Pastor Reached in, Prayed for Van Crash Victims When He Couldn’t Free Them

Shiloh Baptist Church

While greeting people at his church before a revival meeting Tuesday evening, Joseph Fields heard a loud boom and then saw a tipped-over, smoking van near the parking lot. The pastor of Mount Zion Church in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, ran to offer assistance but couldn’t budge the van doors. So he reached in to extend prayer. “The window was broken and I reached in and held two ladies’ hands and prayed for them,” he says.

Later Fields learned that four people—choir members from Shiloh Baptist Church in nearby Blackstone, who were coming to sing at the revival—hadn’t survived. “At the time I was doing all that praying, I’m going to tell you the God’s truth, I didn’t know that anyone had passed,” says the 74-year-old Vietnam veteran. “I was shocked when they said four [had] passed on the scene. I was literally shocked.”

Fields, who’s been the pastor of Mount Zion for 44 years, says, “This is like waking up from a nightmare.”

Shiloh Baptist Church Van Was Turning Into Lot

Police say the Shiloh van was turning into the Mount Zion parking lot when it was rear-ended by a pickup truck loaded with metal. Four people in the van, including a 36-year-old mother of a 9-month-old baby, were killed, and the other seven passengers were injured.

Charges are pending against the driver, who tried to assist van passengers despite being injured himself. “He has to now—for the rest of his life—live with this,” says Fields. “I pray for him, his family. He’s going to really need some support.”

Other choir members from Shiloh, riding in another vehicle, witnessed the impact. One, Lafayette Dickens, says, “It was going to be a routine church program, because we sing at different churches all the time…but I guess the good Lord had other ideas.” Dickens, a deacon at Shiloh, says the congregation is in “absolute shock,” adding, “We’ve never dealt with anything like this.”

Local Churches Serve as “extended family”

The crash occurred on the first night of a three-day revival event. Services continued Wednesday, as about 60 people gathered to sing and pray. A vigil for the victims is scheduled for Thursday evening.

In that area of central Virginia, says Blackstone native LaTiscia Fowlkes, local churches consider themselves “extended family to each other.”

Billy Coleburn, mayor of Blackstone, says, “The people we lost and the people who were injured were the cream of the crop. Good God-fearing people who left their church on Tuesday night here in Blackstone and went 20 miles down the road to spread the good Word to another church.” Of the victims, Coleburn says, “Their lives on this earth were taken doing something glorifying [God’s] name. There is no doubt where they are today, no doubt at all.”

Angela Dickens, an associate minister at Shiloh, says, “We’re just trying to pick up the pieces. We know that God is good. We know that he is in control. We know there are some things you just can’t explain. We’re literally heartbroken.”

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Stephanie Martin
Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 26 years. She’s active at her church in Lakewood, Colorado, where she lives with her husband and two teenage daughters.