EMU: Deaths of Aid Workers Won't Deter Us from Helping

By: Michael Hyland Email
By: Michael Hyland Email

Ten civilian aid workers, two of whom had ties to the Valley, were in Afghanistan doing charity work for people when they were killed by members of the Taliban, according to officials with the U.S. government and the International Assistance Mission.

In a remote area Thursday, gunmen ambushed their convoy and shot the aid workers.

The bodies of the ten murdered aid workers arrived in Kabul Sunday as friends and family mourned their deaths.

The medical workers were on their way back to the capital city after a two-week humanitarian mission in northern Afghanistan.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack accusing the group of spying and trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.

The U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, strongly denies the charge.

"These were selfless volunteers who devoted themselves to providing free and much-needed health care to Afghans in the most remote and difficult parts of your country," says Eikenberry.

Friends and family of the victims say the risks of their work were understood and part of the price of living there.

The deaths of the aid workers are a dramatic example of the risks many people from the community face in trying to help those in need.

At Eastern Mennonite University, people are grieving the loss of Glen Lapp, who graduated from the school in 1991.

Representatives of the Mennonite Central Committee say say Lapp was due to finish a two-year assignment in Afghanistan in October.

The deaths of Lapp and the nine other aid workers deeply affected Lisa Schirch.

She met Lapp when she went to Afghanistan to do aid work herself.

"I have a great respect for Islam. I work with Muslim people all over the world," says Schirch. "The Taliban are to Islam as the KKK is to Christianity. There's really no relationship with the authentic religion."

"It's always dangerous. We have thousands of alumni around the world and many of them are serving in difficult spots. That's why they're there. We prepare them to do that, to serve and lead in a global context. That's who we are. It's our mission," says EMU President Loren Swartzendruber.

The Taliban claims the mission of this group was to spread Christianity.

"The Taliban and other people can say what they want and it may or may not be true in every case. But, that won't stop us from serving," says Swartzendruber.

He says it's a very fine line workers like Lapp have to walk when doing this kind of humanitarian work.

Schirch says her faith compels her to help those in need. However, these trips are not about preaching the word of God.

"I can be Christian, and I can work with Muslims, and we can be working for peace and development and doing humanitarian work together because of our faith and learning from each other as we do that," says Schirch.

Even given what's happened, she still thinks the preparation people like her receive for these trips is effective.

Schirch says, "We all know that there's risks, but we also are very well trained and think through every situation. Where are we going? Is it worth the risk?"

She says she still plans to return to Afghanistan this fall.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says the Taliban is simply lying about what the group was doing to justify the killings.

In prepared remarks, Clinton says, "We are heartbroken by the loss of these heroic, generous people. And we condemn in the strongest possible terms these vicious murders. We also condemn the Taliban's transparent attempt to justify the unjustifiable by making false accusations about these aid workers' activities in Afghanistan."

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