City missionaries reflect on Yemen violence

The killing of three Christian missionaries in Yemen last week hasn’t deterred the efforts of a Manassas-based group that does medical work overseas.

“Some people say that we shouldn’t do it all, that people should be left to their own devices,” said Dr. Gilbert Irwin, founder and president of Medical Missionaries.”My view is that we need to reach out to people, extend a positive hand.”

Irwin, 60, says his group has been fortunate to work in places where people are friendly.

“It depends on where you go,” he said. “And in the Middle East, it is different.”

Last Monday, Muslim extremists shot dead three American Christian missionaries in a hospital in Yemen. The incident was the deadliest in the 157-year history of Richmond-based International Mission Board, the organization to which the missionaries belonged.

A little over a month before, on Nov. 21, a U.S. missionary nurse was shot and killed in Lebanon.

“They hurt their own people, because now they don’t have [the missionaries] to take care of the sick, children and others,” Irwin said.

Since its beginning in 1997, groups of Medical Missionaries volunteers have provided medical services to communities in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Nigeria. More than 100 people are active in the group, which in addition to its expeditions also ships medical aid to disadvantaged communities throughout the world, as well as in the United States.

One of Medical Missionaries largest projects at this time is raising the $250,000 it needs to build a hospital in rural Haiti.

Volunteers with the group go through a training orientation before going overseas, says Bob Wilson, 65, a local pharmacist and member. Expeditions are always led by someone with experience from previous missions.

Other precautions are also taken. When Wilson went with a group to Nigeria, for example, they made sure to check in at the U.S. embassy.

Wilson admits that the political situation in some foreign countries may pose a problem. But rough conditions and exposure to diseases are greater worries for volunteers, he said.

“I’d think twice about walking around downtown [Washington,] D.C. more than (a city in Nigeria),” he said.

What’s important is that highly paid professionals such as doctors, dentists, pharmacists and engineers take time to help those in need in other countries, Wilson said.

“They can say it is too hard for whatever reason,” he said. “But no, they say, ‘To heck with it. We can’t give up. We got to keep trying.'”

Staff writer Chris Newmarker can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 119.

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