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FIRST-PERSON: 20 years ago in Yemen, lives given not taken

Twenty years ago last month, Kathy Gariety, William Koehn and Dr. Martha Myers were murdered while they worked at the Baptist Hospital in Jibla, Yemen.

Editor’s note: Leo Endel is the executive director of the Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention.

A small group of us met Friday night at Layton Avenue Baptist Church in Milwaukee to remember the life and ministry of Kathy Gariety. Along with two other International Mission Board (IMB) medical workers, William Koehn and Dr. Martha Myers, Kathy was killed 20 years ago when a Yemeni man slipped into the Baptist Hospital in Jibla, Yemen. He said he killed them “because they were preaching Christianity in a Muslim country” and “to get closer to God.”

I’ll never forget the morning the story hit the U.S. news. Our family had joined friends to see the sights in Washington, D.C., and my friend and I were down eating the free hotel breakfast and drinking coffee, waiting on our wives and our girls. Casually I picked up the newspaper and was stunned by an article on the front page. A cold shiver ran down my back when I first saw Yemen, then Jibla, and finally the Baptist hospital. Quickly I scanned down the page and saw in disbelief “Kathy Gariety.”

Kathy had been a beloved member and leader of the youth ministry at Layton Avenue Baptist Church when God called her to missions in her early 50s. At last week’s service, Jenni Schwager, gave testimony to Kathy’s ministry and influence on her life as her youth leader. “I was scared to death for her to go off in a far-off country.”

“I think of her often” said Schwager. “I pass this photo in my hallway every day. She’s looking at a camel with a great big smile on her face. She was a wonderful mentor to me, and I don’t think I even got to say that to her when she was alive.”

Kathy didn’t choose an easy way. She heard God’s call, but she didn’t know where God wanted her to go. The IMB presented her with a list of about 100 possible places she could pray about. Any of those sites would have been easier and more glamorous, but Kathy didn’t choose a glamorous or easy place. She could have chosen Paris or a tropical paradise, but instead she chose a place so difficult that it eventually cost her her life. To paraphrase Jerry Rankin, then the president of the IMB, “her life was given, not taken.”

In the months after Kathy’s death, we learned that she did not give her life in vain. The murderer was at least partially correct. As Tertullian has said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” There was a movement of God in that very dark place and people came to know Jesus in part because of Kathy’s life and death.

A year or so after Kathy was murdered the words of a song were given by an IMB worker to a musician in one of our Minnesota/Wisconsin churches. The words came from a woman who had been imprisoned for her faith, in the darkness and solitude of an underground cell. She said that God had given her a song to encourage her. The musician wrote a tune to words he did not understand, and the song was taken back to the woman. When the music was played for her, she was stunned with emotion. “That’s the song. That’s the song that I heard.”

God does indeed work in mysterious ways. A Scripture comes just when we need it. A song encourages us. A testimony reminds us of the power of God. God calls a middle-aged woman who gives herself to a seemingly insignificant place and then God does a most significant work through her – the light shines in the darkness. Sacrifice and significance, who can understand the real cost and the real victory but God?

Fewer people recognize Kathy’s name anymore, and that saddens me, but I doubt that would matter much to her. She moved to Yemen and gave her life not so that she would be remembered, but instead, so that Jesus would be made known.

On my four-hour drive home from Milwaukee, I contemplated Kathy’s life and mine. I ultimately contemplated the lives and ministries of scores of our leaders throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin. We too have been called to what seem insignificant roles and places. Only a few will remember our names, fewer still will know what we sacrificed or what God did through us. None of us will correctly understand the impact or significance of our lives, but none of that matters. People will still know Jesus, because we gave our lives not so that we might be remembered, but instead, so that Jesus might be made known.

    About the Author

  • Leo Endel

    Leo Endel is executive director of the .Minnesota Wisconsin Baptist Convention.

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