SBC Life Articles

No Greater Love …

Three Americans were killed and another wounded Monday, Dec. 30, when a Muslim extremist attacked a Baptist mission hospital in Jibla, Yemen. Hospital administrator William E. Koehn, business manager Kathleen A. Gariety, and nurse Martha C. Myers were killed and pharmacist Donald W. Caswell was injured in the early morning attack.

Helping People And Serving God

William Koehn spent nearly three decades serving the people of Yemen.

"He gave his life doing what he loved to do, helping people and serving God," his son-in-law, Randal Pearce of Mansfield, Texas, said in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Dec. 31.

Koehn was born in Kansas and managed grocery stores in the state before attending Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. After seminary, he traveled to Yemen to serve at the hospital in Jibla.

"He was what a Midwestern man is supposed to be: hardworking, direct, straightforward, kind, and very loving," Pearce said in the Star-Telegram.

Larry Cox, vice president for the IMB's office of mobilization, said Koehn was "quiet, meek" and "very committed to his work." He also mentioned in the Star-Telegram that Koehn made and sold wooden toys, using the money to buy food for the poor.

"Just last week he was giving away basic food — flour, sugar, things like that — to some indigent people," Cox said.

Koehn's family released a statement in response to the killings, noting: "He was committed to serving God and the people of Yemen. One of his greatest joys was making toy cars for children in the local orphanage. He died doing what he was called to do. Bill and [his wife] Marty were in Yemen because of their love for the Lord.

"We're saddened by this news, but we understand that this does not reflect on the people of Yemen as a whole. We have found them to be gracious and kind, otherwise Bill and Marty would never have spent their lives serving there," the statement concluded.

Marty Koehn was in Yemen at the time of the shootings, but she was not at the hospital. The Koehns have two daughters and five grandchildren. Koehn planned to retire in October 2003 and move with his wife to north Texas to be with their relatives.

Pearce reiterated in the Star-Telegram that the family does not hold any ill will against the people of Yemen. He noted that he had visited the country several years ago and found the people and the land to be beautiful.

The Star-Telegram reported that a Jibla woman who said she used the hospital where the Americans were murdered said the killings are a crime unacceptable in any religion.

"This contradicts Islam," she said. "They cared for us and looked after us. I can't even count the number of children treated and saved."

Scott Whitson, a family friend for more than twenty-five years, told the Star-Telegram that Koehn understood the risk involved in working in the Middle East but was in Yemen because he loved the Lord.

A Life Dedicated To Caring

If Martha Myers had been told that she would be shot and killed in Yemen, she would have stayed there, her friends and relatives believe.

"She had such a passion for ministry to the people of Yemen," Rick Evans, pastor of Dalraida Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., where Myers was a member, told The Birmingham News. "She gave her life to it. It's all she wanted to talk about."

The Birmingham News reported Dec. 31 that Myers was known to drive a Toyota Land Cruiser through the mountains of Yemen, immunizing children and dispensing salves and eye drops to the poor. She was greeted with shouts of "Dr. Martha" wherever she traveled in Yemen, relatives told the Montgomery Advertiser.

"She loved the country, she loved the people and she loved being a doctor to help take care of them," Pat Harris, a friend from Montgomery, told The Birmingham News. "She'd give her last dollar so someone else would have food or medical help."

Myers was aware of the danger posed in Yemen but her love for the people kept her there. About four years ago, armed men hijacked her Toyota, forced her to lie down in the back, threw a rug over her and threatened to kill her if she spoke, the Birmingham newspaper recounted.

"Well, I'll be in heaven," was her reply, according to her brother, Grady Myers. The men soon abandoned Myers and the vehicle when it stalled.

In another testimony of her faith in the Lord and devotion to the people of Yemen, Grady Myers said his sister gave most of her money away to help those in need. Recently, she gave her savings account to help pay the cost of a kidney transplant for one of the hospital patients, Myers told the Montgomery Advertiser.

"Martha was unusual," he said. "She didn't care about money. It was all about who she could help."

