News Articles

Hospital administrator/toy maker’s life honored by family, friends, SBC leaders

BURLESON, Texas (BP)–For hours Bill Koehn sat at his workbench, carefully fashioning scraps of wood into toys for the children of Yemen.

A Southern Baptist representative and hospital administrator at the Jibla Baptist Hospital, Koehn never expected money in exchange for the toys, the toy maker’s friends and relatives said at a memorial service in honor of the slain IMB worker in Burleson, Texas, Jan. 2. In fact, seeing the smiles of the children who received the toys was payment enough for the 28-year veteran worker, they said.

Koehn, who believed that sharing the gospel began with “lifestyle and keeping your word,” was among three career personnel killed in Yemen Dec. 30 by a Muslim extremist that reportedly told police he wanted to “cleanse his religion and get closer to Allah.” Also killed were physician Martha Myers of Alabama and purchasing manager Kathy Gariety of Wisconsin.

More than 200 people attended the memorial service at Cross Timber Baptist Church, among them IMB President Jerry Rankin, SBC President Jack Graham, Annuity Board President O.S. Hawkins and approximately 100 current and former IMB workers.

Rankin said at the memorial service that the murders in reality had not accomplished what the gunman intended.

“The gunman did not take their lives, for they had already given them to the people of Yemen years ago.”

Rankin also said the gunman could not extinguish the memory of Koehn’s “remarkable tenure,” especially when he went beyond his duties as a hospital administrator to minister to orphans and other children.

Bill Hart, who served as pastor or “counselor” of the Jibla International Fellowship from 1994 until he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and cancer in 1999, said Koehn was “constantly looking for available money to assist widows, orphans and prisoners. He helped thousands.”

“Bill had a hope for the people of Yemen, that one day they would be fulfilled. … Nothing will so endear God to the hearts of the Yemeni people as when they understand the hope in Christ,” Rankin said. “Bill preached with his life, witness, compassion and love more than many who stand behind the pulpit ever will.”

Ironically, many of the people in Jibla had their first opportunity to hear of that hope after Koehn’s death, said Randall Pearce, Koehn’s son-in-law. The people of Jibla lined the streets of the city for one-half mile as the missionary’s funeral procession passed, and also gathered around the cemetery in Jibla as Koehn’s colleagues sang hymns and quoted Psalm 23 in Arabic.

Rankin said that one day the Yemeni people will see Koehn’s grave and remember that he helped to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to Jibla. They would know that a prophet had been among them, Scott Whitson, pastor of Cross Timbers Baptist Church and a childhood friend to Koehn’s daughters, said.

Koehn, Whitson said, had ministered for decades in a time and region similar to that of the prophet Ezekiel, where there was political instability, national intrigue and countless hardships, and he, like Ezekiel, had been called to declare the word of the Lord.

“Bill was not in Yemen because an agency sent him, not because a convention encouraged him to go, not because of the Cooperative Program and not because his family encouraged him to go. He was there because a sovereign God looked across the sea and had compassion on the people of Yemen. God chose someone to stand in the gap. He chose a former grocery worker from Kansas.”

He also said that Koehn was not afraid to die.

Whitson encouraged members of Koehn’s family and former colleagues to offer words of comfort to his daughters. Those who eulogized him called him “a righteous man,” a “model of love to family” and “faithful to the end.” Others said that he “displayed a quiet strength” and that only the Kingdom of God ultimately will show what his life meant.

Koehn family friend Wynona Elder, a retired professor of psychology and counseling at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, characterized Koehn as faithful.

“God does not require success, a long record of accomplishments — no more evident than in Yemen. God requires faithfulness to the task. God will give the increase,” Elder said. Koehn patiently labored and displayed the Christian virtue of love as he awaited the increase, she added.

Graham said after the service that he hoped God would use the testimonies of Koehn and the others to “inspire renewed fervor for missions” among Southern Baptists. “I am praying for a spiritual breakthrough in Yemen and around the world,” Graham said. He also encouraged others to investigate the call to missions. “Young people and young adults should listen closely to hear and discern the call of God.”

“The call is the most important thing,” Peggy Hart, a former nurse and assistant administrator at the Jibla hospital, said. “To have any kind of peace in the day, to sleep at night, you must have the call. Bill had it.”

In a video shown during the service, Koehn expressed the same in his own words. “I came to Yemen because of the call of God,” he said.

Rankin said that work at the Jibla Baptist Hospital would continue in spite of the tragedy. Southern Baptists, he said, recently appointed 124 missionaries in a single service, illustrating that the denomination is “undeterred” about sending the gospel abroad. Three people have already called and offered to take the place of the three killed earlier in the week, he said.

Koehn and his fellow hospital workers treated more than 38,000 inpatients and 4,000 outpatients each year. He had planned to retire and return to the United States in October. Marty Koehn remains in Yemen where she continues to minister to her late husband’s colleagues and the people of Jibla.

Koehn was born in Cimarron, Kan., on March 9, 1942. He received a bachelor of science degree in business from Fort Hays Kansas State College and also attended the University of Kansas at Lawrence and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. He is survived by his wife, Martha Walker Koehn, and daughters Janelda “Jay” Pearce and Samantha McGlothlin.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: DAUGHTER COMFORTED, PORTRAIT, A COLLEAGUE REMEMBERS AND GATHERING FOR PRAYER.

    About the Author

  • Gregory Tomlin