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Faith aids survivors, families after bus crash

[10/15/03]As family members arrived at hospitals in Louisiana and Mississippi after Monday’s wreck on Interstate 20, they found faith matching their own.

“When they pulled her out of the bus, they laid her in the back of a pickup truck,” Teresa Morgan said of her mother, Olean Strickland. “She said she looked up and a woman was saying a prayer over her.”

Morgan and her sister drove 11 hours Monday night to be with their 70-year-old mother, Olean Stricklan, one of seven survivors of the crash that killed eight.

Morgan, 44, said Tuesday afternoon that her mother was amazed that a complete stranger came and sat with her.

“She said that was such a blessing. She had someone to help her hold on and stay focused,” Morgan said.

Shortly, Morgan said, the two women were praying together in the morning drizzle on the side of the highway. Stricklan prayed for those less fortunate than she. Six were dead at the scene.

“She couldn’t give up on anyone,” Morgan said. “That’s my mom, always thinking of others.”

Stricklan was in good condition at River Region Medical Center this morning, suffering from broken ribs, problems with her right foot, bruises and cuts. Morgan did not know when her mother would be able to return to Texas.

Holding tight and finding strength in God is typical of members of the First Baptist Church in Eldorado, said Kathy Hillman, whose mother, Mary Barton Robinson, 74, was organizer for the tour. Robinson also survived and was being treated at North Monroe Medical Center.

Planned on the 16-day adventure were stops at a Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama, Dollywood in Tennessee and the opportunity to see the fall foliage in Pennsylvania.

Eldorado is a 2,000-population town in a West Texas county with 3,000 residents. The church has 350 members. Hillman said the survivors are grasping their faith because “there’s nothing else. Faith and God are all that matters.”

“In fact, one man who was injured said he didn’t know how he would get through this, and finally he just said, God, I can’t do this, but you can do it for me.”

“That is the faith that we have,” said Hillman, who grew up in the church and whose mother has been a member of the church since 1950.

Robinson has a broken elbow and foot and is expected to be taken from Monroe to a Waco, Texas, hospital today for surgery on her foot.

Morgan was impressed with the outpouring of concern from hospital chaplains, support groups from Texas, family members, friends and complete strangers stopping by to offer any kind of help.

“The air is thick with prayer right now,” she said.

Sam Dunaway, chaplain for River Region, said despite the immense loss, the injured were showing hope.

“There is great buoyancy in the patients’ strength, spirit and soul,” he said. “They’re experiencing a sense of hope that’s going to get them through this. It comes from their faith and from their family.”