IRVING, Texas – The Caswells are familiar with pain. The grief they experienced after an Islamic terrorist opened fire on the Baptist hospital in Jibla, Yemen, killing three of their friends and injuring others still brings tears to their eyes.
During a chapel service at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention office, Mar. 3, the International Mission Board missionary couple recounted the events surrounding the fatal day in Baptist history and acknowledged the pain other missionary families are currently enduring after a terrorist bombed an airport in the Philippines last week (see page 15 for full story). Twenty-one people were killed in the explosion at Davao airport, including missionary of 24 years Bill Hyde. The Mark Stevens family, also IMB missionaries, were among the 148 injured.
Teri, the wife of Don Caswell, said God’s sovereignty is demonstrated through the death of Bill Hyde and the physical maladies that befall missionaries serving in other countries.
“One of the things that we learned from our experience is that God is sovereign and even though he saved Don, he chose not to save our three friends,” Teri said, holding back tears. “And it breaks our hearts.”
“Even though some might say the gunman took their lives, he didn’t. God called them home and even though they say this bomber took [Bill Hydes’] life, he didn’t,” said Teri, in an interview with the Southern Baptist Texan. “God called Brother Hyde home and hopefully will use his death just like he is using Martha, Kathy, and Bill’s deaths – to build the church and to make it stronger.”
The Caswells hope the incident at the Filipino airport will open the door for the gospel to be presented in that region. “People are usually so upset about those things happening, that it opens the door for other missionaries to talk about God’s love,” Teri said, calling on her own experience in Yemen.
“For the people of Yemen this has caused a lot of them already to be more open and a little bolder in some of the things they would say,” added Don.
Teri also said instances of political strife or religious upheaval impress Christians with the urgency of sharing the gospel, helping them to give a bolder witness.
“Teri and I are thankful that God spared my life,” said Don Caswell, who was shot twice by the terrorist in Yemen. “Another thing we are thankful for is that God allowed us to go there.”
Don acknowledged in the months that followed the shooting, many people have questioned missionary presence in restricted access countries.
“A lot of people don’t think we shouldn’t be there; they think it is too dangerous,” Don said. “Like we lost another friend over there, Bill Hyde. Two years ago, I was a lot like other people. I thought, ‘We shouldn’t be in the Middle East.’ But the Lord had a different idea and sent us there. Teri and I fell in love with the people there.”
For someone considering entering the mission field, the Caswells give a word of caution to be obedient.
“I would say to continue to pray for God’s direction and God’s leading. Be sure to listen to God and to obey him and not let this cause a lot of fear,” said Don, who after leaving Yemen for a few weeks immediately after the shooting experienced fear at the thought of returning to say goodbye to friends before leaving for the U.S. “We had friends there that got us out so quickly we didn’t get to see anybody. There was some fear for us to go back, but when we got there, because we were obedient to him, God took away the fear. We had a wonderful time that week with our friends and it helped us have some closure.”
Teri remembered friends telling her before leaving for service in Yemen that “the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.”
“Well, we’ve experienced that it’s not always the safest place to be,” said Teri. “It is a dangerous place to be, but it’s the best place to be. If you are not in the center of God’s will and you are not being obedient, then you are going to be miserable. If God is calling someone to missions, then they need to be obedient to God.”
After returning to their home church of First Baptist Church Eustace to heal and await God’s direction for their lives, Don said a favorite Scripture verse now contains a special meaning for the couple. He read Hebrews 13:5a-6: “For he himself has said, ‘I will never leave you, nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?'”
This message of comfort rings true for the Hyde and Stevens family, who like the Caswells, experienced injury at the hands of terrorism. Although Mark Stevens escaped harm, his wife Barbara, son Nathan and 4-year-old daughter Sarah all sustained injuries.
IMB President Jerry Rankin echoed the sentiment that danger is inherent in mission work in a Mar. 5 Baptist Press release
“No location can guarantee safety and security. Missionaries will not be deterred from planting their lives in places of danger in order to take the gospel to those who need it most desperately,” Rankin said. “Many, like Bill Hyde, are willing to give their lives because the Lord of their lives, Jesus Christ, gave his life to bring salvation to the nations.
“God places in their hearts a love for the people that motivates them to go in defiance of the risk involved,” Rankin said. “They go with the conviction that God desires every person and every people group to know his love and experience the salvation and hope that only Jesus provides.”
While missionary families such as the Caswells, Hydes and Stevens cannot cling to a guarantor of safety in mission work, Teri said forgiveness is mandatory. Teri recounted that at First Baptist Eustace the women are going through a Beth Moore Bible study called “Jesus the One and Only.” Just a few days prior, Teri said a verse from the study stuck in her mind.
“[God] is still working on my heart about what we are supposed to do in the future,” she said. “I desperately want to be obedient to him – whether it’s to go back or to stay. But this is what he told me from his word – “[Luke 6:27-36] But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. But if you love those who love you what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same… But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Highest. For he is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”
The Caswells plan to continue as missionaries with the IMB and are prepared to return to Yemen or wherever God directs them.
“We are thankful that God allowed us to be there and hope that soon we’ll be going back on the field, whether that’s Yemen, or wherever the Lord wants us to go.”
Don shared that as he and Teri drove to the SBTC offices in Irving, the song “Press On,” was playing on a local radio station. “That’s what we and all the missionaries do. We press on in Jesus’ name.”
The Caswells also thanked SBTC churches for their encouragement in the form of prayers and support during such a dark time.
“First of all, I want to thank you for the prayers and support for us,” Teri said. “We love you very much. I was privileged to be in on the ground floor of the SBTC and signed the charter that day when we came official.”
Don said he is confident that the length of his healing process from being shot twice by the gunman has been shortened due to the prayers of churches affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
“We’ve felt those prayers. I had surgery that evening and the next day they took us to the capitol of Yemen, which is about a four-hour drive, but I was able to do that in an ambulance, but it’s a pretty rough ride,” he said. “On Wednesday, we got plane tickets and I was in some pain, but I’ve never been in any real bad pain. God has just helped us through that, and I know it’s because of all the prayer.”
“He’s healed so quickly, it’s been amazing!” Teri added.
“I was able, two-days after it happened, to go to the Memorial Service there [in Yemen],” Don added. “Every day, he just healed me more and more till now I’m completely healed.”
Teri added that their three sons, Jason, Ben and Caleb are adjusting well in spite of the fear and anxiety of the previous months.
“They’ve adjusted to all this, and I know also that is because of prayer. They talk about it, they express themselves about it and they are as healthy as they can be in a situatin like that.”
Although the Caswells are healing and preparing to return to the mission field, the couple asked for continued prayer in the area of wisdom to perceive God’s direction for their lives.
“It is our desire to be on the mission field again, if that’s Yemen then we’ll go there or wherever he wants us to go.”