Local mission team member dies in Chile

A medical mission to Chile by members of First Baptist Church of Augusta took a tragic turn with the death Saturday of one of the women on the team.

 

Debbie Bartley Williams died after the group arrived in Chile, according to Dr. Greg DeLoach, the pastor of the church. The cause of death was not immediately known.

Williams, 59, was accompanying her husband, Dr. George Williams of Obstetrics and Gynecology Associates of Augusta.

She felt ill during the flight and was rushed to the hospital after the plane touched down in Puerto Montt, DeLoach said.

"It is very tragic," he said. "There's no positive spin on this. You're going to do a mission trip in the wake of tragedy and then tragedy happens to strike."

A team of nine, including five doctors, left from First Baptist on Friday to serve in clinics needing help after February's earthquake. They will continue on as planned, though Williams' husband will return early.

A small memorial was held at a Chilean church, but funeral arrangements in Augusta aren't finalized.

The team headed first to meet the daughter of one of First Baptist's pastors, the Rev. Rodger Murchison. She's married to a missionary in Chile.

They will continue on to Los Muermos. During the week, they will work in a girls' home, speak in a church and visit a nature preserve before returning home March 29.

The team's members attend First Baptist, Reid Memorial Presbyterian and St. Paul Episcopal churches. Most have served on international missions before, Murchison said. The Williams family participated in missions as far away as west Africa, Hungary and Brazil.

"Debbie was such a servant. There isn't any bit of First Baptist Church that hasn't been touched by her," said Cynthia Bennett, a friend at the church for more than 20 years. "We're just devastated. We're trying to make sense of this."

DeLoach described Williams as an active, contributing member of the congregation, both in missions and church life.

"Debbie was a very thoughtful, an incredibly giving person. She operated off a very high ethic of 'To whom much is given, much will be required,' " he said. "She served in just about every area possible. She was very creative. Her background was in theater, and any kind of production we put together, she was the energy behind it.

"I can't even begin to describe how she will be missed in every layer of what goes on at the church."

 

The Mission

First Baptist Church of Augusta planned a mission to Chile long before the earthquake struck.

It was a good thing, said the Rev. Rodger Murchison, an associate pastor of the church, because with travel restrictions and airport closures, it's unlikely a team would have assembled otherwise.

The same can't be said for the team the church is assembling to serve in Haiti. Though the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Chile on Feb. 27 was 500 times stronger than the one in Haiti six weeks earlier, the situation in Haiti remains dire, Murchison said.

Augustans have been slow to offer relief to Chile. About $1,000 has come in through the Augusta Red Cross, said Sarah Townsend, the director of public relations and development for the Augusta Red Cross.

The American Red Cross was reluctant to release the amount raised for Haiti in the weeks after the quakes, but the response was immediate and gracious, Townsend said. The Masters Tournament alone donated $100,000 to the Augusta chapter. In the week after the quake, Georgians used their cell phones to text more than $500,000 to the Red Cross.

As far as the destruction wreaked by the two earthquakes is concerned, "It's apples and oranges," Townsend said.

In Haiti, the death toll is estimated at 230,000. In Chile, about 430 people are said to have died, according to the latest count by the Chilean government Friday.

Still, Murchison said, the Chilean people aren't without need. More than 800,000 are homeless, and many required specialty medical services long before the earthquake.

The Team
The doctors hope to post updates and photos as they make their way through Chile online at fbcaugusta.org.

  • Brenna Brand and Dr. Robert Brand, of Augusta Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Specialists
  • Dr. Marshall Guill, dermatologist, and Dr. Lou Guill, pediatrician
  • Dr. Randy Smith, of Augusta Plastic Surgery
  • Margaret Murchison and the Rev. Rodger Murchison, associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Augusta
  • Dr. George Williams, of Obstetrics and Gynecology Associates of Augusta, who will return early after his wife's death

-- Kelly Jasper, staff writer