SANAA, Yemen (BP)–International Mission Board workers in Yemen are grieving the deaths of three colleagues, but they are more convinced than ever that God is working in Yemeni hearts.
“For the last 35 years there’s been a lot of plowing of hard, almost punished earth,” said Lee Hixon, who also works at the Baptist hospital in Jibla where Martha Myers, Bill Koehn and Kathy Gariety were murdered Dec. 30. “But, yes, there’s a harvest here. God is working in people’s hearts.”
Yemeni nationals and other hospital workers mourned at the funeral of William Koehn and Martha Myers on the grounds of the Jibla hospital Dec. 31. The body of the third murdered hospital worker, Kathy Gariety, will be returned to the United States in the next few days.
Yemeni hospital staff and friends built caskets for Koehn and Myers, dug their graves and lowered the bodies into the ground themselves.
“This is my father,” one of the Yemeni hospital workers said of Koehn. “I have to do this.”
The residents of Jibla have been as devastated by the deaths as much as the other Americans at the hospital, said Al Lindholm, another Southern Baptist worker in Yemen.
One man said Koehn’s death hurt him worse than the death of his own father.
PAYING THEIR RESPECTS
During the funeral, several hundred Yemenis gathered at the hospital to pay their respects. Others lined the street for a half-mile outside the hospital gates. Mourners sang “He Is Lord” in Arabic and recited the Lord’s Prayer.
“Something is happening in my heart,” said one Yemeni national. Southern Baptists trust that “something” is God’s Spirit.
People who have seen the witness of the three murdered workers are giving serious consideration to the good news, said Hixon, voicing trust that God will be glorified through his colleagues’ deaths.
Though Southern Baptist workers have not spoken personally with the assailant, they’ve tried to communicate with him through an attorney that, though they grieve for their friends, they forgive him for what he did.
After spending a couple of days in prayer, mourning — and remembering — at Jibla, most Southern Baptist workers in Yemen have traveled to the capital, Sanaa, to rest, heal and regroup. Donald Caswell, who was injured in the attack, is in good condition and recovering from surgery.
NO PLANS TO LEAVE
Most of the workers have no plans to leave the country permanently, though. Even Koehn’s wife, Martha, reportedly plans to stay to encourage the Yemeni people who are grieving the loss of her husband.
“We’ve been begged not to go,” Hixon said.
The Yemeni people have relied on the hospital’s workers for excellent medical care and — more importantly — for unconditional love.
“They’ve been doing what they can to make life more bearable for a lot of folks,” Hixon said. “Many [Yemeni] count these folks as family. It’s a terrible separation. They’ll be encouraged to see folks come back.”
WORTH IT ALL
The call of Jesus Christ to take the gospel personally to hurting individuals far outweighs the risks of living in a country like Yemen, Hixon said.
“If you had asked any of these people, ‘Would you give your life to birth the church?’ they would have replied, ‘Absolutely,'” he said.
Nothing can replace knowing people in their own communities, Lindholm added.
“You can’t minister without personal contact,” he said. “They’re very much like us; they just haven’t had the advantage of the gospel like we have. They’re hungry.”
He trusts God will honor the sacrifice of these martyrs in Yemen.
And Hixon agrees. “It’s easy to love your neighbor and to love your friends and to love your family,” he said. “The miracle occurs when you love your enemy.”
ASKING FOR PRAYER
Christians around the world are joining in grief for the slain Southern Baptists and prayers for those who remain.
The murdered workers’ colleagues asked that they pray, first, that many Christians will continue to follow the examples of Myers, Koehn and Gariety and take Christ to the nations — even the most dangerous places.
They also ask Christians to pray that God will encourage the workers in Yemen, giving them a new vision for what God wants to do there.
And, most importantly, they ask Christians to join them in praying that many people will come to saving faith in Jesus Christ through the testimonies of these who have died and their colleagues who remain.
For the latest on the Yemen situation: www.imb.org/urgent.