SBC Life Articles

Why This Waste?

From the memorial service message for Martha Myers, Bill Koehn, and Kathleen Gariety, delivered January 10, 2003 at Grove Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, Va.

All of us have been deeply touched by the testimony of our three fallen comrades that we have come to memorialize.

However, not everyone feels the same way we do. Some people are asking, "Why this waste?" So much ability; so much talent; so much invested in their lives that you can't put a price on the value of any of them! Their parents, relatives, friends, teachers, churches, and countless others have invested so much. They are priceless. So some ask, "Why couldn't their lives been invested in their homeland, among those who loved them, where they could live and serve for many more years?"

I am here to tell you that their lives and the giving of their lives is not a waste!

How do I know that? Turn with me to Mark 14:1-9. It was the last week of Jesus' life before he was to be crucified. He was in the home of Simon the Leper when a woman of the street came in where they were reclining at dinner. She anointed his head and his feet with precious ointment and wiped her tears from his feet with her hair. The people at the dinner asked, "Why this waste?" Judas was one of them and he said, "Why wasn't the perfume sold and the money given to the poor. It was worth a year's wages." He used the excuse of the poor because he wanted the money for himself.

Jesus heard their criticism and defended the woman by saying, Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. (Mark 14:6-9)

So I want to ask Jesus to answer the critics who ask, "Why this waste of precious lives?"


If it is beautiful in the Lord's eyes, it should be in ours also because He has the eternal perspective.

You say, "How can this be beautiful?" Look at the old rugged cross. It was horrible, but Jesus' death turned it into the sacred cross. We wear it around our necks; we put it on our church steeples; we erect it on mountains. The horrible and ugly has become beautiful. Yes, the deaths of Martha Myers, Bill Koehn, and Kathleen Gariety were horrible in our eyes, but God made them beautiful. Their acts of kindness stand out against the dark background of their murders. Hundreds of Yemenis wept at their funerals. They lined the streets in their honor.

Jesus' death was beautiful because He saved us from our sins. Their deaths will result in many people being forgiven of their sins.


Jesus said, "She did what she could." Our three fallen comrades did what they could. They couldn't do everything but they did what they could. They could not be the sacrifice for the sins of the Yemeni people but they could give their lives as a testimony to Christ who can save them. They did what they could!

They could not preach on the streets but they could let their lights shine in a dark place to glorify their Father who is in heaven. They did what they could!

They could not proselytize but they could minister to 40,000 Yemenis a year and bring healing to hurting bodies and hope to failing hearts. They did what they could!

They did what they could … when they could do it!

Jesus said that Mary had anointed him for his burial that she could only do at that moment. If she had waited a few days she could not have done it.

Timing is not in our hands but God's. Don Caswell understands this better than we do since he survived. The two medical workers who had the gun pointed at them but wouldn't go off understand. We don't determine the time or place of our death but we do choose the time and place of our service. Our martyrs were on time in time.

Many of us don't do what we can when we can. We give excuses. We ignore the reality of billions of lost people on their way to hell. We wait for a more convenient day … or a safer time … or a more prosperous time to give, to go, to witness. Now is the time to follow their example! Their example leads us do what can while we can!


The onlookers said it was a waste, and the perfume should be used elsewhere. They harassed the woman. Jesus said, "Don't bother her for she has done what she could. She has anointed me for my burial."

You ask, "What could they have done with their lives that they poured out as a memorial?"

They could have gained fame in America for the service they rendered but went to a country lost in time. They could have amassed fortunes in the U.S. but instead gave to the poor out of their missionary salaries. They could have blessed thousands in the U.S. with the sweet fragrance of their Christ-filled lives but that fragrance would have been mixed with many other odors. Instead, they poured out their lives in the desert where the clear, pungent fragrance of Jesus would linger and linger and linger long after they are gone.

I received an email the day of their deaths entitled, Bring Them Home:

There is no explaining murder. It happens everywhere, everyday. God protects our souls, not our bodies. Please, use church members as the missionaries of their own countries. There is need here in the U.S. for spiritual and health care such as is provided in Yemen. Bring them home. If the world was without the help of U.S. sponsorship and missionaries it would be a harsher place. But what if all those resources were at work within the U.S.? Would we not be a better country? More moral? More responsive to God's commands than to the media? Please, bring them home.

