by Monte Sahlin
By Adventist Today News Team, December 31, 2013
A volunteer from Canada who has been working with an Adventist congregation and school in a rural community in Belize for several years has gone missing. Brian Townsend first came to Valley of Peace area in the small, Central American nation in 2004, according to a school web site. He was one of a number of volunteers who helped with construction of a school and church. He has continued to live in the community for nearly a decade.
On Christmas Eve (December 24), a neighbor saw Townsend's truck heading out of the village loaded with a mattress and roll if carpet. Christmas morning when the neighbor went to Townsend's house, the truck was gone and the small cabin had been ransacked. Outside, about 50 feet from the house, "there was blood, there were two machetes in the place where they struggled" reported Juan Arias, a civic leader on the scene soon after. "We are treating this very, very seriously and appealing for assistance," said Police Inspector Sinquest Martinez. He added that the police have been distributing a description asking people to call if they see the missing truck.
Police have also been working with the Canadian consulate and Kory Townsend, Brian’s adult son, who has flown to Belize from his home in western Canada to help search for his father. Acknowledging that Townsend seemed to make it a point to know everyone, the police officer said, "It is a shock. I knew him."
"He was doing a lot of … projects," stated Kory Townsend of his father. "He built a school [and] he was doing a vocational school, things like gardening and a wood shop. There are few people who can live a dream or live a goal, and embrace it with the passion he had." The younger Townsend also affirmed his father's commitment to his Adventist faith. "This was a lifestyle for him. It was not just a project … he lived here."
“Townsend came to … build a school and church which now has about 50 members," said Pastor Dennis Slusher, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Belize. "He stayed on after the construction was finished, continuing to work for the betterment of the local community.” Slusher reported that conference officers and staff held a session of prayer for Townsend on Monday (December 30) and hope that he will be found soon.
The village organized a search for Townsend on Sunday (December 29). "We cannot stop until we" find him, said Arias. "He was a nice person and always there to give me advice" added another neighbor, Emil Montgeo, from the back of a pickup truck. "The entire community is going out and looking."
The rural area around the village has heavy vegetation, making the search difficult. The Pathfinder Club from the Orange Walk Adventist Church helped with the search. "Today we came on a rescue mission," said Pastor Gelder Gamboa. "We are a family … we are a community."
The Belize Disaster and Rescue Response Team has also joined the search. "We are going to try to expand [the search], we are going to try to get other resources" said Loyda Martinez, director of the team. Arrangements have been made for a helicopter search on Thursday (January 2). "We are going to keep searching and remain hopeful" stated Kory Townsend. Adventists across North and Central America have joined in prayer for the missing missionary.
The Seventh-day Adventist denomination has 85 local churches in Belize with a total membership of about 38,000 or an estimated 45,000 adherents. The population of the country is 326,000 with about 15 percent from Adventist households, one of the highest ratios of any nation in the world. It is a generally peaceful and secure country with a growing economy and a relatively high number of residents from the United States, Canada and Europe.
A major source for this story is a report from Tim Wolfer, a freelance videographer based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.