JACKSON, Tenn. — A missionary from Tennessee was killed Saturday night in Haiti by gunmen who emerged after her car was intentionally blocked, according to Estes Church of Christ officials and witness accounts.
Roberta Edwards, 55, was the administrator at Sonlight Children’s Home in Port-au-Prince, and provided care for 20 orphaned or unwanted children at her home. She also directed a nutrition center that feeds 160 children two meals a day, five days a week, in addition to providing funds for the children to attend school. Her work had been overseen by the Estes Church of Christ in Henderson, Tenn., since 2002.
Bobbie Solley, a retired Middle Tennessee State University professor and member of North Boulevard Church of Christ in Murfreesboro, Tenn., was in Haiti on missionary work when Edwards, her friend and colleague, was killed.
“She was a fabulous woman. … Her only concern was the children of Haiti and the children she was caring for,” said Solley.
Originally from Wilmington, N.C., Edwards was in Haiti when she and Estes Church of Christ developed a relationship, said Jesse Robertson, a minister at the church and dean of Graduate Studies and Outreach at Freed-Hardeman University. He said Edwards had recently bought a home in Henderson.
“She had talked about retiring,” said Robertson. “But she was not ready to do that.”
Solley was staying in a guest house at Sonlight Ministries as part of her job as director of International Education Development with Healing Hands International, a Nashville missionary firm.
Solley said she spent Saturday evening with Edwards, who left the guest house around 8:30. Solley did her evening devotions before going to bed.
She was awoken between 10:30 and 11 p.m. and was told Edwards had been killed and one of the three boys she had with her was missing, said Solley, who returned Sunday night to Tennessee.
“Two of the boys got away from the gunmen and ran for help…” Solley said. “A 4-year-old boy was taken. We haven’t heard a word about him yet.”
No suspects have been identified, and no motive for the killing is known. Haitian authorities are investigating.
Burt Nowers, president of Healing Hands International, said in a phone interview that Edwards was well aware of the challenges of working in Haiti’s capital and owned a handgun for protection.
“She knew it was a dangerous place and she took precautions. It just didn’t work out for her this time,” said Nowers, adding that Edwards first moved to Haiti roughly two decades ago with her Haitian husband, but the marriage didn’t last.
Robertson — who also teaches Bible at Freed-Hardeman — said Edwards had never before been a target of violence during her time in Haiti.
“It’s probably been a few weeks since our last communication,” Robertson said. “No problems. I’ve been to Haiti and known of something like this, but not against our missionaries. But Haiti is a violent place, and we’ve never had anything like this happen.”
Robertson said Estes Church of Christ has about one dozen missionaries around the world and the United States.
“We have other folks there, but it’s important they come home today,” Robertson said. “We don’t feel they are being targeted, but we’ve increased security features.”
Robertson said Estes Church of Christ has no timetable for missionaries returning to Haiti.
“We feel this is an isolated incident,” Robertson said. “The team going back will be more experienced. We don’t feel (missionaries) are being targeted, but we’re being cautious.”
Memorial services will be held in Haiti, Henderson and Wilmington, N.C.
“We’re in shock, and tears have been shed,” Robertson said. “But we will continue to provide care for the mission in Haiti.”
Part of Edwards’ job was helping Solley connect with teachers in Haiti to help them find more effective ways of teaching children with a focus on literacy, Solley said.
“We were trying to teach teachers,” she said, explaining Edwards was her contact person, who suggested schools to visit, teachers to train, and which translators to use.
Solley said Edwards was always very excited about and supportive of her mission.
“I can’t imagine doing it without Roberta,” she said.
Solley has been modeling effective teaching in Haiti since 2012 and said she has never felt threatened in the country.
But her job in Haiti has finished now and even if she was asked she would not hesitate with her answer.
“I wouldn’t go back,” she said.
Willard reports for The (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) Daily News Journal. Contributing: The Associated Press.
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