On Christmas Eve, 1984, in the Dominican Republic, around noon, on a highway between Santiago and La Vega, the Shaw family was involved in a very serious automobile accident. Three cars were involved in a head-on collision. Those involved included a drunken taxi driver, a pilot for Dominican Airlines and his pregnant wife, and a missionary family.
The taxi driver was uninjured. The Dominican pilot had 13 fractures. Most of our family was injured – some severely:
Ruthe’s right side was shattered. She had multiple breaks, internal injuries and head trauma.
Sarah had a small cut on her eye, and Charlie suffered a broken nose.
Corrie and Joey each had broken femurs.
Sam suffered four fractures in his neck.
We experienced so many evidences of the grace of God.
1. Witnesses told me that I ripped off the door of the van in order to get Ruthe out. That surge of adrenaline was the creation of God.
2. The first person to stop at the scene of the accident was the brother of our next-door neighbors. He recognized us and protected us from looters (typically, accident victims would be stripped of clothes and valuables within minutes after the crash)
3. I was able to lift and carry my children to vehicles of people who had stopped to help, and each child arrived safely at the clinic where we would be treated.
4. Ruthe’s thumb was torn off, but was reattached – on Christmas day – in a clinic that had no electricity and no water (nurses went out into the streets to fill buckets with water). Joey and Corrie were placed in casts.
5. I collapsed when we arrived at the clinic. Xrays revealed 4 fractures in 2 vertebrae. One technician told me that I should not be able to move my toes – which I proceeded to do!
6. Typically, drivers involved in an accident were placed in jail while the facts of the accident were investigated and blame assigned. A police officer came to the clinic. When I asked him not to put me in jail – because of my injuries and because my family needed me – he smiled and assured me “things have been taken care of.”
7. The missionary family rallied like never before to care for us. Hundreds – perhaps thousands – were notified and began to pray for us.
8. After four days, it was determined that we had to be airlifted back to the States for extensive surgeries and care. The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention arranged the flight and took care of almost all expenses. A dear missionary friend traveled back with us and cared for us during the transition.
9. Ruthe’s vital signs were lost on the flight back to the United States – twice. She was revived by caring and skilled paramedics.
10. Sarah, our 8 year old, sat with the pilot of the C130, and shared Christ with him for several hours. A relief pilot, who boarded the plane in Fort Lauderdale, was warned not to ask the little girl what her parents did for a living.
11. A furnished missionary home in Tulsa, belonging to Eastwood Baptist Church, just happened to be available for our use in 1985.
12. Loving people cleaned our home and provided meals for months as we recovered.
13. Each of our children recovered, in spite of complications, infections and setbacks. Ruthe and I were able to share a hospital room (against hospital policy, I later learned) for a month.
14. Our marriage survived my hardness of heart and the stress of adjustment to a new life with new limitations.
15. I was offered a job at the Baptist Spanish Publishing House in El Paso, TX – launching a new version of the Bible in Spanish. Our missionary career continued.
16. One year after the accident, I returned to the Dominican Republic. My purpose was two-fold: to sell our furniture and personal items (most of which had rotted and had to be destroyed), and to visit the pilot injured in the other vehicle. His wife, who had traveled with him, had been pregnant. I saw, with my own eyes, the little boy who was born prematurely, as a result of the accident. He was healthy and strong. I presented the pilot with a copy of the Bible. He explained to me that the accident was due to a drinking taxi-driver, and was neither my fault nor his. He returned to flying with Dominican Airlines.