HAIFA, Israel (BP)–The life and death of 14-year-old Abigail Litle was likened to a bridge between the United States and Israel before her body was buried in a simple wooden coffin draped in the flags of the two nations near the Mediterranean Sea.
Hundreds of people from Israel’s evangelical and Messianic communities, with estimates ranging from 500 to 1,400, attended Litle’s funeral March 9 in the Christian section of a small cemetery in Haifa, mourning her loss, along with seven other teens and seven adults killed when a 20-year-old Palestinian suicide bomber blew up a Haifa bus March 5.
Her parents, Philip and Heidi Litle, had moved to Israel when Abigail was an infant in 1989. In addition to her parents, Litle is survived by four siblings.
Philip Litle in recent years had worked as an administrator with the Baptist Convention in Israel.
He grew up as a Southern Baptist in Harrisonville, Mo., where his parents, John and Blanche Litle, continue to reside. He and his wife had met while studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They are not appointed workers of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.
At the funeral, U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer described Abigail Litle as “a true bridge between our two countries, having been born in the United States and now in eternal rest in the land of Israel.
“She’s a true bridge between our faiths, so dedicated as she was to family and to God and so dedicated as she was to her friends and her community,” Kurtzer said, according to a CNSNews.com report March 10.
Knesset member Yuval Steinitz, head of the governing body’s foreign affairs and defense committee, spoke in behalf of the Israeli government.
“Your coffin was draped in two flags, of Israel and the U.S. — the flag of the strongest democracy in the world and that of one of the smallest but most vital democracies in the world,” Steinitz said, speaking to the deceased teen, according to CNSNews.com. “On your coffin there was a cross, but on the flag there was the Star of David, and this symbolizes the hope that you and your family mark for courageous and new friendship between us.”
The Litle family’s Messianic pastor, Shmuel Aweida, told CNSNews.com after the funeral, “She was one of my favorite kids in the congregation. Her face was always shiny. She would always sit in the first row, holding her Bible.”
Having attended Israeli schools throughout her life alongside her siblings, Abigail regularly spoke Hebrew, Aweida said, noting that the Litles regard Israel as “a special place because they believe in the Bible. They didn’t even consider burying her in the States.”
In death, Aweida said, “We know where she went” because of the “certain hope” of her faith.
Back in Missouri, Abigail’s grandfather described her as “a sweet loving child,” according to a KCTV report. “She had a lot of artistic abilities, and she loved animals,” John Litle said.
The grandparents, both retired teachers, told the TV station they visited the family in Haifa for three months last year. They had walked along the street where their granddaughter later would be killed.
“We got to go to the beach with them,” Blanche Litle recounted. “We got to go to the national parks with them and hike with them, and we just got to live the family life day to day with them, which we wanted to do.”
Their son and daughter-in-law knew the dangers inherent to life in Israel, John and Blanche Litle said. “It was their choice and they had made that choice, and we released them to be their own persons, so we chose not to worry.”
Another of the Litles’ sons, Steve, told the Kansas City Star that his brother had a phrase he liked to repeat: “The safest place to be is the center of God’s will.”
The Litles’ daughter, Suzanne Barnett, told the newspaper they received word that Abigail was missing within a couple hours after the suicide bombing March 5. Prayer chains were activated and calls were made to family and friends.
“But it’s not like we started praying just in times of trouble,” Barnett said. “We’ve always held them in God’s hand in prayer. He’d prepared all of us to have the strength.”
Her mother, Blanche, told the newspaper, “Bad things are going to happen no matter where you are. You have to follow the desire of your heart that God has given you and trust him. Don’t live your life in fear.”
Philip Litle told The Boston Globe, “When you have a personal relationship with God, you communicate with him. Over time, that developed into a confidence that this is where he wanted us to be. We were called here.”
Abigail now is one of six students killed in Palestinian attacks among the 3,200 students at Haifa’s Reali School since the resumption of Palestinian-Israeli violence in September 2000, the Associated Press reported.
One of her Israeli teachers, Nurit Harel, described Litle as a strong-willed teen who once battled a raging fever in a sports competition to earn the points her class needed to win first place.
The Baltimore Sun reported that she was a participant in an outreach program called Children Teaching Children that engaged in field trips to an Arab-Israeli school. In its first session in February, Abigail had befriended a young Arab girl. The second session, slated for March 10, has been postponed indefinitely, the newspaper reported.
“I think there is only one solution to these conflicts,” Litle told the Sun, “and that is to have a heart of love. That’s not what you find sometimes on either side here.”
Compiled by Art Toalston