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Daughter of Nigerian Missionaries Dies

March 22, 2013

Rachel Horlings, a well-respected underwater archaeologist and the daughter of Christian Reformed Church missionaries Andy and Linda Horlings died unexpectedly last week in Ghana.

At this point, it looks like she was electrocuted when she touched a computer cable.

Her parents will be leaving Ghana in West Africa soon and returning to Syracuse, New York, for the funeral of their daughter.

A time for the funeral has not been determined, since it is not yet clear when officials in Ghana will finish what they need to do and then be releasing the body.

“This is sad news,” said Ron Geerlings, West Africa regional director for Christian Reformed World Missions.  “Andy and Linda express their gratitude for the outpouring of love and support that they are experiencing from around the world through many channels. Please continue your prayer and concern for the Horlings ”

In a message that he sent out to other CRWM missionaries and the Horlings supporters, Geerlings describes what happened as best he knows currently.

“Rachel was working on her computer on dry land and getting shocks from it. She apparently knew or guessed that the shocks were related to the printer cable,” he writes.

But then when her hand touched the metal end of the cable she somehow got a lethal combination of volts and amps. 

“At least at this time, I cannot give a definitive answer to the ‘how’ question. I can say that the standard voltage is 220 in Ghana.  It is common in West Africa to experience electrical systems that are not correctly wired or grounded.  The uncommon part of this situation was that it was fatal.”

Her parents work as missionaries in Nigeria and had gone to go Ghana to see their daughter, who was there doing research. They arrived on Saturday, March 16, the day that Rachel died.

They were in the room when this happened. Her father quickly disconnected the power cords. 

Members of the dive team with whom Rachel did her archaeological research were also nearby. “They were trained in CPR and immediately tried to revive Rachel.  But their efforts were unsuccessful.” 

This happened in the town of Elmina, Ghana. Rachel was doing her research off the coast of the town, which is the site where the first European fort and trading post was located.

Andy and Linda Horlings remained in Elmina through Tuesday getting through the investigations, procedures and permission they needed to transport Rachel’s body to Accra, Ghana’s capital, on Wednesday.  Post-mortem procedures in Accra started Thursday.

Andy and Linda, says Geerlings,  will be flying to Syracuse this weekend. They hope Rachel’s body will arrive soon.

Meanwhile, Rachel’s husband, Al is going through all of this from a distance in Syracuse,  says Geerlings.

Her husband works as a medical imaging researcher at Syracuse University.

According to Rachel’s profile on a Florida State University website, she received her bachelor of science degree and a Masters in anthropology from Florida State University. Both degrees focused on maritime archaeology.

She received her PhD in 2011 from Syracuse University, also in anthropology. Her dissertation was concerned with maritime trade in west Africa, concentrating on the Atlantic trade coastal Ghana.

In addition to working in Ghana, she worked in maritime archaeological investigations in the Southeastern US, Turkey, Dominican Republic, and Australia.

Rachel talked in 2007 with an interviewer who publishes a blog. Along with discussing her research, she also spoke about how God is always with her as she examined shipwrecks.

In her work off the coast of Ghana, she and her team would find it difficult, if not impossible, to see because of the sediment in the water as they swam around and examined the shipwreck on which they did research.

But she always felt safe and guided along through the murky water.

“As you go down there, you have no clue where you (are) and God does guide you,” she said in the interview. “God is so real. He knows us everywhere.”

 A memorial page has been set up in which many people are contributing their memories of Rachel.