back, center) was killed April 30 in Jamaica along with colleague Harold Nichols.
John Heater, executive director of Teams for Medical Missions, told the Des Moines Register, “We do not know who would do this or what their motivation was. These men greatly loved the people of Jamaica and were greatly loved in return.”
The Jamaican Constabulary Force said in a May 2 release it is “doing everything possible to identify the criminals responsible for these brutal acts.” A motive “has not yet been established,” the release continued, “but we can assure you we will bring the perpetrators to justice for these tragic and heinous acts.”
The release added, “We are profoundly saddened by this senseless act of violence and our thoughts and prayers are with the families of these victims who tirelessly devoted their lives to assisting those in need here in Jamaica.”
Todd Stiles, pastor of First Family, said the congregation commissioned Hentzel and his wife Sara as fulltime missionaries to Jamaica in 2011 and supported them financially on an ongoing basis. Hentzel was a founding member of First Family in 2004 and served part-time as the church’s first small groups pastor.
“We are praying for right biblical justice,” Stiles said, “but we’re also praying for gospel expansion … Randy paid with his life in the country he loved and was trying to help them train up pastors and plant churches. We’re praying that God will use his blood as a seed for the gospel to go even to greater lengths in that country.”
Sara Hentzel was in Iowa at the time of her husband’s death. The couple had been on furlough since November, Stiles said. Randy Hentzel returned to Jamaica for three weeks to prepare for the short-term trip of a U.S. team and check on a local Bible training center, Teams for Medical Missions said, noting the short-term trip has been canceled.
The Hentzels have five children, the youngest of whom is in ninth grade, Stiles said. First Family is helping the family financially, providing meals and assisting with coordination of a memorial service scheduled for May 9.
Stiles said Randy Hentzel “would do anything to see the gospel spread and people get saved.”
If Hentzel were still living, Stiles said, “he would say, ‘If giving my life would be a way to further God’s Kingdom [with] more churches, more souls saved … then count me in.’ He wouldn’t worry about the risk. That’s just the kind of guy he was.”
As the investigation in Jamaica continues, Stiles said he hopes “appropriate and righteous pressure on the Jamaican government” will encourage officials “to work at this in a God-given manner to bring those who do evil to justice.”
A U.S. State Department official said in written comments, “We can confirm the deaths of U.S. citizens Randy Hentzel and Harold Nichols in Jamaica. We extend our deepest condolences to their loved ones. The U.S. Embassy in Jamaica is providing consular assistance, and Ambassador [Luis] Moreno has contacted the highest levels of the Jamaican security establishment regarding the case. For questions about the circumstances of their deaths and the investigation, we refer you to Jamaican authorities. Out of respect for Mr. Hentzel’s and Mr. Nichols’ families during this difficult time, we have no further comment.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)