Subscribe to Christianity Today
Stranger in a Strange Land
I never met Bonnie Penner Witherall, the 31-year-old American Christian who was killed on November 21 at an evangelical clinic in Sidon, Lebanon where she worked as a nurse's assistant. I wish that I had. Maybe I will someday.
In an email message sent to prayer partners and friends on October 21, Witherall wrote:
I am so excited to be a part of what God is doing in this part of the world. Really, I feel blessed to be here and the longer I'm here the more I love it. For some time now, I have felt an increasing burden for the Palestinians in Saida [Sidon]. The ministry at our clinic is more then half to Palestinian women from the Ain Helowe [Ein el-Hilweh] Refugee Camp. This camp is actually the largest in Lebanon and perhaps the largest in the area. The situation in the camp is very bad. There is extreme poverty and constant tension and the women who visit the clinic from the camp tell me that they live in fear constantly. The camp is in some ways like a prison.
She went on to lament restrictions that prevented foreigners from entering the camps: "It takes a lot of visits … in order to really communicate the gospel to these women [—] you need to have a relationship or friendship with them."
At the time of this writing, it has not been established who killed Witherall and why. But the ministry that she and her husband, Gary, shared was a holistic one which included person-to-person evangelizing. Muslim leaders in Sidon had spoken out against this ministry.
Indeed, The New York Times' report on the killing (November 22, 2002) implied that Witherall herself and other Christians were ultimately responsible for her death:
"We told her she might be vulnerable to insults or even being hit and she answered that she would consider it an honor," said Bishop George Kwaiter, the archbishop of the Roman Catholic diocese, speaking at a gathering of Christian and Muslim religious leaders who condemned the shooting.
"We don't accept this kind of preaching," he said of the proselytizing. "We ...