REVISED Nov. 6, 2007
CHARLESTON, S.C. (BP)–Barely a month after three Southern Baptist medical workers were murdered, the Baptist hospital in Jibla, Yemen, has reopened, the medical center’s business manager told a group of Baptist editors Feb. 7.
Although not yet operating at the same capacity as before, workers at the hospital are excited about the future, Lee Hixon told members of the Association of State Baptist Papers meeting in Charleston, S.C.
Talking with the group by speakerphone from Yemen, Hixon said the 45-bed hospital opened 14 beds in three wards on Feb. 1 and is averaging about 40 clinic patients and a half-dozen surgeries a day. Last year, hospital staff members were seeing 120 to 140 patients a day and conducting 400 to 500 surgeries a month.
The hospital, which was preparing for a transition to Yemeni administration before the killings, now is operating with a little more than half its normal staffing, Hixon said.
“When we announced that we would be turning the hospital over to an indigenous group, we lost about half our [contract workers]. After Dec. 30, we lost another half,” Hixon said.
Hixon said the hospital’s contract workers were not angry about the transition to Yemeni administration and flatly rejected the idea that the shootings were caused by local anger toward the hospital. Police sources said the gunman came from a town several hours away, and the Jibla community responded to the murders with an outpouring of grief.
Two Yemeni surgeons have joined the medical staff, according to Edward Matthews*, administrative associate for International Mission Board work in northern Africa and the Middle East. Hospital leaders also have received inquiries from four doctors in other countries interested in serving for at least several months.
While staff members still are coping with their grief over the murders, they are moving ahead, Hixon said.
“What I’m seeing at the hospital now is normal, but it’s a new normal, a different normal,” he said. “There’s a new boldness and a reinforced love for the people here. It’s an exciting time. We’re very excited to see what the Father’s going to do.”
Complications in making the transition to Yemeni administration had left staff members feeling discouraged about the hospital’s future. The murders of hospital administrator Bill Koehn, physician Martha Myers and purchasing manager Kathy Gariety changed that, Hixon told the editors.
“Two months ago, we were not very hopeful the hospital would reopen,” he said. “But God moved to reopen it.”
In the aftermath of the murders, the Yemeni government stepped in and pledged to keep the hospital open. The minister of health appointed a hospital administrator and a nursing director, both of whom have more than 20 years of experience working at the hospital. He also said other Christian organizations are welcome to send workers as well.
“The agreement with the Yemeni government provides for Southern Baptist medical workers to serve alongside Yemenis and other international workers,” Matthews said. “We believe this agreement will carry the hospital to a new level of cooperation between the IMB, the Yemeni people and other Christian organizations with a heart for the people of Yemen.
“This will allow Southern Baptist workers to have an undiminished opportunity to exercise their medical skills and fulfill their calling to minister to Yemenis. It ensures that the people of Jibla will continue to have access to good medical care. It also allows the hospital to be rooted in Yemeni soil. We look for a bright future of service to the people of central Yemen.”
Staff members were glad to see that the government appointed administrators who knew the hospital from the inside, Hixon said.
“Not one member of the new team came from outside the hospital. I think that’s a real testimony about what’s happening in the reopening,” he said. “The new administrative team is excited about the prospect of doctors and nurses coming from America, Australia, Europe or the Philippines. They are encouraging me to encourage others to come here and help out.”
TIME TO RESPOND
Southern Baptists need to respond to the opportunity to serve in Yemen, Matthews said.
“Since the deaths of Martha Myers, Kathy Gariety and Bill Koehn, doors are open in Yemen as never before,” he said. “Doctors and other medical professionals who want to work at Jibla hospital are encouraged to contact the International Mission Board. If God is calling you to go to Yemen, here is your opportunity. Who is willing to come?”
Hixon asked Southern Baptists to pray that security concerns will ease so hospital staff will not have to be accompanied by a security detail every time they venture out of the hospital.
“Since Dec. 30, we have been under incredible security restrictions,” he said. “The government imposed those restrictions in our interest. After what happened, they want to do their best to be sure it doesn’t happen again.
“But that’s a big concern for us. We need a little freedom to move about and do our jobs.”
A NEW NAME
The murders of the three workers enlarged the reservoir of goodwill Yemenis feel toward the hospital, Hixon said. One evidence is the effort to find a new name for the medical center.
“On Dec. 16, as we were getting ready for the transition, Bill Koehn painted out the word ‘Baptist’ on the hospital sign,” Hixon said. “The government’s temporary documents for the hospital say ‘Jibla Hospital.’
“But the newspapers in Yemen are calling it the ‘Hospital of Peace.’ We’re really hoping that is what the hospital will be called.”
*Name changed for security reasons.
— Interested in serving in Yemen?
E-mail [email protected] or call toll-free 1-888-422-6461.
— More on the murders in Yemen: http://imb.org/urgent.