A Tribute to Bonnie
November 25, 2002
Bonnie entered our lives like a whirlwind. Gary, a friend of Ryan, my oldest son, moved in with us in the winter of 1997. A Brit by birth he spoke with an English accent and a sparkle in his eyes. But that sparkle glistened when he spoke of Bonnie.
Finally, we met her. What a smile! What a personality! What a love for God! I had the privilege of walking them through premarital counseling. And the greater privilege of watching her walk down the aisle toward her husband, as Celtic music played in the background. I cried during the weeding -- I loved them deeply. And then I pronounced them husband and wife.
For three years they worked at a bank in Portland, Oregon. We spent untold hours together--laughing, talking, enjoying life. I grew to love them deeply.
Eventually they moved to Lebanon because they felt called by God to care for hurting people they felt needed them the most. In her last email, written four days before her death, she penned these words: "I had a wonderful walk. Every morning I take a walk along the boardwalk here in Saida. I was listening to my praise music and walking and singing along to the music. I felt this overwhelming joy in being here in this place and also believe that God is here with us. Thank you for all of you who have really prayed for us the last few weeks. It seems like lots of good things are happening for us in the way of ministry."
On Thursday, November 21, at 11:00 AM a reporter called my home to talk with me about the killing of a missionary in Lebanon. I didn't know what he was talking about. "Bonnie Witherall was shot in the head three times," he said. "No," I said. "You must be talking about someone else. You don't mean Bonnie Witherall."
"She was killed Mr. Perkins. Didn't you know?" I began to weep--uncontrollably. "Call me back in two hours," I managed to say between sobs.
I'm still crying for a woman who loved God and was struck down in her youth. I'm crying for her husband who will never hear her laugh, bathe in her smile or melt in her embrace. I weep for the women of Lebanon who had grown to love Bonnie.
And then I recall the words of my oldest son, Ryan--one of Gary's closest friends. "Dad, she died living for what she believed. How many people can say they have dedicated their lives to something for which they will die?" My son comforted me with those words. And I contemplated them. I still am.
I spoke with Gary this past Friday. He said the night before her death Bonnie boldly shared her testimony with a group of women who met to discuss spiritual truth. She taught from Hebrews 10. Little did she know that in a few short hours she would join the martyrs of Hebrews 11.
"My last memory of her occurred the night before her death," Gary said. "She would get up to go to the restroom and roll over me. When she would return to bed she would always jump on me. Not to wake me up," he assured me. "It was her way of saying she loved me."
Early the next morning Gary got the call that she had been shot in the head. He rushed around his apartment searching for money for a cab. "I finally found some change and raced downstairs where I hailed an old Mercedes. About a quarter-mile from the clinic where she worked, the driver stopped to buy petrol. I leaped from the car and ran to the clinic. When I got there the guards would not let me in. They held me back. Her brains were blown out and they didn't want me to see her."
And then Gary made an amazing statement. "They should have killed me," he said. "Now I'll be more aggressive than ever in proclaiming Christ."
Bonnie's story is now on 6,000 websites. It was a major story in the London Times, NY Times, The Oregonian and many other papers in the world. Every major television news network has carried her story on consecutive days. South Korea declared a day of prayer. The widow of Keith Green called Gary and offered to help him in the next two years as he grieves and tells Bonnie's story around the world. A publisher has already approached him about a book. The police chief of Portland, who knew her, called her a Jr. Mother Teresa. A European journalist called her a 21st century Joan of Ark.
To me she was Bonnie. And I loved her.
Please join me in praying for Gary--his loss is great, as is his platform to extend God's grace. Pray for her parents, Al and Ann--they have suffered a loss you and I hope we will never know. And pray for her sister Cheryl and brother-in-law, Jason.
Please pray for me and my family. There is a massive hole in our lives--we are heartbroken. Pray that we might be wrapped in the warm blanket of God's mercy, so we can wrap it around others who grieve.