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‘Grieved’ by killings, but ministry will go on, IMB president vows

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Shaken by the killing of three Southern Baptist medical workers in Yemen and the wounding of another, International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin promised that ministry in Yemen and other dangerous places will continue.

In a Dec. 30 press conference broadcast live on CNN and other news outlets, Rankin told reporters that the workers shot by a man who burst into a morning staff meeting were serving “because of their care and concern for the people of Yemen” — and that others would continue to serve as long as possible.

“We were grieved to hear that a lone gunmen walked into a meeting of staff at 8:15 this morning Yemen time and killed surgeon Martha Myers, who had served the hospital 25 years, administrator Bill Koehn, who had served 28 years, and Kathy Gariety, a supply manager, who had served 10 years,” Rankin said in a statement opening the press conference. “Don Caswell, a pharmacist, who was wounded, is recovering from surgery.

“For 35 years we have operated a hospital in Yemen in the town of Jibla. Serving 40,000 patients a year, the hospital has been an expression of love and concern to the people of Yemen. Our personnel, as Americans and Christians, are well aware of the risk of living and serving in a place like Yemen. Yet their love for the Yemeni people and obedience to the conviction of God’s leadership has been expressed in a willingness to take that risk and give of their lives.

“We were moved to hear of crowds of local people lining the road to the hospital in respect for those who had served them so faithfully. Our hearts go out in sympathy to the families, colleagues and local friends who are grieving this tragic loss.”

Responding to questions, Rankin said he anticipates the Baptist hospital — one of the few full-service medical facilities in Yemen — will continue its work, and that Southern Baptist workers will continue to serve there.

“Obviously, the needs of the people continue, and the reason our people are there is because of those needs and our care and concern for the people,” he said of work in the impoverished Middle Eastern nation. “So we certainly will continue to explore how we might continue the ministry to which God has called us there. We have been negotiating with another organization to take responsibility for the hospital, but we’re committed to continuing whatever ministry we can in the country.”

The hospital compound has been guarded for many years by the Yemeni government, which owns and provides security for the facility. The gunman reportedly gained entrance to the hospital by cradling a semiautomatic rifle under his coat as if it were a sick infant. Once inside, he shot Myers, Koehn and Gariety, who had just begun a morning meeting. All three died at the scene. The gunman then shot and wounded Caswell before surrendering to hospital guards.

“We would not make any presumption of motives” of the killer,” Rankin said. “Being in a country like Yemen, our personnel over the years have been prohibited from presenting an overt Christian witness. They’ve been very respectful of the authorities and the policies under which we serve the people of Yemen.”

Southern Baptist personnel in Yemen and many other hotspots around the world “most definitely” have received threats, Rankin acknowledged — particularly after the Sept. 11 attacks. They take them seriously and evaluate them in consultation with local authorities.

“I think all of our personnel recognize there’s some risk involved,” Rankin said. “Certainly we do take security precautions. Our personnel are trained to be sensitive to those issues. This will heighten their awareness of the need for security wherever they’re serving. (But) we would not choose to end our ministry and service because of risk and danger to our personnel. If we did, we would probably be ending our ministry in many countries throughout the world.”

In Yemen, Southern Baptists work “with the permission and cooperation of the Yemeni government,” he stressed. “They have the authority to close down our presence and our work, but I would feel that as long as we’re meeting a need and working with respect for them and their policies, that they would allow us to serve there — and we are committed to that.”

Coping with increased threats worldwide, Rankin added, “just goes with being not just a Christian missionary now, but being an American.”

The International Mission Board is one of the largest evangelical mission entities in the world, with 5,487 personnel serving in 184 countries.

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  • Erich Bridges