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‘I could depend on Him,’ widow says

GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP) — For retired Southern Baptist worker Marty Koehn, Dec. 30, 2002, was a fairly normal morning in Yemen — until she heard an “extremely urgent and atrociously loud” knock at the door of her home.

Koehn recalls being frustrated by the interruption.

“But when I opened the door and saw the face of the man standing there, my irritation disappeared,” Koehn said. “He said, ‘There’s been a shooting. Come to the hospital.’ And he took off running.”

When Koehn arrived at the hospital, she found that her husband Bill, a Southern Baptist worker serving at Jibla Baptist Hospital as an administrator, along with three other Southern Baptist workers — Martha Myers, Kathy Gariety and Don Caswell — had been shot by a Muslim militant.

Koehn made it to the hospital in time to be with her husband for his last moments on earth — the memory of which remains etched in her mind. Myers died almost instantly. Hospital workers tried desperately to save Gariety and Bill Koehn. Only Caswell survived.

But as clearly as she can remember the events of the Dec. 30 shooting, Koehn remembers the Lord’s hand of provision, comfort and faithfulness before and after her loss.

She had spent a few extra moments with Bill that morning, having stopped by the hospital to use the copying machine and then visiting with him in his office before chapel.

“It was just neat that God gave me those precious extra moments with him that day,” Koehn said.

The Lord also had orchestrated that Koehn’s house helper was with her in her home when she had to answer the door that morning. She didn’t worry about locking the house or taking her keys. She just left for the hospital immediately.

Koehn said the Lord, in His foreknowledge, even had His hand on the couple regarding their respective calls to the mission field.

As a young girl, Koehn felt the Lord calling her to the mission field during a presentation a Nigerian missionary doctor gave at a Vacation Bible School she attended.

“She spoke to us and God just touched my heart,” Koehn recalled. “I knew then that was what I was supposed to do.”

Years later she met Bill and married him in 1963. A few years later God reaffirmed her childhood calling to missions. Bill, though, did not sense the same call.

Despite her eagerness to pursue work on the mission field, Koehn resisted the urge to convince her husband to share her calling. That, she said, was the Lord’s work.

“I was really grateful after the shootings to look back and say I am so glad that I did not manipulate my husband into going, because I would have felt terrible if he had not been supposed to go and I had made something happen that resulted in him dying,” Koehn said.

“It was a hard thing to do to stop and wait, but I’m really glad I did it that way. I’m sure the Holy Spirit had a lot to do with that, because I really wanted to barge on ahead. But he wasn’t ready, and I wasn’t ready.”

It was nine years after Koehn’s call to missions was reaffirmed that Bill felt the Lord call him to missions as well. The two were approved as Southern Baptist workers in October 1974 and arrived on the field in Yemen in June 1975.

Clear answers

After Bill died, Koehn realized many decisions faced her. Should she stay in Yemen? Should she return to America? If she stayed, what would she do? Her chief responsibility had been as wife and homemaker. That had all changed in an instant.

God did not let these questions consume her, though; she said He gave her clear answers.

“All of the sudden, out of the blue, the Lord brought to mind Elisabeth Elliot’s story,” Koehn recounted. This happened within 30 minutes after Bill died. “I had never read the book, and of course the movie wasn’t out at that point, but I had heard a brief summary of [Elliot’s] story, and the Lord reminded me of it. To me, this was His clear indication that I was supposed to go back to Yemen.”

In fact, she added, “It’s just remarkable because I hadn’t thought of that story for years. In Scripture God tells us that He will bring to our remembrance the things we need, and He did. And it was very powerful because I needed that assurance.”

After returning to the States to grieve and spend time with her two daughters, Koehn returned to Yemen — to a land that had been home for nearly 30 years and to people who had become close friends. When she returned, the Lord already had provided her a role in which to serve.

Kathy Gariety had worked as the purchasing agent and warehouse manager for the hospital. That position needed to be filled.

“To me, this was another indication God wanted me to go back,” Koehn said. “That was the one job I could do because it required someone who knew both English and Arabic and it was a non-medical position. [The Lord] was preparing everything.”

Koehn said the Lord’s provisions before, during and after the tragedy reaffirmed to her that she had indeed placed her trust in the right place.

“I learned that I could depend on Him,” she said. “He was right there directing decisions and blessing my life.”

In addition to protection and provision, the Lord also dealt her a heaping dose of peace.

“I was never afraid,” Koehn said. “I was surrounded totally by people of the same ethnicity as the man who had just killed my husband. I’m sure part of it was that they were my friends, but it was a blessing to not be afraid. It was peace that didn’t make sense. We should have been afraid.

“There was just a keen sense of His presence and assurance that I was where I was supposed to be and the contentment of knowing that,” she recalled.

Jibla Baptist Hospital, established by missionary doctor Jim Young in 1967, was to be transferred from Southern Baptist ownership to the Yemeni government Dec. 31, 2002 — the day after the shootings. The Yemeni government assumed responsibility of the hospital in February 2003 and continued to employ Southern Baptist workers, including Koehn, alongside their Muslim counterparts.

Jibla Hospital finally closed in May 2007, and Koehn retired to Texas to be near family. She takes pleasure in knowing that one of her granddaughters, who visited her grandparents in Yemen as a child and witnessed their ministry, is eyeing the mission field.

Though some people are amazed at her decision to remain in Yemen following her husband’s death, Koehn eschews the label of heroine.

“That was my life,” she said. “That was all I knew. What else would I do?”
Sharayah Colter is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist Texan, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, where this article first appeared. This season’s Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention centered on the theme of “BE His heart, His hands, His voice” from Matthew 16:24-25. Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and through the Cooperative Program help Southern Baptist missionaries around the world share the Gospel. Gifts for the offering are received at Southern Baptist churches across the country or can be made online at www.imb.org/offering where there are resources for church leaders to promote the offering. Download related videos at www.imb.org/lmcovideo.

    About the Author

  • Sharayah Colter