News Articles

FIRST-PERSON: The difference

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–For 28 years Bill Koehn plowed the arid, dusty soil in the hearts of the Yemeni people. He sat at his workbench for hours crafting toys for orphans, negotiated inexpensive medical care for poor families and provided for widows.

A close friend of Koehn’s said he was “constantly looking for available money to assist widows, orphans and prisoners.”

Since proselytizing is against the law in Yemen, he lived the message. He believed that sharing his faith in Christ began with “lifestyle and keeping your word.”

A former grocery worker from Kansas, Koehn said he went to Yemen because God, out of his compassion for the Yemeni people, sent him as an example of how faith in Christ motivates the human heart to love.

I am reminded of the words of James, “This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

When Abed Abdul Razak Kamel gunned down Koehn, Martha Myers and Kathy Gariety in Jibla, Yemen, Dec. 30, he believed that he was “cleansing his religion and getting closer to Allah.” In reality, he was sent to do the bidding of contemptuous men devoted to the destruction of Israel, the West and especially Christianity.

A Yemeni official, who refused to be identified, told the Associated Press that the gunman had confessed to being a member of Islamic Jihad, known to have ties to Al Qaeda. The Saudi News Agency reported that during a speech before the Yemeni parliament, Prime Minister Abdul-Kadar Benjammal named the attack on the IMB workers in a list of terrorist acts sponsored by extremist groups.

The people near Jibla Baptist Hospital, repulsed by Kamel’s pseudo-piety, lined the streets of the town as Koehn’s funeral procession passed. They recognized, like Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, said, that the gunman did not take the workers’ lives, for they had already given them to the people of Yemen years ago.

Koehn’s importance among the people of Jibla was evident when one of the Yemeni nationals who worked with him fashioned a simple wooden casket for the slain worker and reportedly assisted in burying him. When asked why he was helping, he answered, “This is my father. I have to do this.”

I had time to think about Koehn’s devotion to God and the Yemeni people as I listened to his family and friends reminisce about him with tears and, on occasion, with laughter during his memorial service Jan. 2. I gained a new appreciation for the dedication of Southern Baptists to helping the impoverished peoples of the world.

Koehn and his hospital associates treated more than 42,000 patients each year.

I gained a new appreciation for my nation, where religion — often the cause of raucous debate — is rarely the cause of murder.

Most importantly, I gained a new appreciation for the gospel that Koehn preached so clearly with his life. That being said, I believe it is time to draw a wide line of distinction between Christianity and Islam. As Christians we don’t have to disparage anyone; saying who Christ is enough. In other words, simply tell the truth.

In contrast to the impulse toward syncretism or blending of all religions that pervades our culture, Christianity and Islam are diametrically opposed in respect to their beliefs about the nearness of God, salvation and the Bible.

Biblical, historical Christianity also makes exclusive claims about the person and work of Christ that many people — especially those who parade beneath the banner of tolerance — perceive as arrogant.

The church has believed for 2,000 years that in the birth of Christ and his earthly ministry God expressed the fullness of his divinity and his compassion for humanity. The god of Islam is aloof and finds contact with humanity undesirable. Ergun and Emir Caner, both former Muslims, wrote in their book, “Unveiling Islam,” that the god of Islam only loves if he is loved, and only sent prophets and messengers to proclaim “the truth.” The God of Christianity sent his own Son to proclaim his love.

Authentic Christians believe Christ to be the Son of God, and believe the scriptural teaching that only faith in Christ guarantees salvation. Muslims do not and hope that they will be acceptable in God’s sight by fulfilling faithfully the five pillars of Islam — a confession of the oneness of Allah and Muhammad’s prophetic supremacy, prayer, almsgiving, the pilgrimage to Mecca and fasting. All are religious duties, not faith.

It was faith in Christ that caused Koehn, Myers and Gariety to give their lives to the people of Yemen. It was devotion to Christ that led them to exchange comfortable surroundings, promising careers and personal security for hardships, anonymity and danger. It was Christ who sustained them as they plowed away, and in their deaths they planted hope.

As Tertullian, one of the early fathers of Christianity, wrote, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Because of their deaths, the people of Yemen were able to hear of the incomparable riches of God’s grace — found only in Christ.

Someday, as Koehn’s family and friends said, perhaps even a descendant of Abed Abdul Razak Kamel will stand with his son near the graves of these missionary martyrs and say, “These are the people who showed us how to follow Jesus.”
Tomlin is news director at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

    About the Author

  • Gregory Tomlin