BILLINGS, Mont. — Two “Innovator” student missionaries remained in critical condition at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Billings, Mont., three days after their SUV flipped and rolled over several times, injuring them and two companions. A dozen of their fellow student missionaries are already using the tragedy to share Christ with tourists at nearby Yellowstone National Park.
North American Mission Board (NAMB) resort missionary Brad Lartigue — a local, full-time resort missionary for NAMB and the four students’ supervisor — said 21-year-old Jeremy Vangsnes is still the most critically injured of the four. Vangsnes underwent a procedure July 23 to relieve pressure on his brain and reduce swelling, Lartigue said.
The driver of the Jeep Cherokee, 21-year-old Scott Minear of Marietta, Ga., also remains in critical condition but an MRI July 23 revealed no significant spinal or neck damage, Lartigue added. Conscious, Minear, a University of Georgia junior, is wearing a “halo” medical device to restrict head movement.
Jeremy Vangsnes’ two brothers — 23-year-old Dan and 19-year-old Ryan — also were in the SUV at the time of the accident. The three brothers, residents of Spartanburg, S.C., were on a 350-mile side trip from Yellowstone to Glacier National Park, also in Montana, for a family reunion. Minear went along for the ride. Prior to moving to Spartanburg, the Vangsnes family lived in North Dakota.
“Dan has had three surgeries since the accident but suffered no significant head injuries,” Lartigue told Baptist Press. “Dan is talkative and lucid — he knows what happened.” Requiring only stitches, Ryan was treated and released from Deaconess Hospital in Bozeman, Mont.
Both the Minear and Vangsnes families immediately flew to Montana and are “strong Christian families who are holding up well,” Lartigue noted.
The Vangsnes brothers were nominated as Innovator missionaries by the North American Mission Board, while Minear’s appointment came through Georgia Baptist Campus Ministries.
The Vangsnes brothers and Minear were four of 17 Innovator missionaries who arrived at Yellowstone Park on Memorial Day Weekend to minister to resort visitors for 10 weeks, Lartigue said. They were slated to return home Aug. 3.
“The other kids are doing fine. … I’m trying to reassure them,” said Lartigue, who acknowledges that his own emotions have been on a rollercoaster since the accident. “I’m strong in my faith and I know God’s in control. But at times over the last few days, I have been overwhelmed.”
Morris H. Chapman, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, made a surprise visit to the Billings hospital yesterday, Lartigue added. Chapman, who coincidentally was vacationing nearby, said he learned of the accident via his Blackberry and the SBC web site.
Dennis Culbreth, senior assistant to NAMB president Geoff Hammond, immediately flew to Montana upon receiving word of the accident.
“The Montana Baptist Convention is doing a great job of making every effort to help these two families,” Culbreth said. “The spirits of the two families are good. They’re praying for a miracle for Jeremy.”
The brothers’ parents, Mark and Kathy Vangsnes, are members of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C. Minear’s parents, Frank and Tammy Minear, are members of Crosspointe Community Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Roswell, Ga.
“I told the parents that the entire NAMB family and Southern Baptists everywhere are praying for their sons,” Culbreth said.
Echoing Lartigue, Culbreth said he visited with the other Innovator student missionaries at West Yellowstone Park. “They’re in good spirits and praying for a miracle for Jeremy,” he said.
Culbreth said the dozen remaining Innovator student missionaries crafted posters on Thursday night with photos of Jeremy, Scott and Dan, and displayed them at Yellowstone, asking passersby to pray for their three friends.
“When tourists would come by and ask questions,” Culbreth said, “the students would use the accident to remind people that ‘you don’t know how long you have or what’s coming down the road. Do you know Christ?’”
Innovator missionaries are self-funded student missionaries — assigned by NAMB or a state Baptist Campus Ministry — who are involved in resort ministry at various tourist venues throughout the United States.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board.)