Edmonton

'They're all together': Alberta family of 4 on African missionary trip killed in road crash

All four members of an Alberta family were killed in a head-on crash Sunday on the roads of South Africa.

'Their passion was fuelled by a belief in Jesus Christ and a desire to serve Him'

The Perrott family — Brendan, Evelyn, Colton and Melissa — were volunteering with Bulembu Ministries in Bulembu, Swaziland. (GoFundMe)

All four members of an Alberta family were killed in a head-on crash Sunday on the roads of South Africa.

Melissa and Brendan Perrott and their two children, Evelyn, 5 and Colton, 3, were living in Bulembu, a small town in the mountainous Highveld region of Eswatini, formerly known as Swaziland.

The family was from Sherwood Park but had spent two years doing missionary work in the former mining town.

Five others lost their lives in the crash, including a young man named Sabelo Sibeko, an orphan the family had just taken on a day trip so he could compete in a mountain bike race.

The crash took place Sunday between QwaQwa and Harrismith in South Africa. The vehicles were unrecognizable and later burst into flames. Everyone was said to have died on impact.

Nanette Perrott, Brendan's mother, said family members are taking solace in their faith. 

'They're all together'

"There are just no words and yet we know they're in the Lord's presence and that's what gives us peace," Perrott told CBC News on Wednesday.

"We know they're all together and I know they wouldn't change a thing. They would not. They were devoted to God's work and God's children.

"They literally laid down their lives for these kids. And their very last mission was serving this orphan boy and encouraging him for his future."

When they died, Melissa Perrott was 32 and her husband was 33. They were high school sweethearts who began doing missionary work with Bulembu Ministries full-time in 2016. 

The not-for-profit organization operates a community church, a Christian academy and a health clinic, caring for 350 orphans and vulnerable children in Bulembu.

'They fell in love with the children'

Melissa, a massage therapist and Brendan, an electrician, had worked with the ministry before but felt compelled to do more. They decided to uproot their lives in Sherwood Park and move across the world.

"They fell in love with the children there and the people, to the extent that they wanted to make a long-term commitment to go over there," said Dave Perrott, Brendan's father.

"Their passion was fuelled by a belief in Jesus Christ and a desire to serve Him and for people to come to know Him.

"They had a desire to serve and a loving nature and a real passion for these children who became family to them." 

In Bulembu they spent their days caring for children at the orphanage. Melissa often looked after the babies and would spend hours in the nursery comforting them. They hosted birthday parties for the children and organized donation drives. 

A naturally nurturing couple unafraid of hard work, they poured themselves into the daily workings of the orphanage, Nanette Perrott said.

"Wherever they were needed, they would be there, whether it was cleaning a toilet or doing electrical work on a pole or holding a baby, they would be there," she said. 

"They just loved everybody that they met. They had these magnetic personalities. People just loved them and felt very safe and cared for instantly. They just had this amazing gift that people felt drawn to them." 

The family planned to return to Canada in March to establish an Alberta branch of the ministry to provide financial support to orphans in Bulembu. 

Months before the deadly crash, Melissa's family had planned a missionary trip to Bulembu. After the crash, they decided to carry on, and flew out on Wednesday morning. 

Both families want to ensure Brendan and Melissa's good works continue. 

"We don't want to glorify them but to make sure that their legacy continues, that their work in Bulembu continues," Nanette Perrott said. "We want to make sure this passion and this legacy continues far beyond them." 

'Serving and showing God's love'

Bulembu Ministries shared a message remembering the Perrott family on its Facebook page.

"Brendan, Melissa and their two children came to serve the people of Eswatini but especially the children of Bulembu. 

"They followed the call of God and loved wholeheartedly and impacted so many people's lives. We mourn with their families back home in Canada and with their Swazi friends who have become family.

"We know their legacy will live on." 

A GoFundMe page has been set up by friends so the victims' remains and belongings can be returned to other family members in Alberta. 

In less than 24 hours, the campaign raised nearly $40,000 in donations for the ministry. 

The group that organized the GoFundMe campaign posted a letter written by the family before they left for Africa in 2017.

"Our Lord has had us on an emotional journey of surrendering control and letting go of so much of what we have placed our 'identity' in," reads the letter. 

"From simple things like vehicles, furniture, horses and toys, to more complicated things like our jobs, our home, our small group, our church and our community. It has been a process of being stripped away from the things that we thought made us who we are."

About the Author

Wallis Snowdon

Journalist

Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has nearly a decade of experience reporting behind her. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca