Read an Excerpt
A MARTYR'S GRACE
By Marvin J. Newell
Copyright © 2006
Marvin J. Newell
All right reserved.
Bonnie Penner Witherall
"Help me to remember these four words: 'This is My doing'"
Born: October 12,1971, California
Graduated from Moody: 2000
Country of Service: Lebanon
Mission: OM/Christian & Missionary Alliance
Ministry: Clinic worker
Martyrdom: 2002, age 31, Sidon
Bonnie is the latest, but almost certainly not to be the final, martyr
of Moody Bible Institute. She was an energetic, full-of-life, risk-taking
woman who loved God and loved showing His love to the unloved. But
Bonnie was more than a martyr. She was a living example of how God
can take a young life and mold it over time into one fully surrendered
to Him, making it a delight to Himself and to others.
Bonnie walked and talked with God. Not that she was perfect, as
her husband, Gary, would attest. She was a woman who over time
learned to commune with God. She recorded her conversations with
Him in a journal. Through it they talked back and forth with each
other-like God desires all His children to do.
Bonnie may well have been talking to God on that fateful
November 2002 morning as she walked from her seaside apartment
to the prenatal clinic where she cared for disadvantagedpregnant
women. She could have been so caught up with God's presence that
she was unaware of being followed by a gunman who was intent on
taking her life.
Arriving at her destination, she stepped up to the entrance, turned
a key, and gained entry to the small Christian complex that housed a
chapel and clinic. This Christian outpost was centered in the midst of
an overwhelmingly Muslim majority population and served the disadvantaged.
Displaced, expectant Palestinian mothers especially took
advantage of the clinic's prenatal services. Loving care rarely found
anywhere else, but provided by Bonnie along with two other staff
members, drew these women to the clinic.
Bonnie and Gary knew they were living and ministering in a cutting-edge,
high-risk corner of God's harvest field. They lived next to an
area so fanatical and violent that it was off-limits even to the local
police. Their surroundings were a stark contrast from where they had
Two years earlier they had chosen to leave their comfortable
American lifestyle in Portland, Oregon, to minister on the bleeding
edge of humanity where nothing was certain except violence and
great spiritual need. They did not go in ignorance. They knew the risk
and understood the potential cost, but went anyway. They were certain
God had called them there. They were totally abandoned to His
Bonnie now passed along the side of the chapel and then climbed
a set of stairs leading to the second-floor clinic. Turning a second key,
she entered the clinic's main room. It was then that she realized
someone was behind her. As she turned to greet the person she
expected to be her first patient of the day, three shots rang out.
Bullets fired at point-blank range struck her squarely in the head.
Instantly her body fell to the floor. Streams of blood flowed from her
wounds. Her spirit soared into her Savior's presence. She was now
with her closest Friend.
Bonnie had not always experienced an intimate walk with God.
Like a blossoming flower, her relationship with God was one that
developed and grew over time until reaching full bloom.
Growing Up in the Northwest
Born in northern California, she was raised in Vancouver, Washington,
where her father worked for an oil company and delighted in
raising his family on a quaint hillside farm. In this idyllic setting
Bonnie Penner grew up riding horses, walking fields, watching stars,
and sledding across the frozen pond. In this environment she developed
into a strong-spirited girl who did not shy away from adventure.
Blessed with loving parents, she learned early about God's provision
of a Savior. One Sunday morning after church when Bonnie was
ten years old, her mother led as she placed her trust in Christ.
However, Bonnie was a strong-willed child, and there were many
times as a teenager when her willfulness got her into trouble. She was
sensitive enough toward the feelings of others, though, that if she
knew she had hurt or offended someone, she would ask forgiveness
and make things right. She went through emotional highs and lows
and spiritual ups and downs, but was learning to let God have His
way. God's molding was refining her stubborn, willful character.
Preparation and Life Partner
Following high school Bonnie placed herself in another of God's
molds-training at the Moody Bible Institute. A few months of study
with Torchbearers in southern Germany helped her gain a deeper
appreciation for God and His Word. Moody became her school of
choice for further learning and character shaping.
Not all was smooth sailing at Moody. While there she experienced
struggles with doubt and rebellion that brought her close to jettisoning
her relationship with God altogether.
In the end, though the process was excruciating, God won her
heart. Totally surrendered from that point on, she never questioned
God's plan for her and His presence in her life.
It was then that she began her regular intimate times with God:
Father, I want most of all to be completely surrendered to You. Lord, more
than anything I need Your fellowship ... If there is something in my life
that is keeping me from experiencing You in a deeper way, forgive me. I
need You. Lord, create in me a clean heart. Reveal to me even now where
I need to change to be more like You!
