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WORLDVIEW: Many inspired by slain missionaries; others ask why they went at all

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–After the Dec. 30 killings of three Southern Baptist medical workers by a Muslim gunman in Yemen, the tributes and condolences poured in from around the world.

Hundreds of calls, letters and e-mails came from friends of the victims, churches, Christian and Muslim religious leaders — and regular people — moved by the lives and deaths of physician Martha Myers, hospital administrator William Koehn and purchasing manager Kathleen Gariety. A tiny sampling:

— “This was not only a loss to the Baptist community but also to the Muslim community,” said Muhammad Sahli of the Islamic Center of Virginia, who personally visited International Mission Board leaders to express his sympathy. “We were extremely saddened and angered by what happened in Yemen. … It is our profound hope that Almighty God will shower the families with His mercy and compassion during their bereavement.”

— “My husband Bob and I were privileged to be (at the Jibla hospital) as volunteers in 1988 and 1989,” reflected Nancy Dillard. “We grew to love Martha in a very special way. I remember her with some cold pancakes in her skirt pocket (to eat on the run), because once Martha started working for the day she never stopped. I remember her sleeping on the floor on a mat under the crib of a very sick child. I feel so blessed to have known her and I know she, Bill and Kathleen are in heaven with our Lord Jesus Christ.”

— “As a former short-term mission volunteer in Kosovo immediately after the war there, I am renewing my commitment to return there whenever the Lord allows,” vowed Michael Elsey. “My prayers are with you, and I will ask my church to pray for your families, the families of those ministered to in Yemen — and those who killed your loved one.”

— “As an (emergency medical) worker in the U.S., I see senseless tragedies and death occur on a daily basis,” wrote Heather Brewster. “As an MK (missionary kid), I try to explain to my co-workers what would have called these people to go a country like Yemen and what compelled them to serve a people ‘not their own,’ far from their own families and the ‘safety’ of the U.S. This incident has challenged me personally to make my life not just one of transporting people to the ER during times of crisis, but to boldly share with people in their darkest moments the love of Christ. Your loved ones have not given their lives in vain.”

— “I am writing you as a Yemeni living in Saudi Arabia to express condolence on the cruel slayings,” e-mailed one heartbroken man. “It hurts a lot when these martyrs come thousands of miles, leave their homes and beloved ones to help my poor relatives and get brutally assassinated. By who? None but one of our people. It hurts badly. As I write you (my) eyes are uncontrollably crying . … May their souls rest in peace and God give you strength.”

But not everyone was so sympathetic.

“You Christian missionaries are nuts!” said one irate message. “You go to Moslem countries and get kidnapped, shot and killed by people who don’t want you (there), and then cry the blues that you are being persecuted! Get out of their countries and this won’t happen!”

A somewhat calmer correspondent criticized American missionary presence anywhere abroad.

“The question that immediately comes to mind is ‘why’?” he asked. “Not why did the murderer shoot these people, but why were the missionaries there in the first place? Are there not enough sick, ailing and unwell people in the United States who cannot care for themselves or afford medical treatment? …. There is a critical shortage of doctors and nurses in this country, yet three medical professionals’ lives have been forfeited for no good reason.”

No good reason?

Tell that to the thousands of people whose lives were saved, whose children were delivered and cared for, whose suffering was relieved by these three. Tell it to the thousands who crowded around the gates of the hospital for days after the shootings, who lined the streets of Jibla and cried for the loss of three people who loved them.

Why did they go, and ultimately die?

“The answer is love,” IMB staff member Mike Edens said at one of the memorial services for the slain trio. “Love is the reason they went. Love is the reason their colleagues are there. Love is the reason Jesus came. And love requires us to go to those who have never heard, those who live in darkness.”

It isn’t just the world that sees such love as foolishness, however. There’s a strong and increasingly vocal faction within our comfortable American churches that says stay at home, serve our own and to hell with the rest — literally.

This is an appropriate moment for such Christians to ask themselves whether they serve the God who revealed Himself in Scripture and in our suffering servant savior, Jesus Christ.

The day of the killings, someone sent Avery Willis, IMB chief of overseas operations, a plea to “bring the missionaries home” once and for all.

“Instead of asking us to bring them home, why not pray that more will go?” Willis responded. “We will not bring them home, but we will send thousands more.”

Jesus answered the critics of such seeming “waste,” Willis recalled, when He praised the woman who washed His feet with her tears and expensive perfume. A waste? Most who were there thought so, including Judas. But Jesus called it a beautiful offering, a memorial to Him, a preparation of His holy body for burial.

“Only with God’s perspective can we see what He sees,” Willis said. “She did what she could,” with all her heart. So did Martha Myers, Bill Koehn and Kathy Gariety.

“That’s why it is beautiful in His eyes.”

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges