FALLUJAH, Iraq -- On Wednesday, March 31, a group of Iraqi extremists displayed a gruesome show of hateful barbarism by attacking, slaughtering, mutilating, dragging and hanging the bodies of four American civilians in the city of Fallujah. While this abhorrent attempt to drive out U.S. occupational forces duly shocked the international community, it failed in its apparent ‘mission,’ as the American military, relief groups and mission organizations remained steadfastly dedicated to restoring civility in the broken nation.
“The United States is not going to withdraw, we're not going to be run out" of Iraq,” the Secretary of State Colin Powell said, following the attack. "America has the ability to stay, fight an enemy and defeat an enemy. We wish no soldier, no civilian, had been killed in this conflict. We also know sometimes to achieve a noble purpose, it does take the loss of life."
The four civilians who were murdered in Fallujah were contract workers to the Blackwater Security Consulting – a security firm that hires former military members from the U.S. and other countries to provide security training and guard services. The workers were hired to provide security for convoys that delivered food in the Fallujah area.
Their death preceded the car bombing that killed five American troops in Baghdad that same day, and followed the assault on 5 U.S. workers from the International Mission Board two weeks earlier, in which only one person survived.
Because of the heightened security concerns, the IMB – the international mission wing of the Southern Baptist Convention – suspended its web field personnel directory service. However, no IMB missionary or relief personnel decided to pull out of Iraq in fear.
“The extremists have an agenda of destabilizing the country,” said Mark Kelly, spokesperson for the IMB, on April 1. “ They have shown that they would attack anyone: civilian or militant, western or Iraqi.”
According to Kelly, the five IMB workers were not targeted because they were missionaries or relief workers.
“I believe that the attacks certainly were not against our personnel because they were Christian or humanitarian workers. They were only there for a few days, so we don’t see any way the attackers could’ve known they were Christians,” said Kelly.
Therefore, Kelly said, the IMB is “not making any dramatic changes in our security policy and no workers have planned to leave the country.”
Instead, Kelly said the IMB workers are mourning the death of the martyrs, and looking toward God for comfort and protection.
“Attacks of this sort are not something you could predict and not something you could specifically prepare for,” said Kelly. “You have to take every possible security measure and leave the rest in the hands of the sovereign Lord.”
During the funeral service and prayer vigils of the slain IMB workers, several Christians have rededicated themselves to service and commented that the ‘blood of the martyrs fuels the passion for mission.”
While Kelly said that “it would probably be too early to say that about the IMB,” he mentioned that such a passion certainly developed after the September 11 attacks.
“You could go back to the events to 9-11 and we could certainly say that that event heightened the awareness of Southern Baptists to proclaim the good news of God’s love, to many parts of the world, where it simply has not been heard before,” said Kelly.
Saying that risks have always been a factor in Christian missions, Kelly testified the past works of the missionaries who followed in the footsteps of Christ.
“Mission has always been a dangerous proposition. Jesus came knowing his life would be in danger and knowing he would suffer,” said Kelly. “Our organization has been sending missionaries since 1849. In the early years missionaries left America assuming they will never return. Often they died in shipwrecks before they even reached the country. When they got there, many of them died from diseases such as malaria. Even today, car wrecks and robberies present a threat to westerners and non-westerners alike in many countries.”
“Safety, while it is important, isn’t the basis to deciding whether or not to follow the call of God,” said Kelly.
Kelly also mentioned that aside from a few violent extremists, most of the Iraqis are open and peaceful to western workers.
“People in the U.S. who think there is widespread hostility in the Muslim world Iraq in general are getting too much information from the evening news, and not enough facts from the Muslim world itself," said Kelly. “We haven’t seen any evidence in the dealing our workers have had with Iraqis that there is any resentment or hostility toward us as westerners."
Fallujah, where Wednesday’s attacks took place, was once the stronghold of the now-ousted dictator Saddam Hussein. In Ramadi, a city close to Fallujah, hundreds of civilians mourned the death of four Iraqis that were killed in a car bombing that same night, reaffirming Kelly’s point that the indiscriminate hatred resonates in the hearts of only a few insurgents.
“A handful of extremists who are determined to get control of the country do not represent the hearts of the people,” continued Kelly. "We have experienced nothing but warm hearts from the Iraqi people."