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Accident Description

Missionary saves four from drowning in California

Author: Whitney Butters 

Kevin Bowen saved a mother and her three sons from drowning while serving a mission in Roseville, Calif. He thought he was going to serve in Russia. Yet just an hour and a half before he was to be set apart as a missionary, Kevin Bowen's plans changed drastically. It was 2008, and political turmoil kept the LDS Church from sending missionaries to Russia at that time. "I was super bummed. I've only cried twice since elementary school. One was when my cat died and the other was that experience," Bowen said.

Bowen was assigned instead to the California Roseville Mission, Spanish speaking, and while he willingly accepted the call to labor, he didn't quite understand why he was faced with this trial. It wasn't until two weeks before the end of his mission that he finally knew why. For their preparation day on June 21, Bowen, his companion and two other elders in their district decided to hike near the Foresthill Bridge, which spans the American River in Placer County, Calif. After reaching the edge of the river, the missionaries heard a scream and saw a woman, Jackie, who had fallen out of her inner tube and was floating down the river without a life jacket.

Although swimming is against mission rules, Bowen, who was a competitive springboard diver and lifeguard before his mission, decided trying to save the woman was the right choice. "Either way, I had the option to jump in and maybe help her, maybe not help her, or just sit and watch her drown," Bowen said. "I don't know about you, but that would have been hard to sleep or live with myself for the rest of my mission after watching someone else drown when I could have helped them."

As Bowen quickly began to swim through the cold water, his nerves caught up with him as he reached the middle of the river where the current is the strongest. "When I grabbed her and started swimming to the side, I realized it wasn't going to be easy. That's the time when I started thinking, 'Oh, maybe this wasn't the best idea, but I trusted that was what I was supposed to do," Bowen said. Bowen managed to pull Jackie to shore, but shortly after reaching safety she told him that her three children were still in the river. Bowen saw the three boys, all of whom were under the age of 12, helplessly hanging onto their tubes as the river carried them farther down stream. After two more trips in and out of the river, Bowen was able to fight the current and bring all three children to shore.

Once Bowen helped the children hike back to their mother, Bowen said Jackie thanked him and told him he was a "lifesaver." He replied by explaining for the past two years saving lives was what he had been trying to do. He asked if they could share the gospel message with her, and she accepted. Just before Bowen returned home, he received a phone call from Jackie and referred her to the new elders in her area.

Although he does not know what has become of Jackie, Bowen recognizes this opportunity to serve and plant a seed as a blessing. "It was just divine placement, divine timing. Everything about it was easy to see that it wasn't just by chance," he said. Perhaps more importantly for him, Bowen was finally able to recognize this experience as the reason why he was called to serve in California. "It was a humbling experience that this kind of experience happened right at the very end of my mission after I had kind of persevered to the end a little bit," Bowen said," But that's how God works, after the trial of our faith, he shows us why he worked the way he did."