RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Even as they grieve for three Southern Baptist workers killed in Jibla, Yemen, Christians can rejoice in the victory they won with their lives, International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin said during a Jan. 10 memorial service at Grove Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, Va.
“None of us will soon forget the emotion and grief we experienced when we heard the news of their deaths,” Rankin told the audience of friends, coworkers and family members. “For many, their names were just the names of generic missionaries, but for us they were our friends, our colleagues, part of our missionary family.”
Rankin read Romans 8:31-39, then voiced a prayer in which he thanked God for giving Bill Koehn, Kathy Gariety and Martha Myers “the privilege of touching a lost and dying world with the hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ.”
“We thank you that, even in this tragedy and the depths of this grief we are experiencing, there is victory,” Rankin prayed. “And we will see that victory one day because there will be people from every tribe … gathered around the throne — and people from Yemen will be among them because Bill and Kathy and Martha went in faithful obedience to your call and gave their lives.”
Hospital administrator Bill Koehn, purchasing manager Kathy Gariety and physician Martha Myers were killed, and pharmacist Don Caswell was seriously injured, when a gunman invaded the Baptist hospital at Jibla, Yemen, Dec. 30.
Myers and Koehn were buried the next day in Jibla and Gariety’s funeral was held Jan. 6 in Greenfield, Wis. The Jan. 10 service in Richmond was held for colleagues and friends unable to attend the funerals or other memorial services held in the victims’ hometowns.
The murdered workers’ favorite hymns and praise choruses were sung during the service. Dale Thorne, former director of IMB work in the Middle East, offered a prayer of dedication and IMB trustee chairman Bob Claytor gave the benediction.
Jim Young, the Southern Baptist worker who founded the hospital, reminisced about the “almost impossible obstacles” God overcame in establishing that work, which now ministers to 40,000 patients a year. He recalled in particular a break in diplomatic relations between the United States and Yemen in which all Americans were expelled from the country — except those working at the Jibla hospital.
In the aftermath of the deaths, many people have asked why missionaries serve in dangerous places, said Mike Edens, an IMB staff member who served 22 years as an IMB representative in the Middle East.
“The answer is love,” he told the crowd. “Love is the reason these three left. Love is the reason their colleagues are still there. Love is the reason Jesus came.
“It is God’s reconciling love that purchased us and gave us this wonderful gift of the gospel. That love compels us to share it with those who have never heard. We go and live the gospel among them so they might know God’s love and grace themselves.”
Since the murders, many people in Jibla have talked about the love they saw in the hospital workers’ lives, said John Brady, who leads IMB work in the region.
“As we walked through the city, people all along the way kept grabbing our hands and telling us, ‘They [Koehn, Gariety and Myers] are with God. This is sure,'” Brady said. “This came from people who themselves have no assurance that they can ever be with God.
“They had experienced love, and God has broken into their lives and helped them understand what these three lives were all about,” Brady said. “God has tested our souls these past few days, asking if we are willing to be people who willingly give our lives so others might know his love.”
LIVES NOT WASTED
Like Koehn, Gariety and Myers, Christians must do everything they can for God while they have the opportunity to do it, said Avery Willis, IMB senior vice president for overseas operations.
“It’s important to do what you can, when you can, because timing is not in our hands but God’s,” he said. “We cannot decide the place and time of our deaths, but we can decide the place and time of our service.
“They gave their lives as they could, when they could, so the grace of God would be poured out on those people,” Willis added. “But many Christians don’t do that. Many of us want to wait for a safer day or a more convenient time.”
As tragic and painful as these deaths are, their lives were not wasted, Willis said.
“No, they did not waste their lives. They planted them in the soil of Yemen and it has become an oasis in the desert,” he said. “They did not waste their lives but shined a light into the darkness. They did not waste their lives but sent out a call for peace on earth, good will to men. Glory to God in the highest! They will not be forgotten!”
BACK TO WORK
A 15-year veteran of Jibla Baptist Hospital, introduced only as “Bob” for security reasons, said believers must stay focused on the urgency of sharing God’s love with a lost world.
“At the end of almost every conversation I had with Bill, he would close with something like this, ‘Bob, it was good to see you again, but I’ve got to get back to work. There are people who need to be seen and they’re waiting,'” he said.
“If Bill, Martha and Kathy were with us today, I personally believe they would tell us, ‘It’s time to get back to the task. There are people who need to be seen. There are many waiting, and we need to get back to them.'”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: NOT A WASTE, REMEMBERING, OVERCOMING and CELEBRATION.
Memorial gifts honor slain workers: resources.imb.org/index.cfm/fa/prod/ProdID/871.htm.
What could you do overseas? going.imb.org/whatcanido.asp.
The International Mission Board (www.imb.org) is a Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program (www.cpmissions.net) and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (ime.imb.org).