During brief periods of stateside assignment in 1999 and 2001, Myers visited churches throughout Alabama, talking about her mission work and collecting supplies for the Yemeni people, the Advertiser recounted. She collected enough supplies to fill fifteen trunks to send back to Yemen.

She loved Yemen so much that her brother said she had requested to be buried in the country. The Advertiser reported that the family would honor the wish, and the Yemen funeral would be videotaped and sent to the family in the States.

"She's in heaven, for sure," her father, Ira Myers, who was Alabama's state health officer from 1963 until 1986, told The Birmingham News. "That's why you don't have any fear. So from that standpoint, we'll see her again. It's a matter of who gets there first."

A Committed Friend And Neighbor

Kathleen Gariety knew the immense danger of living in Yemen as an American and a Christian, but she saw the people around her as good friends and neighbors, her pastor told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Keith Chase, pastor of Layton Avenue Baptist Church in Milwaukee, along with his wife, Joanne, recalled Gariety's call to help people in Yemen.

"That's not the first place you would choose to go, but it became the place she would choose to be," Joanne Chase told the Journal Sentinel. "She was a person who was able to look beyond stereotypes and politics and see into people's hearts, and she was very concerned about the people."

"From the crown of her head to the soles of her feet, she was devoted to this ministry and felt that God had called her to be involved in this hospital," Keith Cogburn, executive director of the Lakeland Baptist Association in Wisconsin, told the Journal Sentinel.

Friends said her title of purchasing manager understated her complex work in keeping the hospital stocked with linens, medicine, and equipment. On trips to the States, she was known to speak about her work at the hospital and coordinate the shipment of thousands of dollars worth of donated supplies back to Yemen.

The Journal Sentinel reported Dec. 30 that Gariety opted to live in a small apartment among the people of Yemen instead of housing provided on the hospital compound because she wanted to be more of a friend than a foreigner.

Some who knew Gariety have used the word martyr to describe her and the way she died.

"I see a martyr as someone willing to put their life on the line for something they believe in strongly," David Moorman, a friend from Layton Avenue Baptist Church, told the Journal Sentinel about Gariety. "In her case, Kathy was quite worthy, and I have no problem calling her a martyr. She died carrying out her mission."

Keith Chase said the three hospital workers who were killed would never have called themselves martyrs. They would prefer to be seen as people who loved the Yemeni people enough to lay down their lives for them, he told the Journal Sentinel.

He also said people who grieve the loss of the workers should pray for the killer.

"We are called to love our enemies. They would want us to pray and to recognize that the vast majority of the Yemeni people condemn the acts of the killer as much as we do," Chase said. "It would tarnish the life and ministry of these people to allow hatred to win."



William E. Koehn, 60, from Arlington, Texas, was appointed as a Southern Baptist representative to Northern Africa and the Middle East in October 1974. He received the Bachelor of Science degree in business from Fort Hays Kansas State College in Hays, Kan., and attended the University of Kansas at Lawrence and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.

His prior experience included work as an Allied Supermarkets store manager in Hays, Kan. Koehn's assignment was as administrator of the Jibla Baptist Hospital in Jibla, Yemen.

Koehn is survived by his wife, Marty, and their two grown daughters, Janelda and Samantha.


Martha Myers, 57, from Montgomery, Ala., was appointed as a Southern Baptist representative to Northern Africa and the Middle East in August 1977. She received the bachelor of arts degree from Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., and the doctor of medicine degree from the Medical College of Alabama at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. She also attended Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.

Her prior experience included work as a Foreign Mission Board (predecessor to the IMB) medical receptor in Yemen and work as an intern and resident at the University of South Alabama Medical Center in Mobile.


Kathleen A. Gariety, 53, from Wauwatosa, Wis., was appointed as a Southern Baptist representative to Northern Africa and the Middle East in February 1992. She received the bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and attended the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and Mount Mary College in Wauwatosa.

Prior to her overseas service, she worked as manager of the Follett College Bookstore in Milwaukee and as area manager with College Bookstores of America in Hinsdale, Ill. She was also a clerk with the Lakeland Baptist Association in Milwaukee from 1991 to 1992.

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  • Erin Curry