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Watson’s death models passion for Jesus, seminarians told

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Just as Southern Baptist aid worker Karen Watson died a martyr in Iraq, students from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary must be willing to give their lives for the Gospel if called to do so, pastor Phil Neighbors said during an emotion-filled commissioning service for the seminary’s international missions students.

Neighbors is co-pastor of Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield, Calif., the church where Watson was a member. Speaking in the last chapel service of the academic year, Neighbors gave a heartfelt testimony of Watson’s love for the Lord and her willingness to pay the supreme sacrifice for the Gospel.

“For years and years in this chapel service, there has been a flame burning to take the Gospel to all the earth,” Neighbors, a graduate of Southeastern’s doctor of ministry program, said. “I pray that her testimony might move us to further devotion and obedience.”

In recounting the story of Karen Watson’s life and death, Neighbors noted the impact she had on his life.

“When I think of Karen, my mind turns to Philippians 1:29,” the pastor said, quoting a text that certainly rings true of Watson’s life: “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”

“She had a single passion for Jesus unlike just about anyone I’d ever met,” Neighbors said. “She had a real heart to win souls, and she was faithful at it.”

When God called Watson to go to the Middle East, she obeyed without hesitation, selling her house, her car and all her belongings that would not fit inside her one black duffel bag, Neighbors said.

“It was such a blessing to see her commitment,” he recalled. “When you talk about sold out -– Karen Watson was sold out to Jesus. The distinguishing aspect of Karen’s life was that she was so focused on obedience.”

That obedience led Watson into the heart of a heated conflict in Iraq, and within 30 days of the fall of Baghdad she was there helping to coordinate humanitarian relief for the people of Iraq.

“But I can also tell you,” Neighbors added of Watson’s stay in Iraq, “she was talking with people about Jesus every day.”

During her time in Iraq, Watson’s persistent and unconditional love of one Iraqi family resulted in their conversion. Neighbors said Valley Baptist Church has undertaken the responsibility of praying for the family -– for protection from the militant hostility against Christians they may face, as well as for God to put within them a heart for missions so that they can resume the task that Karen Watson began -– spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Iraqi people.

The March 15 drive-by attack in which Watson and three other Southern Baptist workers were killed was “all at the same time one of the most difficult and most joyous moments of our lives,” Neighbors said -– difficult because Watson was so deeply loved and joyous because she had gone home to be with her Lord.

Excerpts from a letter Watson had written to her church to be read in the event of her death movingly underscored her uncompromising passion for the Savior who had changed her life and the Good News of salvation that He offers to others.

“When God calls,” Watson wrote, “there are no regrets. I was called not to comfort or success, but to obedience. Thank you for investing in my life. Keep sending out missionaries. Keep raising up young pastors. Be bold and share the life-changing, everlasting, forever Gospel.”

Her death has both impacted and inspired many at Valley Baptist Church, as four people have surrendered to the call of missions since the attack.

“I can’t tell you what it means to a congregation when one among them wears the martyr’s crown,” Neighbors said.

Similarly, he said, that same challenge to live and possibly to die for Christ faces Southeastern students, some of whom may soon go to places like Iraq with open hostility toward the Gospel.

“Of all the congregations I may share this story with,” he told the chapel audience, “this may be the most important one. There may be some in this room who will join Karen and wear the martyr’s crown.”

After Neighbors’ message, Southeastern students departing for the mission field came to the front of Binkley Chapel where professors and members of the student body joined in prayer for them to be bold ambassadors of the same “life-changing, everlasting, forever Gospel” for which Karen Watson gave her life.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: SENDING THE LIGHT, LIFTING UP and KAREN WATSON.

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  • Kyle Smith