DALLAS (BP)–“When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die,” wrote German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who would be executed by the Nazis for his role in an anti-Hitler plot. That was the first line of his well-known book, “The Cost of Discipleship” — a cost that has been paid in full by David McDonnall, a 29-year-old Southern Baptist missionary from Rowlett, Texas, murdered by gunmen in Iraq on Monday, March 15. Mr. McDonnall’s wife, Carrie, a missionary who was seriously wounded in the attack, has been left a widow at age 26.
We think of missionaries mainly as evangelists, but the work many contemporary missionaries do, particularly in Islamic countries, isn’t proselytizing. Rather, they primarily bring humanitarian relief to desperately poor people. The McDonnalls were in Iraq to build schools and to bring food to the hungry and water to the thirsty.
They did so, say friends and family members, in part because of their love for the Arab people (both spoke Arabic) but ultimately to obey Jesus, who told his followers that whenever you do those things for the least of his sheep, you do it for him.
Mr. McDonnall believed from childhood that he was called to the missionary life, and that necessarily means accepting the risk of death for the faith. And so it was with him. He died as a martyr, which Christians believe is the highest possible honor. Martyr comes from the Greek word meaning “witness,” and one doesn’t have to share this young man’s religious vision to honor his sacrifice.
He gave his life to serve God and others in a poor and agonized land half of a world away. David McDonnall -– a witness to the power of faith, hope and charity -– no doubt would want us to consider him fortunate.
This editorial, which appeared in the Dallas Morning News March 18, is reprinted by permission.