Unwavering faith propels parents to search for daughter
When a husband and wife leave their comfortable lifestyle in North Dallas and head to Mexico on a mission trip they don't realize their 15-year old daughter will vanish into the vast countryside south of the border. Author Vanda Terrell, mother of the missing girl, relates a riveting tale describing what happened during the desperate search for her daughter, whose fate is unknown. Vanda was an English teacher in Plano, Texas when her husband Mike and her are inspired to spread the gospel to a remote region south of the United States border.
Vanda relates how Mike and she were inspired by Bob Mason the president of Missions International, to "travel the world and spread the gospel." Vanda explains in her fascinating book White Butterfly how the fast track to success and money in Plano, Texas, a prosperous suburb of Dallas, lost its attraction for the couple once they determined it was more important for them to fulfill the Great Commission.
Daughter Brittany disappears on January 6, 2001
The dedicated missionaries' plan was for Vanda to serve as principal of a school while Mike was to serve as the superintendent overseeing the construction of the clinic. After spending several summers in Mexico on mission trips, all three family members felt excited about the idea of trekking to Mexico and spreading the gospel as members of the Four Corners Church in Plano. The goal of Missions International was to establish churches, orphanages, medical clinics, homses, and to hold evangelistic crusades among unreached people groups in Central and South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.
The dedicated family sold their home in Dallas and packed all their earthly belongings into a truck and a trailer for the 3,000 mile trip to Bacalar, Mexico, not suspecting the dangers that lurked ahead of them. The contrast between their lives in upscale Plano and Bacalar were extreme. While the goals in their former home had been to purchase a nicer car, a larger home and beautiful clothes, the desire to survive seemed the main drive among the Mayans of Bacalar. The house of their hosts was made of black tarpaper and scrap pieces of wood with a palapa-style roof made of palm-frond branches. Inside were two beds with wooden slats which served as mattresses.
Their days were filled with menial labor. Their first job was to help the Mayan men finish the second story of the clinic. The labor was difficult and included learning to mix concrete by hand. The concrete was carried up a rickety ladder while workers balanced buckets on their heads. Vanda estimated the buckets must have weighed at least 50 pounds each. She remembered that they unloaded about 5,000 blocks within one week.
The English teacher remembered her body ached as she lay down each night waiting for the mercy that sleep provided. She also recalled that "being so connected to the earth and so disconnected from the material world was intoxicating."
Things went exceptionally well for the young family of three until January 6, 2001, when Brittany disappeared without warning.
The search for Brittany commences
On the fateful day of Brittany's disappearance, Vanda recalls that her daughter and a friend Alejandra had traveled to nearby Chetumal for a planned day of shopping, lunch and a doctor's appointment. Chetumal is the capital of the state of Quintana Roo and is a large city in that region. Mexican and European tourists flock to the area to enjoy the Mayan ruins. The plan had been for the girls to see the doctor, have lunch, do some shopping and be home by 6 p..m. Aldo, the father of Alejandara, had promised Mike and Vanda that his driver would deliver Brittany to their doorstep.
After a frantic search for their daughter that evening, they were told by Aldo's wife that her husband had left town with Brittany. Vanda was stunned. " What could a 45-year old man want with her 15 year old daughter?" Vanda wondered.
Six months into debauched areas of Mexico
As Vanda puts it on the back cover of her inspiring book, "The six-month ensuing, desperate search leads the Terells into Satan's dark playground in corrupt, debauched sectors of Mexico and challenges their faith in the God they went to Latin America to serve. Deception and failed commitments are their daily portion as the path toward restoration with Brittany plunges them deeper and deeper in heartbreak."
The summary further concludes, "When the search hits paydirt, the ending is not the storybook one for which the Terrells have hoped. Vanda shares about her struggle to forgive and heal and her miraculous, personal reminder that God's presence never leaves us even in the midst of shattered dreams and unthinkable pain."
Vanda interview since the book
Vanda was kind enough to consent to an interview recently for this article to provide an update for readers. She said, "Brittany came home in late July 2005. She was home for a few days before disappearing again. She was gone for 40 or so days, got involved with a gang member in Dallas, got pregnant. She had the baby, a girl, named Sonya. She met a guy, Ernie on line. They began dating. Brittany lived in a closet, with friends, and then with us. But she never stayed with anyone too long. Ernie 'knew' Brittany and she had a boy named Michael in January, 2006."
Vanda further said, "Ernie began abusing Brittany and the girls. He threw Sonya against the wall once, knocked Brittany's head into the steering wheel of their van while she was driving. He ended up in jail for quite a while. In late June 2007, Brittany abandoned the girls. I came home after helping a friend move. I pressed the door to the garage, and out came four kids with our two dogs running towards us."
Vanda asked, "Where's your mom?" The kids answered, "Oh, she left after she wrote you a note. It's on the counter." Vanda discovered the children who were ages six, five, two and one and one-and-a-half had been left alone in her house for almost four hours. Brittany had signed over custody of the children to Mike and Vanda.
Vanda demonstrated she may be one of the greatest mothers in America as she and her husband raised three of the children for six years while Mike's sister, Kayla, took Michael.
Through all this adversity, Vanda stuck with her daughter, enabling her to earn her GED and beginning work on becoming a physician's assistant when she fell back into temptation. Brittany met a man online who made extravagant promises to her. She left the next day without her parents' knowledge and moved to New Orleans. Brittany traveled around the country for two years. Occasionally, she would show up every few months with presents for the girls. Each time she would disappear again. Vanda and her husband Mike are celebrating their 40th anniversary at the end of December, 2016. Vanda is quick to give God the credit for helping Mike and her through the stress of those years in Mexico and then back in the Dallas area.
Vanda also gives God credit for what followed. Her daughter returned home once again. Vanda and Mike helped her find an apartment. Brittany found a job and Ernie found the Lord, and was then released from prison. Brittany and Ernie re-united and lived in Wylie for two years. Last November, the generous Mike and Vanda purchased Brittany and Ernie a home in downtown McKinney, north of Dallas. The young couple remain under the protective wings of Vanda and Mike, living only about six minutes from them. Brittany now has a great job with a wrecking service while Ernie is manager for a restaurant in Allen, Texas. They've had the girls full time for almost two years. The modest Vanda declines taking credit, saying, "God is good."
One final dramatic note to this bigger than life story is the fact Aldo was murdered in 2009. His throat was slit with a machette in Chetumal, Mexico. It reportedly took him over 40 minutes to die, according to Vanda.
Vanda wonders whether it might have been the father of another victim. who stopped Aldo. The case of the murder of Aldo remains unsolved.
Heart-wrenching and inspiring story for the ages
The story of how two Christian parents risked their lives to save their daughter from abduction in the heart of Mexico and transform her life after their return to the Dallas area with their belief in Jesus Christ keeping them going is one which will inspire other people who are suffering through similar adversity. During one of the darkest moments of her emotional roller coaster ride through this epic adventure Vanda said she closed her eyes and prayed, "Please Father, pass this cup from me. I can't take any more. I'm done. I'm confused. I'm hurt. I'm exhausted. No more. I can't take any more. Please, Father." Vanda remembers that, "Lying on the floor broken and exhausted, I felt Him place His arms around me."
To find out the amazing details of how Vanda and Mike Terrell searched the length and breadth of Mexico to find their vanished daughter, one should read this page-turning thriller called White Butterfly, published by Hannibal Books. With the help of private investigator Michael Guidry the puzzle of what happened to Brittany is solved deep in the heart of Mexico. Vanda has returned to her career as a high-school English teacher in Plano, Texas. She and husband Mike live in McKinney. They are the parents of two and grandparents of five..