RICHMOND, Va. — Leaders and representatives of the Southern Baptist Convention grieved over the death of four International Mission Board workers while taking comfort in the love of God that surrounds the martyred missionaries, March 15, 2004.
"We are grieving the loss of four colleagues and are concerned for a fifth colleague," said Clyde Meador, the board's executive vice president, during a press conference in Richmond Va.. "We know we are not alone in our grief.
"Many Americans and Iraqis have lost their lives in recent months. Our hearts go out in sympathy to the families, their friends and our colleagues who are grieving this tragic loss."
Meador mentioned that the missionaries served in Iraq despite the dangers because of God’s love for the Iraqi people.
"Southern Baptists have sought ways to share God’s love with the Iraqi people. Last fall Southern Baptist churches in the United States sent more than 3 million pounds of food to Iraq. The workers involved in this attack were researching the need for future humanitarian projects,” said Meador.
"Our personnel, as Americans and Christians, are well aware of the risk of living and serving in a place like Iraq. Yet their love for the Iraqi people and obedience to the conviction of God’s leadership have been expressed in a willingness to take that risk, even to giving their lives,” he continued.
The President of the Southern Baptist Convention, Jack Graham, expressed similar sentiments in a statement made on March 16.
“Our IMB personnel around the world understand both the risk and the reward of the call of Christ upon their lives. Certainly many of them travel to dangerous places and distant places to fully carry the cross and the message of the Gospel. But they also understand the great reward. The great missionary martyr Jim Elliot once wrote in his diary, ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose,” said Graham.
“These who have given their lives for the cause of Christ were in Iraq on a humanitarian relief effort, sharing the love of Christ and sharing the message of hope,” Graham, pastor of the Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church, said. “I pray that these servants of the Lord will have not died in vain but that their lives and even their deaths will be a great inspiration to many across America who will hear the call and respond in obedience to God.”
”While we deeply grieve for this loss of life, we also rejoice in the sure confidence that our brothers and sisters are in the presence of Christ,” continued Graham. “We pray for the families and ask God’s richest blessing of comfort upon their lives.”
At the White House, press secretary Scott McClellan commented to a reporter’s question about the four workers, calling it a terrible tragedy.
“Obviously, they were there to help the Iraqi people realize a better future. And our thoughts and prayers are certainly with their families. This was a terrible tragedy, and they remain in our thoughts and prayers. And we are certainly grateful for all the efforts that they made to help the Iraqi people move forward on a better future,” said McClellan.
“There are many people, from many different countries, that are providing humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people and helping in Iraq. And security is a very high priority for the Iraqi people for the coalition. And we continue to work together to improve the security situation in Iraq.”
The President of the IMB shared his grief with the Southern Baptists in an immediate comment made on March 15.
"In times like this, there are no words that will take away the pain of a loved one's violent death," Rankin said. "Everyone in the IMB family and everyone who loves Southern Baptists' overseas workers are grieving with the family members and co-workers of these precious souls.
"We are grateful that God Himself comes alongside us in our deepest sorrow and comforts us in a way no one else can,” said Rankin.
SBC Executive Committee President and Chief Executive Officer Morris H. Chapman also joined in the line of those who expressed their deepest respect for the workers who lost their lives.
“We are deeply grieved once again at the tragic loss of brothers and sisters who were brutally slain while serving our Lord. These dear ones -- Larry and Jean Elliott, Karen Watson and David McDonnall -- lived and died for their precious Lord. Indeed, their lives and sacrifice reflect well the example and commands of our Savior, Jesus Christ, as they died ministering to the spiritual and physical needs of the Iraqi people,” said Chapman, in a March 16 statement.
“Our hearts break with and for the families of the slain. In 1 Corinthians 12:26, the Apostle Paul wrote that when one member of the body suffers, the whole body suffers. The entire Southern Baptist family is mourning alongside those whose loved ones have been murdered. We pray that the Holy Spirit will minister His comfort, grace and peace -- that peace that surpasses all understanding. We pray His peace will guard their hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,” continued Chapman.
”These four brave souls embodied the truth of this passage -- they had sanctified Christ as Lord, they were ready to give a defense of their faith with gentleness and reverence, they suffered for the sake of righteousness, and now they are indeed most blessed as they have been ushered into the very presence of God. May God grant each of us the strength and grace to follow their example,” said Chapman.
“To our brothers and sisters around the world who are serving the Lord through the International Mission Board, we deeply appreciate your service and sacrifice and encourage you to stand fast, knowing that the entire Southern Baptist family is holding you up before the Lord”
The four slain workers were en route to researching ways to help Northern Iraqis recover from the war, when terrorists drove up beside them and openly shot them. One of their colleagues is currently recovering in a hospital nearby.
Three of the missionaries, Larry and Jean Elliott, who had served with the IMB in Honduras since 1978 and transferred to the Middle East in February, and Karen Watson, who had been with the board since March 2003, died on the scene of the attack. The fourth worker, David McDonnall, died en route to a military support hospital in Baghdad.
The Missouri Baptist Convention, which began a partnership with Iraq last year, said it would continue to dispatch missionaries to the field despite the deadly attack. However, the team of Missouri Baptists who had been scheduled to depart for Iraq on March 20, canceled temporarily.
Future MBC trips to Iraq have also been postponed as convention leaders assessed how to best proceed with the partnership. The MBC is the only state convention with a partnership with Iraq through the International Mission Board.