I answered:

Dear Friend,

Thank you for your interest. However, we will not do what you suggest for several reasons:

1. Jesus gave the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. We must obey Him.

2. As to leaving the missionary work to nationals, we already work with 65,000 overseas workers, but there are still thousands of people groups that have not heard the message. It takes cross-cultural workers to reach them. One of the things we need missionaries for is to train these national missionaries.

3. Missionaries are called to go to the lost. Would you deny their following God's call and God's will?

4. As for their staying in the U.S., 95 percent of American Christian workers already serve here among 6 percent of the world's population while 5 percent serve the rest of the world — the 94 percent. To paraphrase Jesus' words: If they will not hear Moses and the Prophets [or the pastors and evangelists they have] they will not believe even though one returned from the dead [or the mission field] (Luke 16:31).

So, God bless you. Instead of asking us to bring them home, why don't you pray for God to send more!

They left the most precious memorial to Christ! They did what they could when they could and it is a beautiful thing in our eyes and the eyes of the Lord.


Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her." This story is told in all four gospels. It is being told all over the world in memory of her sacrifice.

No, it is not a waste. The testimonies of these three is on every major network and is being told in thousands of languages. They will not be forgotten. When four missionaries gave their lives in an attempt to share the gospel with the Acua Indians in Ecuador in the 1950s, 6,000 people volunteered to become missionaries. Many more thousands have responded to the sacrifice of Lottie Moon, Bill Wallace, and Martin Burnham! Over one billion dollars has been given in the name of Lottie Moon to the International Mission Board!

These three martyrs in Jibla did not just timidly, mildly surrender their lives nor was it the wrath of Satan or man that took them. Theirs was a bold, aggressive, courageous gift to the lost of the world. I can unequivocally say that you may kill our missionaries but you cannot kill their witness. Jesus said about His own death in John 12:23-24, Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. When it falls to the ground and dies, it multiplies. For every one that is shot, a thousand will rise to take his place. For every thousand who die in a bombing, thousands of your own people will ask, "Is this true religion — to kill your fellowman? Is there not a better way?"

And I say, "Yes, there is a better way and that way is Jesus — the Way, the Truth, and the Life! Ultimately, it will not be American missionaries who bring millions of your people to Christ, but your own people who have found the answer in Christ and who will lay down their lives that your people may know Him — the Way, the Truth, the Life!

These three did what they could. Like Paul, they poured out their lives as an offering on the altar as an act of worship to God and a witness to man.

No, they did not waste their lives. They planted them in the soil of Yemen and it has become an oasis in the desert.

No, they did not waste their lives but shined a light into the darkness.

No, they did not waste their lives but sent out a call for peace on earth, good will to men. Glory to God in the Highest!

They will not be forgotten!

Avery Willis is senior vice president, IMB Office of Overseas Operation.



Pray For IMB Workers
by Todd Starnes

Christians everywhere should be reminded of the importance of praying diligently for those who serve Christ in the insecure places of the earth, according to Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee.

Chapman's request came in the wake of the Dec. 30 deaths of three International Mission Board personnel in Yemen.

"No words could adequately convey the grief we feel over the murders of the missionaries who have devoted their lives to serve the people of Yemen in the name and spirit of Christ," Chapman said in a prepared statement. "Yet, even in the depth of our grief, we find profound comfort that the Lord Jesus calls 'blessed' those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake."

"Our hearts go out to the families of the slain, and we pledge to pray for them in the coming days," he added. "We commend them all to the rich grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We, along with them, sorrow, but not as those who have no hope. Our hope, as these devoted servants of Jesus understood so well, is in the dear Lord."

"We commend all our brothers and sisters who live out their lives in service to the Lord through the International Mission Board, and we call upon the entire Southern Baptist family to go often before the Lord for them," Chapman said.

Chapman referred to a passage of Scripture in 2 Timothy 4:1-2 and encouraged Christians to claim the passage in the tragedy's aftermath.

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season, the passage states.

"Holy Scripture reminds us of the need to see time in the light of eternity, and of the mandate to continue faithfully proclaiming the Word of God under difficult situations," he said. "I pray that the Lord will permit us all to live our lives, and discharge our duties, in such a manner."

    About the Author

  • Erin Curry