Missionary is at peace with deaths of wife, baby

TACOMA - Jim Bowers, a Baptist missionary whose wife and baby daughter were killed when Peruvian officials mistook their single-engine plane for that of a drug runner, says he's come to believe their deaths and his survival were ``all God's plan.''

Bowers, however, said he was gratified that the Senate Select Intelligence Committee's report on the tragedy, released Wednesday, vindicated the plane's pilot, who survived along with Bowers and his 6-year-old son, Cory.

The plane was shot down by Peruvian authorities working with the CIA on a drug-interdiction program. Killed were Bowers' wife, Veronica, and their 7-month-old daughter, Charity.

The Senate report on the April 20 incident cited errors by the Peruvian military and poor U.S. management of the program.

A joint U.S.-Peruvian report, issued Aug. 2, suggested that pilot Kevin Donaldson had not filed a proper flight plan, was not monitoring the proper radio frequency and had taken what appeared to be evasive action.

All of that is untrue, Bowers said Wednesday while he was in Tacoma to speak at the Northwest Baptist Seminary. Bowers' ministry is based in Raleigh, N.C.

``There was nothing he did wrong,'' Bowers said of Donaldson. He said he had not yet read the report but that he had been briefed on highlights.

Senate investigators concluded that Donaldson had followed all applicable procedures and had done nothing to justify suspicion that he was a drug runner.

Donaldson - one of whose legs was nearly severed by the gunfire - managed to crash-land the burning single-engine float plane in the Amazon River. Bowers and his son were uninjured.

Bowers said he bears no grudges and is not bitter about the deadly error.

``It's been a great opportunity,'' he said. ``As soon as I identify myself I have a wide-open door to say anything I want to. I can talk about the Lord and people will listen. This all was God's plan.''

He said he misses his wife and child, but believes their deaths served God's purpose. And he said he believes his wife would have chosen to die if she had known it would help lead people to God.

``Roni's main desire in life was to be close to God,'' he said. ``How could she get any closer? How could you go any better way - instantly and in a big way, which affects a lot of people. Roni wouldn't have reached nearly as many people in her lifetime.''

The drug-interdiction program, which tracked flights in Peru and neighboring Colombia, was halted after the deaths.

Bowers' appearance was part of a busy schedule of speaking engagements he and the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism have arranged at U.S. religious colleges and seminaries since the tragedy.

He said he is also continuing his missionary work in Peru - directing a Bible-training center in the Amazon village of Asysana raising money to build a sports center for teen-agers in the Peruvian city of Iquitos.