Billy Koehn: Revealing the Word through his Works

Jan 06, 2003 06:27 PM EST

BURLESON, Texas - More than 200 people attended the memorial service at Cross Timber Baptist Church, commemorating the life of Bill Koehn - one of the workers slain in the IMB shooting. As the people of Jibla lined the streets of the city for one-half mile during the missionary's funeral procession, hopes and remembrances penetrated through the sadness of his death.

Bill Koehn, a Southern Baptist representative and hospital administrator at the Jibla Baptist Hospital believed that sharing the gospel began with "lifestyle and keeping your word." While living, Koehn worked beyond what was expected of him; his love was shown through his lifestyle. He sat at his workbench for hours as he made toys for the children of Yemen, receiving the smile of the children who received the toys as the only payment.

Among those who attended the memorial service held in his honor Jan. 2, were IMB President Jerry Rankin, SBC President Jack Graham, Annuity Board President O.S. Hawkins and approximately 100 current and former IMB workers.

At the service, Rankin commented that the murders had not accomplish what the gunman intended

"The gunman did not take their lives, for they had already given them to the people of Yemen years ago."

He made note of the living memories of Koehn's "remarkable tenure," especially when he went beyond his duties to serve orphans and other children.

Bill Hart, who served as pastor or "counselor" of the Jibla International Fellowship from 1994 until he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and cancer in 1999, said Koehn was "constantly looking for available money to assist widows, orphans and prisoners. He helped thousands."

"Bill had a hope for the people of Yemen, that one day they would be fulfilled. ... Nothing will so endear God to the hearts of the Yemeni people as when they understand the hope in Christ," Rankin said. "Bill preached with his life, witness, compassion and love more than many who stand behind the pulpit ever will."

Scott Whitson, pastor of Cross Timbers Baptist Church and a childhood friend to Koehn's daughters, said that someday, the people of Yemen would have realized that they once had a prophet among them. Whitson noted the decades of Koehn's ministry in a region similar to that of the prophet Ezekiel, where political instability, national intrigue and countless hardships, called him to declare the word of the Lord.

"Bill was not in Yemen because an agency sent him, not because a convention encouraged him to go, not because of the Cooperative Program and not because his family encouraged him to go. He was there because a sovereign God looked across the sea and had compassion on the people of Yemen. God chose someone to stand in the gap. He chose a former grocery worker from Kansas."

Whitson, as he encouraged members of Koehn's family and former colleagues to offer words of comfort to his daughters, noted that Koehn did not fear the grim reaper. Those who eulogized him called him "a righteous man," a "model of love to family" and "faithful to the end." Others said that he "displayed a quiet strength" and that only the Kingdom of God ultimately will show what his life meant.

Koehn family friend Wynona Elder, a retired professor of psychology and counseling at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, noted the faithfulness of Koehn.

"God does not require success, a long record of accomplishments -- no more evident than in Yemen. God requires faithfulness to the task. God will give the increase," Elder said. Koehn patiently labored and displayed the Christian virtue of love as he awaited the increase, she added.

Graham, the SBC president said after the service that he hoped God would use the testimonies of Koehn and the others to "inspire renewed fervor for missions" among Southern Baptists. "I am praying for a spiritual breakthrough in Yemen and around the world," Graham said. He also encouraged others to investigate the call to missions. "Young people and young adults should listen closely to hear and discern the call of God."

"The call is the most important thing," Peggy Hart, a former nurse and assistant administrator at the Jibla hospital, said. "To have any kind of peace in the day, to sleep at night, you must have the call. Bill had it."

In a video shown during the service, Koehn expressed in his own words. "I came to Yemen because of the call of God," he said.

In spite of the tragedy, Rankin said the Southern Baptists would not be undeterred about sending the gospel abroad. He remarked upon the 124 newly appointed missionaries and of the 3 people who have offered their services earlier this week to take the place of the three killed during the shooting.

Koehn and his fellow hospital workers treated more than 38,000 inpatients and 4,000 outpatients each year. He had planned to retire and return to the United States in October. Marty Koehn remains in Yemen where she continues to minister to her late husband's colleagues and the people of Jibla.

Koehn was born in Cimarron, Kan., on March 9, 1942. He received a bachelor of science degree in business from Fort Hays Kansas State College and also attended the University of Kansas at Lawrence and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo. He is survived by his wife, Martha Walker Koehn, and daughters Janelda "Jay" Pearce and Samantha McGlothlin.

By Pauline C.