Monday, August 16, 2010


These were selfless volunteers who devoted themselves to providing free and much-needed health care to Afghans in the most remote and difficult parts...." -U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry

For Christian aid workers around the globe and Christian-minorities who constitute just a minuscule population of the country the live in, it is uncertain times - days of living dangerously. From North Korea to Indonesia, from Pakistan to Afghanistan and the Middle East, there has been a spurt in acts of violence against Christians.

Dr Karen Woo
The most outrageous incident in recent memory took place last week in Afghanistan when 10 aid workers were gunned down in cold-blood. Led by Tom Little, an optometrist who had worked in Afghanistan with his family for more than 30 years, the group was part of International Assistance Mission (IAM), a non-profit Christian humanitarian organization. The team comprising of 12 members was waylaid when they were on their way back to Kabul. Two Afghan team members managed to escape.

Though the Taliban accused the team of converting Muslims, the team has an impeccable record in the service of humanity in Afghanistan. Two of the Americans were veteran aid workers with more than 30 years experience in Afghanistan. They had raised their families in the country and learned to speak the local Dari language fluently. Dr Tom Little, 61, an optometrist who led the Nuristan Eye Camp Team and was married with three daughters, had first arrived in Afghanistan from New York in 1976 and Dan Terry, 63, of Wisconsin, in 1971.

Dirk Frans, executive director of IAM, said the organisation had arrived in 1966, under the Afghan king, and remained through the communist coup, Russian invasion, civil war and Taliban regime. Dr Little was expelled by the Taliban in August 2001 after the arrest of eight aid workers for allegedly trying to convert Afghans to Christianity. He returned after the Taliban were toppled.

IAM lost touch with the team on August 4 and the victims were found shot dead near their bullet-riddled 4x4 vehicles on August 6 in forest in the northeast province of Badakhshan.

The party included Dr Karen Woo, 36, a British medic engaged to be married on August 20. The other foreign victims, who all volunteered for the mission which included a 100-mile trek, were: Cheryl Beckett, 32, a translator from Ohio; Daniela Beyer, 35, a German translator; Brian Carderelli, 25, from Pennsylvania, a freelance cameraman, Dr Tom Grams, a dentist, and Glen Lapp, 40, an intensive care nurse from Pennsylvania.

Two Afghans who were killed were named as Mahram Ali and Javed. Two other Afghans survived the ambush, one because he had taken another route home and another, Saifullah, a father-of-three who was the driver for the team, persuaded the attackers not to execute him by reciting verses of the Koran according to his witness testimony. Saifullah was forced to march with the attackers in the forest for eight hours after which he was set free.

The team, which comprised Dr Woo, six Americans a German and three Afghans, were ambushed after journeying about 100 miles on foot and horseback through mountains to the province of Nuristan treating eye disease among impoverished villagers. The team had rejoined their vehicles to drive back to Kabul when they were ambushed at around 8am, soon after fording a swollen stream.

Dr Karen Woo’s fiancĂ©, Mark “Paddy” Smith, told around 100 friends of the victims gathered at a memorial that she would not have wanted them to dwell on her death. “I think she would have wanted us to enjoy ourselves” he told the emotional crowd in Kabul’s secluded British Cemetery on Wednesday evening.

He said: “It’s a great turnout. That’s indicative of the people they were. People who had given a lot to Afghanistan and were prepared to give a lot more. “Karen would just want us to be strong and carry on her work and that’s what we will endeavour to do.” A permanent memorial plaque to the dead will be erected in the cemetery.

Elsewhere, Christians are at the receiving end in North Korea, Indonesia, India, Pakistan and the Middle East. Reports coming out of the reclusive Korea has indicated that 23 members of an underground Church were recently arrested. After a quick trial three of them were executed and the rest sent to labor camp.

In Somalia, Islamist group al-Shabaab has banned three aid groups from carrying out relief work. The militants, with ties to al-Qaeda, accused World Vision, Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), and the Swedish aid agency Diakonia of spreading Christianity and ordered them to stop aid work immediately.

Pakistan has been on the boil for long and many Christians have been killed for their faith. The al-Qaeda has also targetted Christians in Saudi Arabia and urged members to kill them. In Indonesia, fear of mob backlash has  forced the closure of a Church last week.

 It may be recalled that one of the world's largest mission agencies, Open Doors, named North Korea and Iran as "the worst persecutors of Christians".

1 comment:

  1. This is so sad. I'm praying for the families, and praying for those who are being persecuted for the Christian faith.