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Yemen slayings have opened door for God’s love, surgeon says

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Judy Williams was working in the surgical area at the Jibla Baptist Hospital in Yemen when she heard that there had been gunshots.

Fellow physician Martha Myers was dead. Hospital administrator Bill Koehn was dying. Efforts to resuscitate purchasing agent Kathy Gariety failed. Pharmacist Don Caswell needed surgery for bullet wounds in his abdomen.

Williams, a surgeon who has worked at the hospital in Yemen since 1999, recounted what happened Dec. 30 in her typical matter-of-fact manner.

“I was in doctor mode,” Williams said. “I didn’t think, ‘This is my friend, my boss.'”

But there were a few moments when the enormity of it all broke through: “Bill’s dead. Kathy’s dead. Martha’s dead. Don’s been shot.”

Now, as she attends Caswell, who is rapidly recovering at an undisclosed location, Williams is starting to grieve.

“I’m sad. I cry sometimes. But then I remember pleasant experiences we had and get a little smile on my face,” she said.


Yemeni locals who worked alongside International Mission Board workers at the hospital counted the victims as their friends too, Williams said.

“They’re grieving just as much as we are,” she said, “and they are also asking the question ‘why.'”

Though Williams doesn’t venture to guess why her coworkers died, she can tell her Yemeni friends that she knows her colleagues are in heaven because they had a relationship with God through Jesus.

“We know that God has our best interests at heart, even when we can’t see that,” she said. “We know that he loves us, even when the evidence we see doesn’t suggest that.

“And to be able to share that, especially with a Muslim people who have a very, very different vision of who God is and what he’s like, has been very positive.”


Though Williams has been absorbed with caring for Caswell since the shooting, she experienced a few poignant moments with Yemeni coworkers after the initial commotion settled down.

One man, who was a close friend of Gariety, kept saying, “I’m so, so sorry; I’m so, so sad.”

All Williams could tell him was, “I understand.”

“Sharing that emotion with him — for him to be sharing that with a female — was very different,” Williams said. “It was something I don’t think would have happened in most places in Yemen.”

Williams would never choose to repeat the experiences, but she acknowledges that her colleagues’ deaths have opened doors for sharing God’s love.

“It’s been great,” she said. “It’s hurt, yes, but it’s opened up so many doors for sharing that weren’t there before.”


When Williams left Jibla with the Caswell family, she wasn’t sure she would ever return, realizing that various regulations might prevent international workers from returning to the hospital.

Now, however, Williams is setting her sights in that direction.

“My plan is to stay here as long as Don needs me and as long as I need to be away from Jibla, which now would be any time when Don doesn’t need medical care so often and when someone in his family can change his dressings,” she said.

And if she’s allowed to work at the Jibla hospital, she will.

“Jibla still needs medical care. That’s still a wonderful avenue to be able to share,” she said.

For this straightforward surgeon, the decision is simple. She will return to Jibla because God wants her to be there.

“I know a lot of people can’t understand that. But that’s … where he’s saying ‘go’ right now.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SURGEON’S RECOLLECTION.
— More on the Yemen shootings: imb.org/urgent.
— Memorial gifts honor slain workers: resources.imb.org/index.cfm/fa/prod/ProdID/871.htm.
— Hear audio clip of Williams discussing the recuperation of wounded hospital pharmacist Don Caswell: real.imb.org/AudioNews/caswell.mp3.

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  • Manda Roten