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Total Abandon?

October 1, 2007

Last evening we sat on the edge of our seats as OM’s Gary Witherall told the story of his wife’s martyrdom. Bonnie Witherall was working as a nurse in Sidon, Lebanon, when an extremist shot and killed her (you may remember the news reports). You could hear a pin drop as Gary described his rush to the scene on that dark morning to learn of Bonnie’s sacrifice.

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Following her death, Greg Kernaghan paid the following tribute. It also serves as a challenge to our ‘cushioned-Christianity’ in the West:

Some people talk about being on the cutting edge; some actually live there. Fewer choose to dwell on the bleeding edge of humanity, where nothing is humanly certain except great need, where risk defies other definitions, where light shines the brighter for the enveloping darkness. Sidon in Lebanon is such a place, and Bonnie and Gary Witherall were some of those few.

I was privileged to stay with them just four days before Bonnie was murdered. They lived close to an area so fanatical and violent that it is off limits even to local police. They knew the risks, the potential cost, but they also knew that God had placed them there. Their daily life was defined by numerous friendships they had made in every level of society. They embraced the Arabic language and culture, yet made no effort as foreigners to hide. They were visible, available, approachable.

I know this, because the short time I spent with them was given to walking the streets and visiting people. It seemed that every few hundred metres a shopkeeper would rush out to greet them with kisses and proffer hospitality. We spent part of one evening in sidewalk cafes where, in retrospect, all of us were easy targets. Yet Gary and Bonnie were focused not on their own security but on embracing and helping others.

In the middle of Ramadan, Gary and I walked through the city until near sunrise. (He had already completed a prayer walk throughout the length of the country that took one week). If we weren’t visiting his friends one after another, he would be telling of other contacts he had come to love and was helping in practical ways. Some of these people had dangerous associations, but again Gary and Bonnie saw them as people in need.

Bonnie was committed to saving and improving lives. Her work at a church-run pre-natal clinic catering to Palestinian women was the joy and drive of her life in Lebanon. She felt honoured to have such an opening into families through this service. Only God knows how many lives of women and their babies have been literally saved through this work (infant mortality among Palestinians is four times that of the USA). Gary and Bonnie came to Lebanon to bring life-not take it.

It is difficult to understand who would despise such loving service enough to fire three bullets point blank into her head. Bonnie was killed for being who she was, for refusing to run from hatred and for bringing dignity to a suffering people that the world has ignored. It would be easy, even natural, for us to draw back from this atrocity; to lash out in hate against whole nations or peoples; to seek revenge; to stereotype one-fifth of mankind. But Bonnie and Gary would, I believe, call us to something perhaps difficult yet supernatural: to be different because God’s way is different. To increase our concern, prayer and action on behalf of all the peoples of the Middle East. To refuse to accept the status quo either in the Middle East or in our own comfort zones. To step forward and stand in the heart-breaking gap Bonnie has left. There will never be a better time.

Greg Kernaghan, November 21,2002.
(from OM website)

I commend Gary Witherall’s book Total Abandon, which is a riveting account of his story.

2 comments

  1. This was certainly a sad story and I am happy to see her husband try and redeem the evil and her loss–but isn’t it a stretch to call her death “martyrdom”? As I understand it, she was killed because she was an American. Maybe I am wrong?


  2. Yes, i believe you are. We are all something, male, female, polish, armerican, more than likely these days a mix of many, etc. Bonnie went somewhere where she knew she was in danger to serve out the love of Christ and died for it. She is a martyr and thank God for people with her strength of conviction.



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