RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Southern Baptists struggling with the loss of four workers and the wounding of a fifth in Iraq know that many others are mourning too, an International Mission Board leader said March 16 in a news conference at the board’s Richmond, Va., headquarters.
“We are grieving the loss of four colleagues and are concerned for a fifth colleague,” said Clyde Meador, the board’s executive vice president. “We know we are not alone in our grief.
“Many Americans and Iraqis have lost their lives in recent months. Our hearts go out in sympathy to the families, their friends and our colleagues who are grieving this tragic loss.”
Although service in Iraq is risky, these workers were there because of God’s love for the Iraqi people, not because it was a safe place, Meador said.
“Southern Baptists have sought ways to share God’s love with the Iraqi people. Last fall Southern Baptist churches in the United States sent more than 3 million pounds of food to Iraq. The workers involved in this attack were researching the need for future humanitarian projects.
“Our personnel, as Americans and Christians, are well aware of the risk of living and serving in a place like Iraq. Yet their love for the Iraqi people and obedience to the conviction of God’s leadership have been expressed in a willingness to take that risk, even to giving their lives.”
The five were in a car in eastern Mosul in northern Iraq when they were attacked with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. Their assailants remain unidentified.
Three died at the scene: Larry and Jean Elliott, who had served with the IMB in Honduras since 1978 and transferred to the Middle East in February, and Karen Watson, who had been with the board since March 2003.
A fourth worker, David McDonnall, died en route to a military support hospital in Baghdad. Four U.S. military surgeons had worked for six hours to save his life. His wife, Carrie, was airlifted to a hospital in Germany on March 16 in critical condition. The McDonnalls began serving again with the International Mission Board in November 2003 after a 1999-2001 stint in the board’s Journeyman program.
SBC President Jack Graham, in a statement to Baptist Press, said, “… while we deeply grieve for this loss of life, we also rejoice in the sure confidence that our brothers and sisters are in the presence of Christ.”
“Our IMB personnel around the world understand both the risk and the reward of the call of Christ upon their lives. Certainly many of them travel to dangerous places and distant places to fully carry the cross and the message of the Gospel. But they also understand the great reward. The great missionary martyr Jim Elliot once wrote in his diary, ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.’
“These who have given their lives for the cause of Christ were in Iraq on a humanitarian relief effort, sharing the love of Christ and sharing the message of hope,” Graham, pastor of the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church, said. “I pray that these servants of the Lord will have not died in vain but that their lives and even their deaths will be a great inspiration to many across America who will hear the call and respond in obedience to God.”
Graham added, “We pray for the families and ask God’s richest blessing of comfort upon their lives.”
At the White House, press secretary Scott McClellan commented to a reporter’s question about the four workers, “Obviously, they were there to help the Iraqi people realize a better future. And our thoughts and prayers are certainly with their families. This was a terrible tragedy, and they remain in our thoughts and prayers. And we are certainly grateful for all the efforts that they made to help the Iraqi people move forward on a better future.”
McClellan also stated, “There are many people, from many different countries, that are providing humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people and helping in Iraq. And security is a very high priority for the Iraqi people for the coalition. And we continue to work together to improve the security situation in Iraq.”
The Missouri Baptist Convention, which inaugurated a partnership with Iraq last year, said the initiative will continue despite the deadly attack.
A team of Missouri Baptists had been scheduled to depart for Iraq March 20, but that trip has now been canceled. Future MBC trips to Iraq have been postponed as convention leaders assess how best to proceed with the partnership. The MBC is the only state convention with a partnership with Iraq through the International Mission Board.
The Missouri convention is purchasing the plane tickets for Carrie McDonnall’s parents, Jon and Margaret Taylor of Dallas, to fly to Germany to be with their daughter.
IMB President Jerry Rankin, when informed about the loss of the four workers March 15, said all Southern Baptists share the sorrow and grief of the families and co-workers.
“In times like this, there are no words that will take away the pain of a loved one’s violent death,” Rankin said. “Everyone in the IMB family and everyone who loves Southern Baptists’ overseas workers are grieving with the family members and co-workers of these precious souls.
“We are grateful that God Himself comes alongside us in our deepest sorrow and comforts us in a way no one else can.”
The deaths of the Elliotts, Watson and McDonnall came barely a year after IMB missionary Bill Hyde was killed by a terrorist’s bomb at the airport in Davao City, Philippines. Just 14 months ago, Southern Baptists also suffered through the deaths of three workers who were murdered by a terrorist at the Baptist hospital in Jibla, Yemen.
Plans to return the victims’ bodies to the United States are incomplete.
Art Toalston, Erin Curry & Don Hinkle contributed to this article. Updated information will be posted at http://imb.org as it is received. A media briefing room can be accessed at http://imb.org/urgent.