More than six years after an ambush in Iraq, sole survivor
Carrie McDonnall can tick through a complex list of her injuries received that
day, including 22 bullet wounds, shrapnel galore, and losing three fingers on
her left hand.
Doctor after doctor told her, “I don’t know how you
“It was the hand of God only,” McDonnall said Dec. 2 to
students in Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s chapel service. She
continues to stand firm on the promises of a Savior who saw her through “some
really dark days. He was with me, and He was comforting me.”
The March 15, 2004, attack in Mosul, Iraq, took the lives of
missionaries Larry and Jean Elliot of Cary, as well as Karen Watson of
Bakersfield, Calif. David McDonnall, Carrie’s husband survived the attack, but
died after four military surgeons worked six hours to save his life. The four
died from bullet and shell fragment wounds reportedly from automatic weapons
and rocket-propelled grenades.
Carrie was 26 at the time. From Texas the McDonnalls had met
while serving as journeymen with the Southern Baptist International Mission
Board. They served in different countries but in the same region. She was in
Israel. He was in Sudan.
They started seminary at Southwestern Baptist Theological
Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2001, married in 2002, and they were “itching
to get back into ministry.”
When the IMB contacted them about going to Iraq, the couple
put a day aside to fast and pray and come together to see what God had told
Not finishing seminary … “that wasn’t a big heart breaker
for us,” she said.
God works on His own time, McDonnall said, and the couple
weighed the choices: obedience or disobedience.
“We wanted to be faithful followers,” she said.
When they arrived in Iraq the McDonnalls were looking
forward to learning from the Elliots who had served as missionaries in Honduras
for more than 25 years. They could have retired, McDonnall, said, but they too
felt called to help the Iraqi people get fresh water as well as to share the
living water only found in Christ. Watson had worked with the Kern County
Sheriff’s Department in California before she joined the International Mission
Board as a humanitarian aid coordinator for Iraq in 2003.
“I heard (Watson) breathing, then I felt her die,” McDonnall
said in a Florida Baptist Witness article after the attack. The McDonnalls had
been in Iraq since November 2003 helping internally displaced people with food
and water needs.
That March day started like a lot of others: the team loaded
up in a vehicle and headed out to assess a refugee camp’s needs. The team
visited an old factory where some refugees were living. The elders came out to
greet them. The ladies went inside to visit with the other women, and the men
The site had two water tanks but one was completely empty
and the other had only a few inches of water.
None of them knew the next time a
water truck would come and fill the tanks.
The men and women had long conversations about America,
water, families and more.
“They had next to nothing yet they offered the best that
they had,” McDonnall said.
When the group left, McDonnall said they were “all on cloud
Larry Elliot had mentally figured out how to get water to
“We were excited because a relationship had started out that
day,” she said.
Mosul, Iraq, was a common place to go through because there
were not many roads. So Mosul offered the best option for getting to and from
the factory where they visited. They were nearly on the other side when “men
came up around us and started shooting.”
With no such thing as 9-1-1, Iraqi men came out and helped
after the gunfire had subsided.
McDonnall could only move her head and could not get out of
the car. In the Iraqi culture men do not touch women but they set aside that
cultural barrier to lift her to safety. They put her on the ground and in the
process the hem of her garment rose above her ankle, a horrible faux pas. One
man reached down and pulled her garment back down to protect her modesty.
“To be quite honest with you I did not notice,” she said.
Those men disregarded their cultural boundaries to help she
and her husband escape the vehicle and get them to a military hospital.
“I share these glimpses to see the heart of the Iraqi
people,” she said, “and also to see the sovereignty of God that day.”
Those men faced repercussions within their community by
McDonnall remembers David talking to the doctors and
soldiers at the hospital, before being taken into surgery. She lost a lot of
blood and they considered amputation of some of her limbs. Doctors operated on
McDonnall for 10 hours in Iraq, enough to stabilize her. Then, they flew her to
Germany and on to Texas.
Doctors put her in a medically induced coma. She
received wounds in the chest, face, and all four limbs. Small arms fire shattered
bones in her right arm and leg.
It wasn’t until several days after she woke up in the
hospital in Texas that she learned David had died.
“I couldn’t move a thing,” she said about when she first
It was in the hospital in Texas where McDonnall learned
about the depths the psalmist talks about in Psalm 23.
But even with the blinds down and McDonnall spiritually and
physically wanting to be in a fetal position, “even those days He was faithful.
My heart was shattered and I had plenty of wounds. We hold fast to Him,” she
said referring to Heb. 10:23.
She was in the hospital about a month.
“Of all the things I had lost God assured me I had not lost
Him nor had she faced more than Christ had on the cross,” she said.
In a Baptist Press article just five months after the
attack, McDonnall said she didn’t regret the decision to go:
“You go into a place that is so dark and a place that just
does not have hope, and you go and you offer hope and you offer it because you
have the love of Christ in you,” she said. “People see that. They ask, ‘Why do
you do this?’ We tell them, ‘I love the Iraqi people and I love them because
Christ loves me.’ The people just don’t have a hope, and some of that stems
from being under Saddam and some of it is just from the fact that they don’t
know Christ — a lot of it is from that.”
Carry On Ministries
Today McDonnall is back at Southwestern working on finishing
her degree. As founder of Carry On Ministries, she
speaks to various groups about her experience and tries to encourage Christians
to be obedient and faithful to the call God has for them. She wrote a book —
Facing Terror — in 2005 that chronicled her and David’s experience together.
Then and now people still ask, “Why would you go to a place like
She responds, “Are you reading the same Bible I am?”
She stresses that “Christ love compels us.”
“It compelled David and I to Iraq,” she said. “We could not
hold it to ourselves.”
She said she continues to share her testimony because “there
are so many people hurting.”