A Valparaiso native doing missionary work in Indonesia was killed there Sunday trying to save a drowning child, friends and colleagues said Monday.
Ben Uskert, 30, was working as a pilot and mechanic for Mission Aviation Fellowship in Nampa, Idaho, at the time of his death. He was surfing with a group from a local orphanage when two teens began to struggle, said Dianna Gibney, spokeswoman for Mission Aviation Fellowship.
Uskert and another man attempted to help. The other man and one teen survived. Uskert drowned and the other teen is missing and presumed dead, according to Indonesian media reports.
Uskert's wife, Katie (Tucker) Uskert, a 2001 graduate of Highland High School, and the couple's 3-year-old son, Jeremiah, remain in Indonesia. Plans are pending for a memorial service there later this week.
A service in Northwest Indiana is pending.
Gibney said Uskert joined Missionary Aviation Fellowship in 2008. The Uskerts arrived in Indonesia in February 2009 and spent nine months in language school before beginning his official duties in Sumatra.
Mission Aviation Fellowship provides support to Christian groups in remote areas of the world, Gibney said, by assisting missionaries, pastors and medical groups. There is not a large Christian population in Sumatra, Gibney said, so the group's mission has been on community development following a deadly 2004 tsunami.
Drue McCollum, youth pastor at South Lake Worship Center in Hobart, where the Uskerts are members, said when Uskert wasn't busy flying, he spent time at Indonesian orphanages.
"He took the boys out to do different activities with them," McCollum said. "That's what he was doing Sunday when he took these boys surfing."
"From what I heard, they've had lots of storms there that created these big waves," McCollum said. "We heard the water was only up to his waist but the waves were just so strong there wasn't anything they could do."
McCollum said Uskert was selfless.
"He never wanted to talk about himself," McCollum said. "He always worried about the people he was working with and wanted you to pray for them."
McCollum said that attitude was evidenced before the Uskerts left for Indonesia.
"They didn't want to sell anything for money, they gave it all away, including their house and car," he said. "Whenever he had the opportunity to get in front of the church to ask for money, he never wanted to do that, he'd always turn it to someone else who needed it."
McCollum pointed to quotes from Uskert on his Facebook page Monday that showed his love of his work.
"Perfect I am not, but I'm grieved when people complain because their steak isn't done right, or because the toilet paper is too rough," Uskert wrote. "Try visiting a Third World country and see how two-thirds the world's population lives.
"Yeah, definitely visit a Third World country," Uskert said on his Facebook page. "In so many ways, the Indonesians are so much happier than people in America, and many of them have dirt floors and one piece of furniture. There's something to be said about a life of simplicity."
Dawn Cook met the Uskerts while attending South Lake Worship Center in Hobart, their hometown church.
Cook and her husband now live in Tennessee, but they were living in Griffith when they met the couple about three years ago. The two couples became best friends.
Uskert, a Purdue University graduate, just celebrated his 30th birthday last week, Cook said.
"He'd do anything for anybody," Cook said through tears Monday. "He loved God before anything. ... I don't know anybody who didn't love Ben when they met him. You never saw Ben without a smile on his face."
Cook said when she and her husband were selling their home in Griffith, they learned they needed to put a new roof on their home.
"Ben came out in 90-degree weather, got a bunch of people together and started doing our roof," she said. "He would do anything for anybody."
Cook said Uskert had a quote on his Facebook page that summed up the way he lived:
"I want to fulfill the purpose for which I was created, to serve others and to be a living testament of the hope found in Christ."
McCollum and Cook said they weren't at all surprised to learn Uskert died trying to help a child.
"That's what he did, he was a giver, just wanted to help anyone in any way he could," Cook said.