Woman's calling, like her death in Peru, came early

By Ellen Nakashima


Veronica "Roni" Bowers heard the call when she was 12.

"She just told us that 'the Lord has called me to be a missionary,' " recalled her father, John Luttig, who is trying to accept that the Lord has called his daughter again, one last time. "He talks to you through your heart."

She was extremely bright, his only daughter, "my baby," Luttig said of the 35-year-old woman killed Friday when a Peruvian jet fighter fired on the small plane carrying her; her husband, James; and their children, Cory, 6, and Charity, an infant who also was killed.

Luttig, who lives in Pace, Fla., just outside Pensacola, said that Roni Bowers graduated from high school in Poquoson, Va., at 16, and went straight to Piedmont Bible College, in Winston-Salem, N.C.

There she met Jim Bowers. The son of missionaries who lived along the Amazon, Jim Bowers was drawn to the river, to minister to the poor and illiterate who lived along its twists and turns.

Roni, who would date only boys who were going to be missionaries, married Jim on Nov. 3, 1985. To hear friends and family tell it, Jim and Roni were a magical match, both committed to a life of serving God through helping others.

It was on their journey to gain official permission for Charity to remain with them in Peru that their plane was shot down - the mistaken target of Peruvian officials fighting drug traffickers.

The Bowerses' studies had been interrupted by Jim's stint in the Army, which included several years in Germany. When he was discharged in 1990, he returned to school to get his degree "as a preacher boy," Luttig said in a telephone interview. Roni Bowers received a degree in elementary education and in Bible studies, he said. They graduated in 1993.

Then they went to Muskegon, Mich., where Jim's mother grew up. It is where members of Calvary Church, Jim and Roni Bowers' church, now are grieving.

"These people were extremely committed to the cause of Christ," said Gloria Rudd, wife of the pastor, the Rev. Bill Rudd.

Rudd said the young couple arrived with a mind to go into mission work: "They weren't quite sure where. He was constantly drawn back to the Amazon."

He had grown up in Brazil, along the river where his parents, Terry and Wilma Bowers, were missionaries and his late father was a pilot who flew on charity missions.

They were accepted by the Harrisburg-based Association of Baptists for World Evangelism to become missionaries in Peru in 1993 and began to raise the financial support they would need.

Many churches, including Calvary Church, chipped in to help build a houseboat.

"There were people from all over that God just sent to construct it," Rudd recalled. "We ran into a man who had been a retired naval architect, who designed the boat."

The boat, which floats on pontoons and cost about half a million dollars, was completed about five years ago, and the Bowerses moved in. Up and down the Amazon, they would visit 50 to 100 villages where Jim would preach and Roni would teach. He was pastor of churches with tin roofs in town and with thatched roofs in the jungle villages. She taught the Bible and literacy, in Spanish.

"She did a lot with the women," Rudd said. "She was an incredible woman. Not many people will go and live with the not-so-lovely, as she did."

She looked a little bit Peruvian, with big brown eyes and olive skin. That's on account of her Sioux blood, which she got from her mother.

The Bowerses adopted Cory in 1994 and last fall adopted Charity, who was born Sept. 14.

"She struggled a lot with the pain of infertility," Rudd said, adding that Roni Bowers wrote about her struggle, which she said "really revealed her heart."

Luttig and his wife accompanied the family as they took Charity home to Peru in late December. They celebrated New Year's on the houseboat.

"We went up and down the Amazon with them," Luttig said.

Now, he is awaiting her return from Peru. A funeral is being planned in Muskegon. And then, Luttig said, he will bury his daughter and granddaughter near him, in Pensacola.