Living and Dying for Christ
January 1, 2003 - The cold-blooded killing of a young American woman in Lebanon was a shocking and tragic reminder of the price missionaries too often pay.
by Franklin Graham
Bonnie Penner Witherall was a 31-year-old living in Sidon, a city on the Mediterranean coast of Lebanon. She was working at a maternity clinic that has been supported by Samaritan's Purse. Bonnie shared her patients' feelings of joy and hope. She longed to tell them about her Savior, and she was delighted about the growing possibilities. Then came the morning of Nov. 21, when she answered a knock at the clinic door—and was killed with three gunshots to her head.
By all accounts, Bonnie was a very special young lady. But in another sense she was no different than thousands of missionaries who faithfully and courageously follow Jesus' words: "Go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19, NIV). In parts of the world where evangelism is forbidden, missionaries are fearlessly proclaiming the life-changing power of Christ.
"God led us to Lebanon, and we knew we might die," Bonnie's husband, Gary Witherall, told reporters. To those responsible, he said, "I forgive them, but there are tears in my eyes." At a memorial service for his wife, he said, "So many people think my wife's death was a waste, ... but we believe that coming here with the message of Jesus would never be a waste. It is a message worth laying our lives down for."
In these troubled times, it's comforting to know that God reigns. We also know:
Christians should be prepared for persecution.
Jesus warned His followers, "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also" (John 15:20, NIV).
Persecution can yield blessings.
In Ecuador in 1956, a savage tribe massacred the first five missionaries who attempted to reach them with the Gospel message. However, through the extraordinary testimony of the missionaries' families, not only were many tribespeople converted, but hundreds of young people were inspired to become missionaries as well.
God hears the cries of those who have suffered for Him.
The Bible says, "When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, 'How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?' Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed" (Revelation 6:9-11, NIV).
Thank God, few if any of us will ever have to face death as martyrs. But we all can live the way Bonnie Witherall did, radiating the love of Christ. We all can learn from the example of her husband. We all can pray earnestly for our missionaries as they take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. And, as we enter this new year, we all should resolve to be ambassadors for Christ, wherever He's placed us and whatever the price.