KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary community gathered to remember and reflect on the lives of missionaries Bill Koehn and Martha Myers, who were killed while serving in Yemen 11 years ago.
Jason K. Allen, Midwestern’s president, preached from 2 Corinthians 5:14-21, highlighting the sacrifice of the missionaries while challenging students to look beyond their tragic deaths.
“Their legacy is not merely for us to ponder how we might die but for how we might live,” Allen said April 16. “There is no higher calling than to serve as ambassadors of Christ.”
He pointed to the lives of Koehn and Myers as a clear indication that every believer’s calling, no matter what the specifics of that calling, is a gospel calling, and he challenged believers to fulfill their calling as ambassadors of Christ.
“There is an insidious understanding from scripture that those who are called to share the gospel and to be faithful witnesses is just a specific call for a specific group of people,” Allen said. “That specific call is on Christians, and the specific group of people is all who name the name of Christ – that is each one of us.”
Two of those who understood that calling, even to the point of death, were Koehn and Myers. On Dec. 30, 2002, came the devastating news that Jibla Baptist Hospital administrator Koehn and physician Myers had been killed by a Muslim militant in Yemen. Both were missionaries, family members and beloved alumni of Midwestern Seminary.
“Don’t worry about danger,” Koehn had encouraged a friend before his death. “God protects us, and we realize God may call some of us to give our lives to further His work.”
The evening of the attack, Koehn’s wife Marty recalled hearing a loud banging on her door. She quickly learned that a Muslim militant had smuggled a gun into the hospital beneath his coat, pretending to carry a baby. As soon as he entered, he opened fire. Koehn and Myers, along with purchasing manager Kathy Gariety, were among the dead. The event sent shockwaves around the world and through mission agencies, many questioning why missionaries were serving in such hostile regions.
Missionary Bill Koehn, left, the low-key former grocer from Kansas who led Yemen’s Jibla Baptist Hospital for 28 years, was an old-school manager who operated on a strict daily schedule. He was killed by a Muslim militant in 2002.
During the grief and questioning, Jerry Rankin, president of the International Mission Board at the time, said, “The gunmen did not take their lives, for they had already given them to the people of Yemen years ago.”
For Bill and Marty Koehn, God had been slowly preparing them for the moment. Although Marty felt called to missions from a young age, it was not until a decade into their marriage that Bill felt God’s call to serve on the mission field. They arrived in Yemen in 1975.
Martha Myers graduated from Samford University and the University of Alabama Medical School. She had planned on staying and ministering in Yemen whether the mission board allowed her to continue or not. “These are my people,” she told her father. “They need me.”
Koehn attended Midwestern in 1974 and Myers in 1977. Their time at the seminary equipped them theologically to minister in the Middle East, one of the most hostile environments to Christianity.
In honor of Koehn’ and Myers’ life-giving service to Jesus Christ and the people of Yemen, in 2005 Midwestern dedicated a 35,000-square foot facility that houses the school’s café, academic administrative offices, faculty offices and multiple classrooms. Both missionaries’ pictures are displayed in the entrance with a plaque that quotes Revelation 12:11: “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto death.”
The deaths of Koehn and Myers were not in vain, Allen said, because they died preaching the Good News that Jesus Christ, through His death and resurrection, has reconciled God and man. They have now passed the torch to the next generation of Christian ministers and missionaries who must preach the same gospel message abroad and at home.
“Let me tell you how you honor a legacy of two martyrs,” Allen said. “You honor their deaths by living their lives. And was it, and is it, a life worth living for the gospel? Absolutely.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Russell L. Meek is research assistant to the president and Timothy Sweetman is director of communications at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)