Recently kidnapped missionaries now involved in car accident

6/8/1999By Sue Sprenkle MORIJA, Lesotho (BP) -- A Southern Baptist missionary couple has been charged in a fatal car accident in the southern Africa nation of Lesotho. Gene and Jean Phillips, emeritus Southern Baptist missionaries serving a volunteer term in Morija, Lesotho, were traveling from Morija to Maseru the night of June 2 when a man suddenly walked into the middle of the road. Although Phillips swerved to miss him, the driver's side mirror on the car hit the pedestrian. The accident recalls a false e-mail rumor that a West Africa missionary was in danger over an April 20 accident in which a pedestrian was killed. While that missionary, Mike Hutchinson, is not in peril like the e-mail claimed, more serious charges have been filed against Gene Phillips. Phillips stopped his car immediately after the accident, but a hostile crowd quickly gathered and began banging on the vehicle. Realizing they were in danger, the Phillipses drove to the police station to report the accident. They returned to the scene with police only to find that the man had been taken from the road to a hospital. The pedestrian eventually died. Despite the fact that this was an accident, Phillips was charged with culpable homicide by the magistrate's office and released on bond. A June 15 trial date was set. Negotiations are underway to try to settle the case without a trial, according to Lesotho missionary Charles Middleton from Shreveport, La.. This is the second time tragedy has struck the Phillipses in less than six months. On Jan. 31, the couple was robbed and kidnapped at gunpoint. The thieves drove the couple into an isolated area in the mountains and repeatedly threatened to kill them. Eventually, the couple was left on the side of the road, alive and unharmed. The four thieves were caught but recently have been released on bail. Rumors that the recently released kidnappers were boasting about their crime caused the couple to leave their home in Morija and drive to Maseru to seek a more secured area. They were on their way to the capital city when the accident occurred. The Phillipses, from Woodruff, S.C., and Greensboro, N.C., respectively, were appointed as missionaries to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1956 and served through a period of strife and revolution that resulted in the country's independence from the United Kingdom in 1980. They retired in 1996 and began the Lesotho assignment in discipleship and leadership training through the IMB's International Service Corps program in December. Officials at the Southern Baptist International Mission Board in Richmond, Va., ask for prayer for the Phillipses. "They need your prayers of encouragement," said Clyde Berkley, who helps direct the board's work in southern Africa. "Pray that God will sustain them and assure them of His unfailing arms around them."

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