At that time, trustees were debating whether to keep Jibla Baptist Hospital open. The hospital workers requested the trustees see their work before making a final determination. I was ill-prepared for the experiences that awaited me.
Before my arrival, physician Martha Myers had been kidnapped and miraculously released. That news made my steps unsteady. After safely passing through customs and seeing men with machine guns on their backs and jambiyas (daggers) across their chests, I was alarmed.
Three Southern Baptist workers at Jibla Baptist Hospital in Yemen – physician Martha Myers, hospital administrator Bill Koehn and purchasing manager Kathy Gariety – were killed Dec. 30, 2002, when a militant gunman burst into a room where they were holding an early-morning meeting.
After winding four hours through rugged terrain to Jibla Baptist Hospital, I heard alarming details that elevated my normally low blood pressure: Rabid dogs were wandering, malaria was spreading, water was scarce, electricity was sporadic, the hospital was under red alert due to threats from al-Qaida and the airlines had just gone on strike.
They had me at rabid.
I was officially in culture shock. And who’s al-Qaida?
But this kind of news was status quo to the workers called to serve in Yemen. I would only sample a taste of their everyday lives. Yet, no complaints.
Why, they should be begging me to rescue them from this. Instead, Bill Koehn, the hospital administrator, and others did their best to show me all God was doing, begging to stay.
My first day began with meeting the staff for devotions, prayer and a hospital tour. Hours later I was shuttled between prison and orphanage ministries. By the end of the afternoon, Koehn escorted me to the sheik’s house. What an experience. As we prepared to leave, Koehn’s face revealed his pain as he was unable to tie his shoes. A head-on collision on a winding mountain road had nearly disabled him, requiring hip-replacement surgery.
Sensing his pain and steeped in American culture, I leaned over, tied his shoes and offered assistance. I didn’t know my actions were taboo until I noticed all eyes glaring at me. In a culture where it’s forbidden for a woman to even look a man in the eye, I shouldn’t have touched Koehn’s foot. He quickly relayed my apologies in Arabic to the sheik and I was spared any punishment. The love and respect for Koehn and the workers at Jibla protected me.
The last night of my stay, I apologized for any hurt that trustees may have caused them. It was not that we weren’t pleased with their labor; it was a matter of safety and dollars spent at a time when Eastern Europe had opened to us a few years earlier.
Before leaving, I heard these unforgettable words from Koehn, the hospital’s respected father figure: “Don’t worry about the danger. God protects us, and we realize God may call some of us to give our lives to further His work.”
My life has never been the same after spending time with such saints.
On Dec. 30, 2002, I was awakened to the startling news that Bill Koehn, physician Martha Myers and purchasing manager Kathy Gariety had been shot and killed by a Muslim militant. Don Caswell, a pharmacist, also was shot but would later recover. Grief shook me to my knees. Koehn’s last words to me echoed through my mind.
Marty Koehn, Bill’s wife, was immediately summoned to his side. She held his hands as he passed into glory. Thirty minutes later as she made her way home, God spoke to her heart. He brought to her mind the example of Elisabeth Elliot, a woman who shared similar grief and pain but who returned to serve the tribe that speared her husband Jim. Marty Koehn, just months from retirement, made a tough decision that day. She honored God’s call to stay in Yemen, serving four more years before returning to live in Texas near family.
Bill Koehn’s and Martha Myers’ predetermined requests were to be buried on a hill above the hospital grounds in Yemen. The outpouring of love and respect by the Yemeni people for these dear servants was extraordinary. Contrary to Islamic law, the people lovingly made their caskets and dug their graves with their own hands. They lined the streets to pay homage to these friends who had served them for more than 25 years, saying, “Surely, they are of God!”
To this day, their graves serve as a reminder of what their lives preached. The Bible tells us in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” To me they and their families are heroes of the faith. For it is easier to graduate to glory than to be the ones left behind – to be the ones left without a spouse and parent.
My brief but powerful time with them enabled me to see that freedom is so much more than having my American way. My definition of freedom changed. Bill and Marty, Martha and Kathy knew that true freedom and contentment were found in finding and following God’s will for your life. And I would learn from them.
Bill Koehn guided the hospital through tough times for nearly 30 years. Jerry Rankin, former president of the IMB, referred to him as a “quiet giant.” His son-in-law called him “a nobody who became Christ to everybody who saw him.”
May others see Jesus in our lives and say, “Surely, they are of God!”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Ginny Dent Brant is a speaker, former IMB trustee and the author of “Finding True Freedom: From the White House to the World,” a memoir of life with her late father, Harry S. Dent Sr., who served presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. Her website is ginnybrant.com. This article first appeared in the Southern Baptist Texan, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Southern Baptists’ gifts to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and through the Cooperative Program help Southern Baptist missionaries around the world share the gospel. Gifts for the offering are received at Southern Baptist churches across the country or can be made online at www.imb.org/offering where there are resources for church leaders to promote the offering. Download related videos at www.imb.org/lmcovideo.)