A family of four from Sherwood Park on a missions trip to South Africa were all killed in a crash there on Nov. 3, family and friends say.
According to a GoFundMe, 33-year-old Brendan and 32-year-old Melissa Perrott, along with their two children, five-year-old Evelyn and three-year-old Colton, moved to Africa in 2017 in a trip organized by the Bulembu Ministries, a Christian missionary group in the Swaziland town of Bulembu.
“We were very excited for them because we knew their passion for Bulembu and for the children there,” said Dave Perrott, Brendan’s father.
“They’d been there on some short-term missions trips. Of course, we wanted them here with us as well. It was very hard to see them leave for an extended period of time.”
South African media outlet SABC News reported on the crash, and said that a total of nine people lost their lives following the head-on collision. According to investigators who spoke to SABC News, one vehicle was attempting to pass another when it collided with an oncoming vehicle on the R74 road in the Free State province of South Africa. Four people in the other vehicle also died.
“Their vehicles were unrecognizable,” Rod Rypstra, Melissa’s father, said.
“They (officials) said about 15 minutes after the crash there was a big fire and they were all burnt, but they said they all died on impact, all nine that were involved in the crash perished right away.”
Global Affairs Canada confirmed to Global News it is in contact with the family’s relatives in Canada and is providing consular assistance.
Close friends describe the family as “the most selfless, generous and kind people.”
The Perrott family also had a fifth person with them in the vehicle: a boy from a local orphanage, identified as Sabelo Sibeko by Bulembu Ministries.
“They loved everybody,” said Michelle Rypstra, Melissa’s mother.
“They loved people, they loved the orphans, they loved the people here, their community, their church. They loved and served Jesus,” she said.
Brendan’s mother Nanette Perrott said the couple were known for their giving and welcoming nature.
“They gave up jobs, they gave up comfort, they gave up their families, to go and help these children,” Nanette said. “Everybody that met them felt loved by them instantly.”
The family was known for their tireless fundraising: recently, they had rallied people to donate a truck full of clothing, school supplies and toys.
“They created a relationship with the youth there, that these kids didn’t have,” Melissa’s father Rod Rypstra explained. “They worked with them, they invited them up to their home, they spent time with them.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the GoFundMe had raised over $27,000, far above its initial target of $5,000.
Their family in Canada told Global News said that while the fundraiser had initially been started by a friend to help with the costs of transporting the family back to Canada for burial, they want all the money to go directly to Bulembu.
“We are going to carry on the legacy of Bulembu… because we know this is what they would want,” Rod said. “This is what we would want.”
The two sets of parents say they will be going to South Africa to hopefully transport their family’s remains home to Canada.
Melissa and Brendan were high school sweethearts and had just celebrated their 10-year anniversary.
Bulembu Ministries released a lengthy statement, saying the family was selfless and loved wholeheartedly, leaving their comfortable home and successful careers in Sherwood Park for missionary work in Africa.
“We are mourning, grieving and suffering the loss of such vital members of our family and our community. They, though, lived life to the full and aspired to be vessels of honour for our Lord,” the statement said.
“They lived as vessels of love and hope. They lived lives that where exemplary. They breathed hope and opportunity into all around them. They looked for opportunities to serve, to bless, to encourage, to empower. They were role models.”
The statement went on to describe how the couple made a difference in Swaziland.
“Melissa and Brendan loved spending time and investing in people especially the children of Bulembu. They loved having the young adults over for socials and games and even giving driving lessons. Brendan loved playing music.
He was extremely talented in music and gifted in leading worship. He loved including the young adults in making music and sharing his passion. They encouraged the children and the children adored them.
One of Melissa’s passions was baking. Her mother ran an events and catering enterprise and loved baking. She passed her skills and delights down to Melissa. Not only would Melissa bake birthday cakes to bless people in Bulembu, but on weekends she would always have groups of children over for baking lessons.
Melissa ministered compassion, hope and life to the mothers and young ladies. They gave of themselves selflessly. They were shining lights for Jesus and will be dearly missed.”