Widow’s faith stays strong
Her missionary work continues despite tragedy in El Salvador
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador—It was November of 2005 when Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Missionary Karen Ward made her first trip to El Salvador. She immediately fell in love with its warm, caring people and beautiful landscapes.
When she returned to America, she shared with her husband, Keith, how the Lord was at work in the country. Her second trip to El Salvador was with a team from Fruitland Community Church, her home church, in August of 2006.
Considering her excitement and joy, Keith Ward said if they couldn’t afford for both of them to go on the next trip, that it was his turn. They had experienced God’s call in their lives 18 years earlier, but it wasn’t until last October that God told Keith, “Now!”
“That trip confirmed that we were understanding God’s will for our lives,” Karen Ward said.
As soon as they returned to Missouri they began preparing to move, knowing that God was calling them to work with the people of El Salvador.
From that point on, it didn’t take them long to make the final arrangements to begin their new lives in El Salvador. They moved there on March 30, in the midst of a country-wide holiday, Easter.
“The first week we were in El Salvador was Semana Santa (Holy Week) and we couldn’t get any of the ‘official’ things done because of the holiday, so we went on field trips all over the country,” Karen Ward said.
The second week in their new home was spent working with and learning from the Associacion Bautista de El Salvador (ABES). They were living and working with Rolando and Alexandra Rivas, who both work for ABES. Rolando Rivas is also the pastor of a mission church in Antiguo Cuzcatlan that was planted by one of the larger Baptist churches in El Salvador, Nazaret Baptist Church in Santa Tecla. The two couples grew very close and enjoyed friendships that would last a lifetime.
The week went by quickly; soon it was their third week in El Salvador. That was when the MBC sent 12 men there on a vision trip. The Wards were busy and excited. They were learning many new things as well as taking language classes and spending time with the team. A day of rest and relaxation was definitely well-earned, so for their free day the 12 men from Missouri set off with the Wards to visit a beautiful beach in El Salvador, Costa del Sol.
“It was a beautiful day, just a few clouds in the sky,” Karen Ward said, “so we decided to just goof off in the water since our anniversary was so close. We were cuddling and just flirting around when Keith said, ‘Te amo.’”
Translated in English, this means, “I love you.” It was the last time she would ever hear those words come from his mouth.
She had gone further out into the ocean but was standing on a sandbar. Her husband called to her. telling her to come in closer, but she responded that she was fine.
“That’s when I knew he was serious,” she said. “When I got to him he was cramping, so I said, ‘Let’s go in.’”
As she reached out to touch him, a sudden wave hit them and separated the two. Coming up out of the water, she looked back to him and told him to float parallel to the shore to let the waves take him in. Another wave hit. When she surfaced she looked around but could not find him. Desperately she screamed to the shore, “Help!” Turning her eyes toward heaven, she called on the name of Jesus. She repeated this sequence several times between being tumbled by the waves.
The leader of the vision trip, Heber Mena, reached her. He said he was taking her to shore. “No, get Keith, he’s cramping!” she said. Heber accelerated her into the water and she got to dry land safely. Mena was the only person in the water now; a fisherman on shore had told the others not to go in because he saw a rip tide.
Mena could see Keith Ward, but after the exchange with Karen Ward, he was gone. Although he had seen him, Mena could not reach the drowning man, and then he could not find him.
“There were four separate times when I knew my husband was gone,” Karen Ward said. “I knew while I was in the water that my husband was drowning, and I struggled with God in those moments until finally I had my Gethsemane moment on the beach when I told God, ‘if it’s Your will, You can take Him.’ He didn’t need my permission, but since that moment I’ve had total peace. In my spirit I know that he drowned after he knew I was OK.”
When shouts from the beach expressed that his body had surfaced, Mena swam to him. Exhausted, Mena was running out of strength when a young man, who was an employee at the resort hotel, came to help pull Keith Ward from the water to the sand. Men tried to administer CPR for a long time, the entire time shielding Karen Ward from seeing her husband.
“Deep inside I had hope, but the whole time I knew he was gone,” she said.
She was told they were going to the hospital. “All the people on the beach knew that Keith was dead, but I hadn’t been told,” she said. “At the clinic the doctor was trying to be gentle and sympathetic, but I couldn’t understand him. He didn’t have much English, so he said the only thing he knew how to say, ‘He’s dead!’
When she returned to the hotel she could hear music. It was the praise song, “Shout to the Lord.” At that point, “All I could do was stop, close my eyes, lift my hands, and just sing,” she said.
“Shout to the Lord all the earth let us sing, power and majesty praise to the King. Mountains bow down and the seas will roar at the sound of Your name. I sing for joy at the work of Your hands. Forever I’ll love you, forever I’ll stand. Nothing compares to the promise I have in You.”
How might a woman sing praise to a God who has just allowed her husband to die? In complete peace, Karen Ward said, “I’m dancing with Jesus. He leads me and I follow.”
She continues to minister to the people of El Salvador. When she was asked for a Bible verse or passage that has helped her, she said that the teachings about the potter and the clay have been especially meaningful.
In Isaiah 64:8, God’s Holy Word says, “But now, O Lord, Thou art our Father, we are the clay, and Thou art the potter; and all of us are the work of Thy hand.”
“Keith went from paradise to paradise, and now God has made me into a new pot,” she said, “with a peace and a joy that can come only from the God of peace, Jehovah Shalom.”