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Physician Martha Myers’ life ‘exemplified Jesus Christ’

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP)–More than 1,200 people celebrated the life of physician Martha Myers, an Alabama Baptist who devoted her career to Southern Baptist medical work in Yemen, during a Jan. 4 memorial service at Dalraida Baptist Church in Montgomery.

Throughout the celebration, Myers’ selfless ways and servant mindset surfaced again and again.

“Martha was a victorious Christian and was obedient until death,” said Rick Evans, pastor of Dalraida, Myers’ home church.

Speaking to a capacity crowd, Evans said, “She had no life of her own, it was of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Likening Myers’ faith and service to that of the Bible’s descriptions of the apostle Paul and the deacon Stephen, Evans quoted Philippians 1:21 which states, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” and 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

“All three stayed on God’s course,” Evans said. “[Staying on course in God’s will] is not easy because it is a life of self-denial, but they never denied his will.

“What a misguided, deprived heart meant for evil, God has meant for good,” Evans said.

Myers, a 57-year-old obstetrician and gynecologist, served as a Southern Baptist International Mission Board (IMB) medical worker in Yemen for 24 years. She was murdered Dec. 30 when a lone gunman attacked the Baptist hospital in Jibla, Yemen. Also killed were two other IMB workers — hospital administrator William Koehn and purchasing manager Kathleen Gariety. A fourth worker, pharmacist Don Caswell, was wounded.

“[Martha] was always obedient to the call of God,” Evans said, “even as a GA [Girls in Action member] and as a medical student.”

Evans read a poem written by a schoolmate of Myers. Playing off the words from the song “We’ve a Story to Tell the Nations,” the friend wrote, “We sang, she went. We sang, she told.”

“Because of her ministry and her obedience, there was a difference made,” Evans said.

Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board, told friends and family members at the memorial service that he witnessed Myers’ call to God and selfless service during his visits to Yemen.

“Only those who saw her take a sick Arab child in her arms could understand what a servant is,” Rankin said. “Each day she lived there, … she died to self.

“Martha’s colleagues said the gunmen did not take her life,” Rankin noted. “She lost her life to Jesus Christ years ago when she trusted him.

“Martha was not living for herself … but to serve others. Her life exemplified Jesus Christ,” he said.

Rankin also pointed out that living by faith is “not just hope of personal salvation but also the hope that everything one lives for will one day be fulfilled. Could it be the gain [of death] will one day be the salvation of the people of Yemen?”

As many played tribute to Myers’ life as a servant and follower of Jesus Christ, others also attested to her true friendship — of people at home in Alabama and especially of the Yemeni people.

Pat Harris, a close friend of Myers, shared at the memorial service how she got to know Myers in 2001. Myers was home for the year due to technical problems preventing her from returning to Yemen.

Myers wished every second she were back in Yemen, but Harris said Myers still allowed God to use her that year in Montgomery.

“I already had a walk with the Lord, but Martha … in her gentle and soft ways … showed me that I was not a selfless servant,” Harris said.

“She was a wonderful mentor,” Harris said. “She was so close to the Lord that she didn’t realize how much wisdom she had.

“She had a divine appointment with me,” Harris said. “I praise the Lord for the opportunity to have her as part of my life.”

During a Jan. 2 memorial service at Dauphin Way Baptist Church in Mobile, church member Lynette Granade said, “She was our Baptist version of Mother Teresa — that says it all.”

Granade and her husband, Jack, developed a relationship with Myers when she came to Mobile to do her medical residency at the University of South Alabama School of Medicine in the 1970s, when she joined Dauphin Way and met the Granades.

“Over the years we stayed close friends, and our children just loved her too,” Lynette Granade said, noting that Myers had stayed with them numerous times throughout the years when she was on stateside assignment from Yemen.

The 250-plus people in attendance at the Mobile memorial service heard several testimonies about Myers including remarks from Jim Fisher, first vice chairman of the board of trustees for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. Fisher, who is pastor of Sage Avenue Baptist Church in Mobile, represented Phil Roberts, president of the seminary where Myers studied before leaving for Yemen in 1978.

Myers was a 1967 graduate of Samford University, majoring in biology. She earned the doctor of medicine degree from the Medical College of Alabama at the University of Alabama in Birmingham in 1971.

It was while in Mobile as a medical resident that Myers first visited Yemen and fell in love with the people and the country.

“Yemen was where her heart was,” said Myers’ younger sister, Joanna Kingery, in an interview following the shooting. “She had become Yemeni, and they counted her as one of them. She was committed to them.”

Even if Myers had known she would be killed, Kingery believes she would have stayed anyway.

“She wouldn’t have done it any differently,” Kingery said, noting that Myers once said, “If I’m fortunate enough to be here when I die … .”

So, Kingery and the entire Myers family see it only fitting that she was buried in the country she loved so dearly.

“In Alabama, Martha’s grave would just be a grave,” her father, Ira Myers, said. “In Yemen, her grave is a testimony.”

The Yemeni people built a casket for Myers and Koehn, who had also requested to be buried in Yemen. “It was built with love by the people who loved her,” Kingery said.

Myers and Koehn were buried together Dec. 31 in one of only two Christian cemeteries in the country. The one where they were buried is located at the top of the 22-acre compound where Jibla Baptist Hospital sits.

During the funeral 40,000 Yemeni nationals gathered at the hospital and lined the street for a half-mile outside the hospital gates to pay their respects.

And in a country where professing faith in Jesus Christ could result in death, mourners sang “He Is Lord” in Arabic and recited the Lord’s Prayer.

“They had to be sensitive, but they were there,” Rankin said. “Something motivated them — Jesus Christ. … Our Father is being glorified in the lives of those who gave their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ.”

As those attending the Montgomery memorial service prepared to honor the Yemeni mourners by also singing “He Is Lord,” Evans said, “[The faith of the workers who died] is becoming reality because they and others have given their lives to sharing the gospel.”

The Myers’ family visited with friends and guests for about three hours following the service. As guests waited patiently in the receiving line, they passed a table filled with souvenirs from Yemen and pictures of Myers.

Along with the colorful photos of the countryside, attractive dolls and interesting handmade items, one also noticed a book on forgiveness.

“We are not angry,” said Myers’ father, a physician and former state public health department director. “Our faith in God is what we depend upon, and God is love,” he said. “There is no place for hate.”
Anthony Wade contributed to this article. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: PASTOR’S TRIBUTE, REMEMBERING, MARTHA’S FATHER, IMB EXEC REFLECTS, CO-WORKERS’ CARE, and MARTHA’S MOTHER.

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  • Jennifer Davis Rash