In a beautiful wedding, Bonnie was married to classmate Gary
Witherall in 1997. Despite a happy marriage and successful professional
careers in Portland for both of them over the next three years,
the mission-trained couple was feeling dissatisfied and out of place.
They had it all-money, cars, a house-but keenly felt the emptiness
of the secular mold into which the world had squeezed them. Surely
God had more in store for them than this.
They began searching out ministry possibilities, but they became
frustrated over several overseas ministry options they pursued that
never panned out. Finally one day while on her knees pleading with
God, Bonnie distinctly felt Him say to her, I have not called you to a
place; I have called you to Myself. That realization made all the difference
in the world. She and Gary were now completely surrendered to
whatever possibility God had for them. Bonnie could now write in her
I don't know what God has for us, but I want to be available to go....
I feel like God has me blindfolded and is leading me along a path I don't
quite understand. But I will follow Him.
Not long afterward, Bonnie and Gary became convinced that God
was pointing them to Sidon, Lebanon. In obedience, they quit their
jobs, sold their possessions, packed their bags, said their good-byes,
and were off to that Mediterranean port city. Operation Mobilization
in partnership with the Christian and Missionary Alliance had a
strategic ministry waiting for them:
Lord, here we are in the Middle East. How many people will die in this
city of Sidon today without knowing You? How can I worry about my life
or Gary's life when tens of thousands of people may die and face eternal
damnation today? Lord, my life is already hidden with You. I know You.
I have the truth. There is nothing they can take from me!
In September 2001 Bonnie started working at the prenatal clinic.
She struggled with God about her new job and her long desire to have
her own baby.
Dear Lord, I want to first of all thank You for helping me yesterday at the
clinic. I was nervous because it was my first day, but I thank You because
You gave me the courage and the strength to do fit. God, I just want to
surrender all my plans to You today. I want to give You the complete,
utter control in my life. I want to lift You high above all else.
Five months later, Bonnie's walk with the Lord and fellowship with
Him was deepening.
Still wrestling with the disappointment of not being pregnant,
Bonnie could still say to Him:
God, You are the Lord of our circumstances. We did not come to Lebanon
by accident-we are exactly where You meant for us to be. Lord, I want
to worship You in the place where You've put me today. Help me to
remember these four words: "This is My doing."
Then as summer came, Bonnie radiantly announced to Gary that
she was pregnant! Her heart was filled with inexpressible joy. What
she had waited for so long was now to be a reality. She was going to
have a baby! Bonnie began buying baby clothes and making all those
preparations expectant mothers do before their child arrives. Since
she worked at a prenatal clinic, she would compare notes about body
changes and morning sickness with the others.
Disappointment and Death
But then gladness turned to sudden sadness when in August her
dreams were dashed with a miscarriage. Divine molding, though
painful, continued to do its work. That devastating disappointment
brought the ever-trusting Bonnie into deeper fellowship with her
God, I know that You love me and I know that everything that happens
in our lives is for our good. God, You alone know how much I wanted this
baby. Thank You, Lord, that Your ways are perfect and that You love and
care for me so much. God, I want to trust You again for another child.
God, I want Your will to be accomplished in my life, not my own. It still
hurts, God, not to have this baby, but I know it was the best for Gary and
me. I want to thank You for Your mercy and kindness. Even though at the
time I don't recognize it as Your mercy, I know You love us and the last
thing You want to do is hurt us. God, help me to trust You. Help me to
draw close to You during this time.
At a time when many would have cracked, questioned, quit, or
turned their backs on God, Bonnie drew ever closer to her intimate
friend. He alone understood and could bring comfort.
Two months later, just days before her life was taken, Bonnie
reflected on the importance of the unconditional love she was asked
to give day after day at the clinic. She reminds all who would serve
God by serving the poor and the weak and the oppressed with the
Jesus says to us that when we give a cup of water to "the least of these"
we do it unto Him. Every time someone at the clinic asks me for a cup of
water I give it to them, knowing I'm giving it to someone Jesus loves and
Bonnie died on that cold cement floor in a pool of blood while
giving that cup of love.
Since Bonnie's death, Gary has been speaking powerfully
throughout North America and Europe. He is seeking one thousand
students who will become missionaries-one thousand who will fill
Bonnie's shoes. After speaking in two chapel services at Moody in
December 2002, dozens of students packed the front of Torrey-Gray
auditorium to surrender themselves anew to Christ and His cause. At
Nyack College in February 2003, the stage set up in Bowman Gym
became an altar flooded with students surrendering themselves to
devotion and service to Christ. This same kind of impact is being
repeated again and again as Gary continues to speak in schools,
churches, and youth groups, telling Bonnie's story.
To those who would ponder her selfless example, Bonnie has left
a lasting challenge from her journal:
Dear Jesus, Today I read in Your Word about loving our enemies. God,
we have so many enemies these days.... In Romans 12 You tell us not
to repay anyone evil for evil, but rather to be careful to do what is right
in the eyes of everybody. To live at peace with all men.
Hattie J. Rice
"Salt of the earth"
Born: 1858, Haydenville, Massachusetts
Graduated from Moody: 1892
Country of Service: China
Mission: China Inland Mission
Ministry: Bible teaching/drug rehabilitation
Martyrdom: 1900, age 42, Kao-ping, Shanxi province
As Hattie trudged barefoot and half-naked in the intense July
heat, it may have dawned on her that her flight for life could end in
death. Because she was starved, dehydrated, and in a state of perpetual
thirst, her resolve surely wore down with every painful step her
blistered feet took. She never would have thought that the people she
had come to love and serve would turn so violent and cruel-treating
her and her fleeing companions worse than animals. Yet, the poison
of the Boxers had agitated the Chinese populace into such frenzy that
there remained no place of refuge for her or any foreigner in the
north-central province of Shanxi. Totally exhausted, Hattie thought
she would not be able to bear up under any additional hardship. But
the worst was yet to come. What a contrast the end of her life was
from the beginning.
New England Upbringing
Hattie was horn in 1858 in the rolling hills of western
Massachusetts. The picturesque village of Haydenville where she grew
up was nestled in some of the loveliest hill country in New England.
As they do now, people in the 1800s would come from distances to
enjoy the beautiful fall foliage of the area. It was in this setting that
Hattie was nurtured in a warm Christian home. Attending the town's
Congregational church with her family, she learned early her need for
Following graduation from high school, Hattie became a schoolteacher.
She took a position at the Haydenville public school and soon
gained the reputation of being a loving, caring teacher. Her strong
Christian character made her a positive role model for her students.
It was while she was teaching that she learned about evangelist
D. L. Moody, whose fame was growing. She also heard about the two
schools he had recently founded, Northfield and Mount Hermon, not
more than thirty miles from her home. In 1886 Mr. Moody invited college
students from around the country for a twenty-six-day training
conference at Mount Hermon. From this group the Holy Spirit called
one hundred to declare in writing their intent to give themselves
to world evangelization. Branded the "Mount Hermon 100," they
became the impetus for the formation of the Student Volunteer
Movement two years later.
That was when Hattie showed up at the annual conference. In
1888 she attended the Northfield Convention where she heard
Moody and other well-known speakers teach and preach on the spiritual
need of the world. Hudson Taylor was one of the speakers, giving
a passionate plea for the unreached millions of China. His appeal
so gripped Hattie that she went back to her home a changed woman.
She now had no other desire but to follow God's call to China.
Obstacles and Preparation
Back in Haydenville, Hattie encountered obstacle after obstacle
that threw her into times of discouragement. On the one hand, she
continued in her teaching role that she loved so much, but on the
other, she continued to feel keenly God's call to China. Yet she did
not have the means or opportunity to go to college for the training
needed. It was at this time of crisis that a friend came to her and suggested
she attend Moody's Bible school in Chicago. She was even
given the assurance that her church would provide the necessary
means of making her education possible. Hattie was delighted and
now confident that her calling would be realized. She resigned her
position and made plans to go to Moody's school. In a letter of recommendation
to the school, H. G. Smith, the clerk of her church,
summed up her reputation by stating, "She is a lady of most estimable
Christian character and one of whom it can truthfully be said is 'the
salt of the earth.'"
Hattie entered Moody Bible Institute (then called Chicago Bible
Institute) in September 1890. She spent the next year and a half training
to be a missionary, graduating in March of 1892. On her record
the summary evaluation of her time at Moody succinctly stated that
she was "Sensible. Faithful. Devoted. Will make an excellent missionary."
How prophetic those words were to be.
Having completed her studies at Moody, she left for Toronto to
await appointment under the China Inland Mission (CIM). After visiting
family and friends and gaining the support of her Haydenville
church, she sailed for China in December of 1892.
First Years in China
Hattie arrived in Shanghai in early 1893. She began her missionary
career in the city of Yang-chau, where she studied the language
and culture of the Chinese people. Following that, she was assigned
to the CIM work at Lu-ch'eng, Shanxi province. Along with her
coworkers, the Lawsons, and another single woman, Mary Huston, the
work was able to expand.
Excerpted from A MARTYR'S GRACE
by Marvin J. Newell
Copyright © 2006 by Marvin J. Newell.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.