MADISON COUNTY, Ala. - The term "church family" gets used a lot, but members of Mt. Zion Baptist Church are truly earning that title. Many members were at the church for hours, comforting those hurting.
Now, all they want is to get as many of the youth members who weren't injured, back home safe and sound.
“They had about 17 something hours of flight ahead of them," says Phil Vandiver, a lifelong member of Mt. Zion.
Only hours after families gathered in the church's parking lot to see their loved ones off for an international mission trip, they returned to gather in prayer.
"They were all very excited, just tickled to death to get to go," explains Vandiver. "There’s gonna be some families that have some tough times ahead and we just want them to know our community supports them and we know they do.”
Despite the heartache, members also found reasons to be grateful.
“So many churches over there have said, whatever you need, and it’s heartwarming to have that, it’s terrible to be in a situation where you need it," he says.
Vandiver had two members aboard the bus that crashed.
"He was just rather shook. He couldn’t get me much information but he and his momma were fine," he says.
Vandiver says he panicked when his wife initially didn't answer her phone, but found relief when his teenage son picked up, later on.
“I got a hold of my son about 2 minutes after the accident. Thank God he carries his phone in his pocket," says Vandiver.
The congregation is now working to transport their precious cargo home.
“We’ve got a church bus in route to come pick up those who are not as significantly injured that can come back as soon as possible," he says.
It wasn't just members of the Mt. Zion there; law enforcement, local leaders, even everyday people stopped by to lend a hug or two.
“This is when our community is at it’s best. Tragedy is unfortunate. It happens often, but our community loves each other and they’ll be right there for them,” says Vandiver.
In light of this tragedy, the church made the difficult decision to cancel their mission trip to Botswana. They've also decided to cancel Vacation Bible School for the rest of the week.