Bus accident turns miraculous for missionaries
LIMA, Peru (BP) -- Missionaries Tommy and Beth Larner were out running errands on a typical summer day in Tijuana, Mexico. They decided to grab a quick lunch before preparing for an evening of prayerwalking with local believers.
Seconds later, Tommy lay sprawled on the pavement as he attempted to cross the busy street.
"All I remember is a blur," he said. "I can't remember pain. I just remember a blur and a bash. And then we're on the ground, and the brilliant thing that I said to Beth was, 'Baby, I think we've been hit.'"
Everything changed that June afternoon in 2007 when the IMB missionaries were struck by a bus. The couple had been serving in Tijuana only a couple of months, yet their church-planting ministry was already off to a great start.
"In the past, we'd never had a ministry take off so fast," Tommy said. "Things were going wonderfully."
That is, until the accident knocked things off course.
The bus hit Tommy directly, crushing his right leg and throwing him across the street. The impact knocked Beth into a car stopped in traffic.
Tommy can remember only bits and pieces of that day.
"It was like my legs were on fire," he said. "I knew that I'd been hurt pretty badly but I had no idea the extent."
The Larners were rushed by ambulance to the nearest hospital. Tommy received two units of blood and underwent emergency surgery to clean his leg. His ankle was crushed, his femur shattered and the muscle from his shin to his foot was torn from the bone. Beth had sustained a deep gash from her right elbow to her wrist; her left wrist also was badly cut.
In all the confusion, the Larners were faced with a big decision. The bus driver had fled the scene, but a witness had reported the bus' number to authorities. The Larners were asked if they wanted to press charges.
"We didn't know the man who had hit us," Tommy said. "But I'm sure it was a guy with a family. What would we have gained by pressing charges? So we made a conscious decision to forgive him. I didn't need to be in a situation where unforgiveness was welling up within me."
During their convalescence, the Larners were encouraged by the support of Mexican believers.
"We had been [in Tijuana] only two months but there was an invasion of nationals at the hospital," Tommy said. The number of visitors was so high it caught the attention of the hospital staff.
"At the receptionist's desk there was this long list of people who had signed in to see 'Tomás Larner,'" Beth recalled. "One receptionist told another, 'This Tomás Larner must have a large family!' What she didn't realize was that he truly did have a large family -- it was just a spiritual one."
Over the next few days Tommy continued to lose blood, but at such a slow rate that doctors in Mexico weren't concerned. Three days after the accident Tommy was transferred to Sharp Memorial Hospital in nearby San Diego, Calif. By the time he arrived, he had lost over half his body's blood supply and was within hours of dying.
Tommy remained in the San Diego hospital for a month, receiving 12 units of blood and undergoing five surgeries; during one, 30 pieces of bone were reassembled above his knee.
One of Tommy's surgeons noticed that his leg injury was healing much faster than expected.
"He asked Tommy's plastic surgeon, 'What did you do to Tommy's leg? How is it healing so fast?'" Beth said. "And Dr. Jones, who we knew was a Christian, said, 'I didn't do anything to him. But he has half the U.S. praying for him, so why should we be surprised?'"
Tommy soon gained a reputation among hospital workers for being an outspoken Christian. One nurse told him about her unmarried friend from the Philippines who was pregnant and considering an abortion.
"I talked with her about God's view of life, and how sacred and precious it is," Tommy said. "Two days later, she came back and said she'd told her friend what I'd said, and her friend had decided to keep the baby and go back to the Philippines. So as far as we know, there is a child alive in the Philippines because I got hit by a bus and was laying in that hospital."
Six months after the accident Tommy and Beth returned to Mexico where they continued to start churches and train national believers.
"It really encouraged the believers in Tijuana because we never entertained the thought of leaving [the mission field]," Tommy said. "We always knew we'd come back."
Today, the Larners live in Lima, Peru, where they train Peruvian believers in global missions. Their work often takes them to rural towns and jungle villages where Tommy spends much of his time climbing in and out of boats and walking through swampy areas. He wears compression stockings to help keep fluids from building up in his legs and sometimes deals with residual pain from the accident.
"When I first got to San Diego, the doctor said in most circumstances he would have amputated the leg," Larner said. "So the pain is nothing I can't accept. I'm just thankful to be able to walk.
"I never asked God 'why,'" he continued. "What I tried to do was ask the Lord 'what?' What do You want me to do? What do You want to teach me? What do You want to do in my character? I saw 'why' as a no-end question, as wasted breath. So my philosophy was just to ask God for miracles. And we saw a lot of them."
Emily Pearson is an IMB writer living in the Americas. To learn how God is using the Larners in Peru, go to americanpeoples.imb.org/features/peru-doing-cross-cultural-missions-at-home and americanpeoples.imb.org/features/peruvian-believers-give-their-all-to-reach-amazon-for-christ.