“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” – John 15:13 (NKJV)
In OM’s 60-year history, a few brothers and sisters in the OM family experienced this first hand: David Goodman, shot in his home in Turkey in 1979; Bonnie Witherall, killed while serving local women at a women’s clinic in Sidon, Lebanon, in 2002; Karen Goldsworthy and Sofia Sigfridsson, who died during an explosion at a public ministry event in the Philippines in 1991, and Gayle Williams, killed in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2008. These folks are honoured as OM’s modern-day martyrs.
After reading a pamphlet, “Turkey, the Forgotten Land,” David and Jenni Goodman moved to Adana, Turkey, in 1977, where David taught English as a second language. David’s widow, Jenni, recalled the morning in their second year when everything changed. “Someone came to the door, and I could hear David ask, ‘Who’s there?’ Then I heard the door open…followed by gunshots.” Frantic, Jenni found a neighbour who took David to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. No arrests were ever made.
Jenni returned to the US, pregnant with the couple’s first child, and gave birth to a son, David Yener, whose middle name means “He will overcome.” A year later, she married Bill Perry, and the couple had six more children.
In 2015, Jenni and Bill travelled to Turkey to visit their daughter, who was there on a short-term trip; it was Jenni’s first trip to Turkey since David was martyred. They attended a church and sang a Turkish worship song that David wrote shortly before he died—a song still sung nearly 40 years after David’s death. “Many believers still remember the sacrifice the writer made,” Jenni noted.
While it’s hard to measure the true impact of any of OM’s martyrs, the tragic death of Bonnie Witherall in 2002 in Lebanon has had a ripple effect on OM’s ministries throughout the Mediterranean and beyond. Bonnie worked at a church-run prenatal clinic that focused on Palestinian women from a nearby refugee camp in Sidon. On a November morning in 2002, Bonnie answered the door at the clinic where she worked and was shot and killed.
In the aftermath of Bonnie’s death, the Lord gave her husband, Gary, the vision for Transform, a ministry reaching out to the people and nations around the Mediterranean—a region that was dear to Bonnie’s heart. “The vision for Transform was birthed out of great sacrifice,” Gary said during one of the early Transform conferences. “The desire was to see hundreds go out into the Mediterranean nations and tell people about the hope they can have in Jesus.”
At Transform’s first conference in July 2010 in Rome, nearly 430 people gathered for a week of prayer and preparation, followed by 35 teams going to 21 Mediterranean nations. Since then, almost 2,000 people have attended the Transform conferences in Italy and Spain, with short-term teams going into countries, such as Lebanon, Turkey, Bulgaria, Jordan, Egypt, Albania, Kosovo, Greece, Israel, as well as France, Spain, Portugal and North African nations. Many participants have joined OM in longer-term capacities and, seven years on, Transform is still going strong.
Hand grenades thrown during the Doulos International Night presentation on shore in Zamboanga in August 1991 left two women dead and many injured. But it did not hinder the ship’s commitment to bringing knowledge, help and hope to all peoples of the world.
Joe Parker, then book exhibition manager aboard Doulos and now serving with the Ship Ministry in South Carolina (USA), recalled the event. “Two grenades were thrown onto the stage area. One detonated in front of a bench and some chairs; the other did not explode. Sofia, sitting on one of the chairs, and Karen, sitting on the bench, were both killed. About 30 others were injured by shrapnel.”
What good came from that evil? Karen’s sister joined Doulos to finish the second half of her sister’s two-year commitment. Joe remembers reports of local people committing themselves to follow Jesus the day after the bombing, which was a Sunday. And the impact of that tragedy is still felt today. When Logos Hope was commissioned in 2009, two meeting rooms on board were named after Sofia and Karen; their story is told on ship tours.
A few months before her death, Gayle Williams, a 34-year-old British/South African national serving in Kabul, had a dream: A fruitful tree was cut down and a shoot grew out of the stump. When she prayed about what that dream meant for her, friends recall that God answered Gayle: “You are the fruitful tree.”
Gayle Williams was committed to the Afghan people, especially those with disabilities. She had only been serving in Afghanistan for two years when she was gunned down while walking to work in Kabul in October 2008. Two men on a motorcycle attempted to seize her, but when she fought back, they shot her multiple times and fled. Gayle died at the scene.
Earlier that month, Gayle attended the funeral of Gordon Magney, one of the longest-term workers in Afghanistan, who died of natural causes at age 70 and was buried in Kabul in the foreigners’ cemetery. A few weeks later, her body was lying next to Gordon’s tomb.
Gayle’s death was a devastating blow to the in-county ministry and the Afghan people. But, with thousands of Afghan asylum seekers fleeing to Europe, there is new fruit amongst Afghans. According to Thomas*, an Afghan ministry leader, “throughout the Afghan diaspora many have opened up to God’s grace and become followers. Quite a few (Afghans) have been grafted into the tree Gayle saw.”
Rebecca Barnhart served with OM as a writer and communications leader from 2001-2015, based in Hungary, Austria, England and the US. Currently working as a freelance writer/editor, she remains passionate about telling stories of what God is doing around the globe.