Bus crash survivors return home
Those students and adult chaperons, along with nearly 40 other students and adults, walked into Philadelphia Baptist Church in Deville, La., to a roar of applause, welcome home signs, balloons and plenty of hugs with their loved ones.
"Today is a good day because we all were able to come home and to be able to come home alive and basically in really good shape," pastor Philip Robertson told the crowd of nearly 200. "There's no way from a human standpoint that everybody should have walked away from that accident alive.
"It shouldn't' have happened," he said. "There should have been some fatalities, but there weren't. Death knocked on the door and God said not today. They will live."
The crash was reported at 3:10 p.m. on Friday, near DeFuniak Springs, Fla. just west of State Road 331, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. The 30-passenger bus carrying youth and chaperons from the church left the roadway and hit a tree.
Twenty-five were taken to four different area hospitals for treatment, though none received life-threatening injuries. Just one of the youth involved in the accident was unable to return, though church officials are hopeful she will be back home by early next week.
First responder Mary Culbertson commented in a post shared on Facebook that she was impressed by the Philadelphia Baptist students who witnessed the accident from the other vehicles.
"What an amazing group of resilient children!! I was honored to be involved as one of the first responders at the Community Center and each child I spoke to blessed me immensely. They were nervous, shaken but strong in their faith. Each one had called home. The people in charge from their home church worked diligently, non-stop to notify and locate all of the injured. God was watching over this group and unfortunately, their trip to Florida came to an end before it began but the good news is, they are all coming home. The bond between these 63 teens was an amazing sight to behold."
Pastor Robertson also praised the students' response, as well as the diligence by the adult chaperons.
"They were like an army," he said. "They were there. They were doing everything they needed to do, no doubt guided by the Holy Spirit."
Students were not available for comment because of their delayed arrival at the church shortly before 10 p.m. on Saturday. But eighth-grader Rebekah Daigrepont connected with the students not long after the bus accident occurred.
Daigrepont said she believes God prompted some of them to move seats or the placement of their body only moments before the accident occurred.
"Many of my friends said they heard an audible voice telling them to move, right before the accident took place," Daigrepont said. "That was definitely a God thing."
Ricky Belgard, prayer minister at Philadelphia Baptist, also noted God's hand was on the youth and chaperons in the bus that crashed.
When Belgard and others at the church learned of the accident, they contacted the parents and the more than 200 prayer partners who serve as part of the church's prayer ministry. As they received more information, they then notified the church family and many more prayers were lifted up to God.
The prayer chain then grew as news got out. A number of churches in the area sent out text and emails asking for immediate prayer for all those involved.
"God in His providence had His hand on the youth," Belgard said. "He is our shield. We were praying for a shield of safety as they traveled even before the accident. As you look at the pictures you can truly see God's hand over the youth because it easily could have been tragic."