'Lord, Don't let a root of bitterness grow'
February 14 2003 by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor

'Lord, don't let a root of bitterness grow' | Friday, Feb. 14, 2003

Friday, Feb. 14, 2003

'Lord, don't let a root of bitterness grow'

By Tony W. Cartledge BR Editor

CHARLESTON - The phone call came as Teri Caswell was having breakfast with her son Caleb on the last Monday morning of 2002.

It was Oksana, a Russian pharmacist who worked with her husband. "Teri, did you know that Don's been hurt?"

Don was a pharmacist at Jibla Baptist Hospital in Yemen, where he and Teri were on a two-year missionary assignment with the International Mission Board (IMB). Because the hospital was about to be transitioned out of IMB hands, Don and Teri had spent the previous Saturday moving from the hospital compound, preparing for a new ministry. Don wasn't scheduled to work that Monday, but had come in to make up for taking Saturday off - and now he was hurt.

Teri pleaded for details, but Oksana would say only that "a crazy man" had hurt Don.

What she would not say is that she had seen the lone gunman shoot Don at point-blank range, aiming the last three bullets from his nine-millimeter revolver at the Texan's midsection, missing only once.

What she would not say is that the gunman had also fired with deadly accuracy at hospital administrator Bill Koehn, obstetrician-gynecologist Martha Myers, and supply manager Kathy Gariety, bringing their early morning staff meeting to a bloody and fatal conclusion.

What she would not say is that the hospital staff did not learn of the three deaths until Don was rushed to the operating room and surgeon Judy Williams sent an aide to tell "Mr. Bill" about the shooting.

The aide returned to say "Mr. Bill's been shot."

And "Dr. Martha has been shot."

And "Kathy has been shot."

Don sought to absorb each new revelation as he lay on the operating room table and wondered if he would die, too.

It truly registered with him "when they rolled Dr. Martha into the operating room, near my feet, and I could tell she had already gone to be with the Lord," Don said.

A male Yemeni nurse wept profusely as he shaved Don's stomach in preparation for exploratory surgery, his tears raining on his work.

As Teri was imagining what might have happened, frantically calling the offices of people now dead in hopes of learning more, Don was praying that Teri would arrive at the hospital before he went under the anesthesia.

She did - barely.

When she could get no details from Oksana, Teri had roused her older son to watch over Caleb, and then jumped into the car for a frightening dash back to the hospital, where she had dropped her husband off for work less than two hours before.

Soldiers had already arrived and were barring the gate, but she knew just enough Arabic to convince them that her husband was inside, and they let her through.

A hospital administrator explained that a terrorist had killed Koehn, Myers and Gariety before wounding her husband. He then took her to the operating room where Don, despite his injuries, was trying to encourage the surgeons and keep their spirits up.

"Remember I'm allergic to bullets," he warned them.

Teri found some comfort in visiting her husband and knowing that he was in good hands. But when she went into the hall and looked into an adjacent room, "I saw Mr. Bill and Dr. Martha and Kathy, with their bodies covered, and I knew at that moment it was not a bad dream," she said. "It was really happening."

And in those moments she remembered that Kathy and Dr. Martha had taught her son Caleb in Sunday School just the day before. He was the only one in the class, and they had focused on forgiveness.

The five-year-old had been in an altercation with a local boy earlier in the week. Caleb wound up with a cut on his head and Dr. Martha had bandaged it for him.

Kathy and Dr. Martha wanted Caleb to learn that even when other people are different, even when they do something mean, Christians should love them, should forgive them.

Looking at the bodies of people who had loved the Yemenis with all their hearts, who had remained in Yemen despite the risk, who had taught her son about forgiveness, Teri prayed.

"Lord, don't let a root of bitterness grow toward these people."

And she sensed an affirmative answer. "God gave me a supernatural ability to forgive," she said. Teri remembered that Paul had been on the road to Damascus for the purpose of killing Christians when Christ revealed Himself in a blinding light.

Thinking of the gunman, now in custody, boasting that his deed had earned him a martyr's place in heaven, she prayed that God might shine a light on him as He did on Paul, that the man might come to know Christ.

The Caswells spent that night in Jibla. The next morning, an ambulance arrived from the American embassy to transport them to San'a, Yemen's capital. They stayed overnight and attended a memorial service for their slain colleagues before being flown to a hotel in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. Dr. Judy Williams accompanied them and tended to Don's wounds. Trained counselors helped them begin to heal spiritually and emotionally.

Two and a half weeks later, the Caswells were back in Jibla. They walked through the hospital with the counselors and saw where the others died. They examined the room where Don was wounded, replaying the scenario, imagining how he spun after the first shot, taking the next one on the opposite side. They traced where the bullets had scarred the floor and left holes in a cabinet door and the ceiling.

Don remembered the sense of peace he had felt when he realized that he could not duck behind the counter in time, that he was about to be shot. He wondered if it would hurt, if he would die. He felt the first bullet, and it really did hurt, he said. He heard the next two shots, but did not feel the second one strike.

Caswell landed face down on the floor and lay there, anticipating a killing blow that didn't come. The gunman walked out of the room, pointed and clicked the empty gun at two other hospital personnel, then laid it on the floor.

And Don began to pray in earnest. "I asked God if he was going to take me now. I said 'that's okay if it's what you want, but I really don't want to leave Teri and the boys yet.'"

He didn't have to. One of the bullets had passed through Don's left side; the other remained lodged deep in the muscle tissue above his right thigh. Neither entered the abdominal cavity.

Don is convinced that God was at work, saving his life from a man who did not miss in killing his three previous victims. Both he and Teri believe God saved them for a purpose, that there is yet something special God wants them to do.

But they also know there is a corollary to their belief that God actively spared Don's life, for it implies an equally conscious choice not to save the veteran missionaries who died just down the hall. They accept that. "Even if a gunman takes their lives, it is God calling them home," Teri said. "He's going to use their deaths in a special way to do His work in Yemen."

The Caswells don't yet know what task lies ahead for them, but they said wherever God leads, they'll go - even if it is back to Jibla.

(EDITOR'S NOTE - The shootings described in this story took place Dec. 30 and have been widely reported. Don and Teri Caswell recounted their experience to members of the Association of State Baptist Papers, meeting in Charleston, S.C. on Feb. 6. The Caswells recently returned to the United States and will live in Texas.)

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2/14/2003 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge , BR Editor | with 0 comments
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