Sunday, August 9, 2009

Nica Update: Tribute to Ryan and Dawn

Dear Family and Friends,

The Short Story

     It is with great sorrow that we share with you that our friend Ryan Williams no longer lives on this earth with us.  Ryan passed away on Aug. 7 at a hospital in South Africa where he was transported this past Wednesday, Aug. 5 for further treatment.  He passed away on their oldest son, Caleb's 8th birthday.  Their other children's names are Levi, Seth, and Chloe. 

Prayer Requests

1)      Please pray for Dawn and Tiffany (the wife of the pilot) and their children as they grieve the loss of their husbands and fathers. 

2)      Please pray for God's financial provision for both of these families as the cost of this past week's medical treatment and their families' ongoing needs is extensive.

3)      Please pray for both Dawn and Ryan's families as they grieve the loss of a son, son-in-law, brother, and brother-in-law.

AIM's blog about the accident:

News coverage of the accident can be found at:

Ryan and Dawn's blog:  Dawn has posted many pictures and great stories about their family on their blog.  You can find it at


If God moves you to assist Dawn and/or Tiffany's family financially, here is how you can give:  Go to  To make a contribution to the memorial funds for Frank Toews and Ryan Williams, please press the "Give Online" button. To find the funds on the donation page, first select "Projects" and then the "Frank Toews Memorial Fund - 099096" and/or the "Ryan Williams Memorial Fund - 099097".  


 The Longer Story

     I am at Dan's office today (on Aug. 8), with a need just to absorb and to process what has happened.  I invite you today to remember Ryan and Dawn's life and their impact on our own with me.  I have a pile of toilet paper next to me on the desk, as I know that this will not be easy.  But, the mental health professional in me knows that it is necessary.

     We do not currently have internet working at our house, so it has been difficult to keep up to date with what has been happening with Ryan since we arrived in Nicaragua.   So, the last we were able to check was yesterday morning.  At that time we picked up the message from Dawn saying that Ryan was "unstable" which was "very concerning".  This morning, as I was waking up, Ryan was on my mind as he has been all week as I wake up.  But, this morning was different.  It felt to me that something was very wrong and I began praying with passion that God would save his life.  After a few minutes of pleading with God, the thought occurred to me that if Ryan were to live, he would need to endure and work through a great deal of physical, emotional, and mental pain here on this earth.  With that thought, I was able to surrender and ended my prayer with "not my will Father, but yours be done."

     From there, I got up and asked Dan if he would check face book for me.  He left the house to find an internet connection and when he came back, he said, "he passed away".  These are just words a person is never ready to hear no matter how much you expect that it is a possibility.  The kids were asking me questions shortly after I received this news, and I would look at them blankly and could not focus on what they were saying.  I thought about Dawn and how she has four pairs of eyes looking up at her, asking questions that are so much more profound than, "Mom, could you cut my bagel?"

     I've been reviewing in my mind throughout today the ways in which God used both Ryan and Dawn to influence our lives in regard to living lives of surrender to whatever God calls us to do – regardless of the cost.  Dawn's call to missions came when she was just a little girl – I think she was 5 – and throughout her life, she was surrendered to this call.  She went to Calvin College and graduated with a nursing degree and then worked for a few years in Grand Rapids before heading to Tanzania, Africa to be a single missionary nurse.   I remember rooming with her at Calvin College and noticing that she was very faithful about her time with the Lord.  I did not have a regular time with God at that time, and it impressed me that she was so committed to that time.  I even remember one time she had gotten in bed and then realized that she had not had her time with God.  She got out of bed and got her Bible – it did not seem to be a duty, but a genuine desire to spend time with the One that she loved and who loved her.

     Whenever Dawn would come back from Africa, the roommates who lived in Grand Rapids (there were six of us who roomed together at Calvin, but we were not all in the GR area after graduation) would get together and listen to Dawns stories of adventure.   When we were all in our late 20's, I remember getting together with Dawn and the roommates at a restaurant.  All of us, but Dawn, were married by this time and I remember Dawn expressing her desire to be married as well.   She asked if we would pray for God to give her a husband.  I remember thinking, "I will pray, but this seems quite impossible."  All I saw were the barriers:  1) Dawn desired to be married to someone who had a passion for full-time missions which narrowed the pool of options in the US. 2) Dawn lived in a remote village with few other single male missionaries to choose from.  Little did I know that "nothing is impossible with God".

     Ryan traveled to Africa with a short term team and was given the assignment to (I'm a little fuzzy on the actual thing he was fixing) but I think it was a well.  I just remember Dawn telling me that the first time she saw Ryan, he was covered in mud from head to toe.  Ryan was only in her village for part of that day and I remember her saying that after she met him, she got on her knees in her bedroom and prayed – I think she prayed because she really thought that he could be the one and she just needed to give it to God!  Again, details are fuzzy, but it seems to me that they ended up needing to travel together somewhere that day, just the two of them.  The short story is that they fell in love and soon were married.  God had given her a husband in answer to her and our prayers.  I remember how all six of us roommates were at Dawn and Ryan's wedding – so fun.  The interesting thing was that five of us were in different stages of pregnancy and Dawn was soon to be pregnant (Dawn and Ryan found out soon after their honeymoon that they were expecting!). 

