What kind of people choose to work in Afghanistan?

What kind of people choose to work in Afghanistan? All summer long the press has debated the war in that land-locked Islamic kingdom. But with one stunning headline last weekend, the world was reminded of a radically different mission quietly advancing inside that war-ravaged nation—a humanitarian medical mission to the impoverished villages of the remote northern province of Nuristan.

Team leader Tom Little, an upstate New York optometrist, spent more than three decades in the country, mastering the Dari language, offering eye care to remote villages, all the while raising three daughters with his wife in the chaos of the capital Kabul. Tom Graham, 51, quit his Durango, Colorado, dental practice four years ago to work full time providing free dental care to poor children in Afghanistan and Nepal, distributing thousands of tooth brushes to grinning children whose smiles would never be the same again. Dan Terry, 64, had lived in the country since 1980 with his wife and three daughters, working among impoverished ethnic groups. Cheryl Becket, 32, a biologist and daughter of a Knoxville pastor, had spent the last six years in the country specializing in nutritional gardening and mother-child health. Karen Woo, 36, a surgeon, gave up her private clinic practice in London to work among the Afghans and was looking forward to her wedding back home the end of this month. In a blog post before setting off on their humanitarian mission two weeks ago, Woo wrote: “The expedition will require a lot of physical and mental resolve and will not be without risk, but ultimately, I believe that the provision of medical treatment is of fundamental importance and that the effort is worth it in order to assist those that need it most.”

As it turned out, the risk was fatal. Their two-week mission completed, these five aid workers and five other colleagues had stopped at a roadside restaurant for lunch, when they were gunned down by ten masked Taliban warriors, who in a text message justified their killings because of the Christianity of the aid workers. In response, Dirk Fran, director of International Assistance Mission, the Kabul-based charity sponsoring the expedition, declared, “Our faith motivates and inspires us—but we do not proselytize,” noting that it was likely the aid workers were carrying personal Bibles in English and German but not in Afghan languages as the Taliban alleged (Associated Press on-line, August 9, 2010).

One cannot help but bow in admiration over the sacrificial lengths some professionals will go to for the sake of their calling and mission.

That’s certainly true when it comes to the profession of teaching. Standing on the sidelines (as I have the privilege of doing) in a community teeming with professional teachers—from crowded elementary classrooms to tiered university amphitheaters (in both the private and public sectors)—I have long admired the immense dedication of these men and women who have cheerfully and sacrificially invested their careers in shaping the next generation. The lengths that our faithful teachers go to in order to challenge a mind and touch a heart for Christ are astounding. And you can be sure they’ll be found with them, too—in their offices, beside their bedsides—their personal Bibles in their own languages.

Today we acknowledge our teachers and their Bibles—for it is in that combination that the mission of Christ is most powerfully lived out on earth, whether in Afghanistan or Berrien Springs. And for them and for that I am deeply grateful.