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Friends recall David McDonnall’s commitment to sharing faith

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–David McDonnall was a master storyteller who was willing to die so that others could hear the story of Jesus, close friends said in a memorial service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary March 23.

Chris McKinney, who was befriended by McDonnall during his first semester at Southwestern, described him as an “on-mission Christian all the time.”

McKinney drew laughter and nods of agreement from the crowd packed into the Truett Auditorium as he told about a time he and McDonnall were standing in line at Wendy’s, their favorite restaurant.

“I was standing there looking at the menu and all of a sudden I heard David speaking in Arabic back behind me. All I could think was, ‘There he goes again. He’s found the only Arabic-speaking people in all of southwest Fort Worth and he’s talking to them,’” McKinney said. “I don’t speak Arabic, but I know one word in Arabic. I know the word ‘Isa,’ which is the Arabic word for Jesus. Within 30 seconds of being at Wendy’s, David was on mission for Jesus Christ, sharing the Gospel with these people who had probably never heard it before.”

McDonnall was one of four Southern Baptist humanitarian aid workers killed in an attack near Mosul, Iraq, March 15. He was a student at the Texas seminary before taking leave from his studies to go to Iraq. His wife, Carrie, also known as “Niki,” was wounded in the attack and has been returned to the U.S. She is in stable condition in a Dallas-area hospital.

Erika Wiegand, another of McDonnall’s friends, said she knew him best as Carrie’s best friend, husband and companion in following Christ.

“When they decided to do anything, whenever they would make a decision, they always sought the Lord first and they were a team together,” Wiegand said. “That was such a beautiful thing for me to see.”

“I consider David to be a hero of the faith,” said Brennen Searcy, a doctoral candidate who has ministered with the McDonnalls in Iraq. “However, I remember thinking that before he died in Iraq.”

Searcy described McDonnall as a loving husband in recalling when, during his short-term trip to Iraq, Searcy watched McDonnall serenade his wife with a guitar on their first wedding anniversary.

McKinney said McDonnall’s thoughtful kindness extended beyond his relationship with his wife to how he interacted with a sometimes discouraged seminary student. McKinney recalled how they had every class together his first semester of seminary, which he remembered as a difficult time.

“God knew what I needed,” McKinney said. “God strengthened me through David McDonnall.”

But McDonnall’s kindness, which came from the love he received from Christ, went even further. Wiegand said McDonnall was driven to tell Arabic people about Christ. Searcy said McDonnall’s own faith gave him great peace and calmness in the face of adversity.

“This was a man who simply did not stress out,” Searcy said. “He trusted the Lord to guide his steps.”

Michael Dean, who was the McDonnall’s pastor at Travis Avenue Baptist Church while they attended Southwestern, recounted a time last fall when he spoke with David and Carrie before they embarked to Iraq. Two of the three prayer requests they shared when they met with Dean involved seeing people come to Christ. First, they wanted prayer for wisdom about how to do ministry in Iraq. Next, they prayed specifically that at least one person would come to faith in Christ in their first year of ministry in Iraq.

Their other request was for wisdom about how to be safe while they were there. Dean said he understood that some people would argue that God failed McDonnall by allowing him to be killed in Iraq. He disagreed with that assertion.

“I think about the words of our Savior in the garden of Gethsemane with the cross looming before him. He cried out to God and said, ‘Lord, if there is some way that this cup may pass from me, make it so, but, nevertheless, not my will, but your will be done,’” Dean said. “In doing so the Savior acknowledged that sometimes God’s will includes pain and suffering and even death.”

Dean also said that McDonnall was willing to entrust himself to the Lord when it was time to step out into an unknown and perhaps dangerous situation.

Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson closed the service with an impassioned sermon from 2 Samuel 15, Matthew 11, and 2 Timothy 4. Patterson said that McDonnall was motivated by a fervent love for his King and the Iraqi people, that he had displayed the virtue of courage and that his life and death were not “a grand accident.”

Nine years ago, while president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Patterson pioneered missions programs that send students like the McDonnalls to the lost peoples of the world. Patterson related how he struggled with knowing that these programs would call seminarians into service in dangerous areas of the world. In that context, Patterson said he felt particularly grieved as the institution’s leader for what happened to McDonnall.

But even in the midst of his own heartbreak, Patterson asked that Southwesterners go into “all the world” for the sake of the billions of people who have not heard about Jesus Christ.

“Who will now replace David McDonnall?” Patterson asked.

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  • Samuel Smith