       I remember their first visit to our home in Cedar Rapids when Caleb was a baby.  They were on furlough traveling to churches and working on raising support to serve with AIM.  We asked our church, Peace CRC Church, if Dawn and Ryan could speak at the evening service and they did.  Following their time at Peace CRC, we planned to have a desert at our house for them to share more with those who were interested.  I remember, prior to the church service, being so stressed about whether anyone would come to the desert, etc.  I remember Dawn saying to me that it was really up to God if anyone would come and that I had no control over whether people would come or support them or whatever.  Dawn has always been very blunt.  God did lead one couple who attended the desert to financially support them.  I remember talking with Ryan and Dawn during that visit about support raising because this process was so foreign to us.  I remember Ryan talking about how much more you come to know God as your Provider when you are completely dependent on Him in this way.  As he talked about this, I remember feeling like we were missing out on something.  His comment has rung in my ears for many years.  It was a year or two later when God led us to raise support to be a part of the ministry of FamilyLife.  It was then that I really understood what he was talking about.

     Ryan and Dawn had another son, Levi, and then little Seth.  Prior to Seth's birth, Ryan and Dawn were debating about whether to have him in Africa or to travel back to the US.  It could have been that they were close to furlough, I can't quite remember.  Anyway, they felt most at peace about having him in the US and so they traveled back.  A week or so after Seth's birth, Dawn felt sick with flu like symptoms.  She was eventually hospitalized and doctors were scrambling to figure out what was going on because her condition quickly became critical.  At first they wondered whether they were dealing with a tropical illness, but later determined that it was her appendix.  By this time, her appendix had ruptured and she was at times close to death.  I remember talking with her on the phone while she was in the hospital and I remember that I did not know what to say.  I remember just listening and choking back tears as I listened to her weakened voice share with me the Bible verses people were sending her and how she was encouraged by them.  Dawn was in the hospital for the first two months of Seth's life, their other little boys being old enough to know that Mommy was very sick.  I remember talking with Ryan on the phone at that time too and he sounded depressed and distant, as one would imagine.

     By God's amazing grace, Dawn made a full recovery.  Ryan and Dawn came to visit us when Seth was around 3 or 4 months old.   I remember Dawn saying during our visit that she was ready to have another baby.  I then remember Ryan quickly saying, "we are NOT having another baby."  We all laughed, but I was also just inspired by Dawn's courage.  This particular visit occurred shortly after our withdrawal from FamilyLife.  Dan and I were in a lot of pain at that time, really grieving.  Ryan and Dawn listened and encouraged.  I remember that during this visit, our conversations with Ryan and Dawn would often turn to cross-cultural missions and at this time we were not just asking about their lives, but also thinking and praying through whether this was God's call on our own lives.  Ryan gave us some information to look through and really challenged and encouraged us to take the promptings we were receiving seriously.  I remember standing with Ryan and Dawn at our front door and before they walked out of our home, I said to them, "You guys inspire us."  I remember Ryan just smiling back.  This was the last time we saw him.  When Ryan and Dawn learned of our pursuing a call to Nicaragua, they were among the first to send in financial support.  They encouraged us at the beginning of the support raising process by their giving and have reminded us by their example to continue to give generously as we receive generously.

     This past month or so Dawn has been sending us updates about their adoption of Chloe.  Chloe is a beautiful little African girl that they have been in the process of adopting.  She has been living with them and has been a part of their family for the past few years.  There was no guarantee that the adoption would go through and Ryan and Dawn's family were unable to leave Africa with her until her adoption was complete.  So, Ryan and Dawn have not been back in the States for 4 years.  Just a few weeks ago, Dawn was excited to share that Chloe's adoption was complete and that they just needed to work on getting her VISA before they returned to the States for furlough.  Dawn and I emailed a bit about plans to get all the roommates and our families together next summer when she and Ryan would be in the States (we have never all been together with our kids and husbands before). 

     On Wednesday, August 5, Ryan was transported from the hospital in Kenya to a hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa that specializes in burn care.  Dawn stayed back in Kenya to finalize the details of Chloe's travel VISA which she needed in order to take her with her.  She wrote that the US embassy was very helpful and they were able to get it within in a couple of days.  However, on Aug. 7, Dawn learned of Ryan's death as she boarded the plane to fly to Johannesburg to be with him.  Dawn's face book entry reads, "My husband Ryan died Friday morning from injuries sustained in an airplane crash.  He lived one week after the accident.  I got to see him many times before he died.  We are well.  It is well with my soul."  Dawn, my dear friend, you continue to inspire and challenge me with your resolve to surrender and trust and live a life of gratitude.  I love you so much.

     The evening of Aug. 8, I asked Will as I was tucking him into bed, "Would you like to pray for Ryan and Dawn's family, or would you like me to?  He said, "How about you pray for them and I will pray for you."  He prayed, "Dear God, please help Mom to think clearly.  Please help her to be sad.  And please help her to be happy that Ryan is in heaven with you."

     Sunday morning in church we sang a song with lyrics that at one point repeat the phrase, "I'm alive, I'm alive, I'm alive, I'm alive."  I felt anger and guilt rise in my heart as I thought, "yes, I am alive but Ryan is not."  My thoughts were interrupted by God's whisper, "Lisa, Ryan is more alive than you are."  Yes Lord, Will is right – we can be happy for Ryan, for how he is with you and for how he is more alive than we will ever be here on earth. 

     Thank you all for listening.  And thank you for your continued prayers for this precious family.

Peace to you,

Dan, Lisa (the writer), Rebekah, and Will
Levi, Will, Caleb and Rebekah at our house in Cedar Rapids
Seth at our house in Cedar Rapids