North American Mennonites honour aid worker killed in Afghanistan

By staff writers
August 12, 2010

Mennonites in North America are reflecting with sadness, but also hope, on the life of a development worker killed in Afghanistan last week.

Glen D. Lapp of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was a worker with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). He was murdered with nine other aid staff in Afghanistan's northeastern Badakhshan province. He was 40 years old at the time of his death.

Since MCC does not have a programme in Afghanistan, Lapp, a nurse, worked with the International Assistance Mission. IAM provides eye care and medical help in Afghanistan. Lapp organised mobile eye camps in the remote areas of Afghanistan.

Lapp was travelling home with an IAM medical team of four Afghans, six Americans, one Briton and one German after a two-week 'eye camp' trip. Local police found 10 bodies on 6 August next to abandoned vehicles. One Afghan team member travelled home via another route and is safe. Another Afghan survived the attack and is being questioned by the police.

Local police said robbery might have been the motive. The Taliban has said it is behind the attack.

During a press conference on 9 August, Ron Flaming, director of international programmes for Mennonite Central Committee, declared: "We don't know why the team was attacked and by whom."

Flaming described Lapp as someone who was always willing to help but also humble.

He said MCC has one other staff person placed in Afghanistan and confirmed she is safe. The Mennonite relief and dvelopment agency has not made any decisions about the future of this staff member in Afghanistan.

"The whole issue of security of workers is an ongoing concern," Flaming said. "We assess this on a regular basis."

He added that IAM's security plan went through assessment by outside security analysts and scored high. IAM has worked in Afghanistan for more than 40 years, and Flaming said he hopes they continue their work there.

The IAM has categorically rejected Taliban claims that 10 staffers from the Christian aid agency who were killed in Afghanistan had been trying to convert Muslims.

Some organisations in Afghanistan have guards with weapons. "Mennonite Central Committee would be reluctant to do that," a spokesperson said.

MCC, which is an agency of one the the 'historic peace churches' in North America, partnered with IAM because they have similar views on nonviolence and do not use or carry weapons.

MCC celebrated its 90th anniversary this summer. Flaming said this is the "only the third violent death" in the organization's 90 years.

In a phone interview on 9 August, Flaming described how the MCC community grieves this tradegy. First, meetings and phone calls with staff keep individuals informed, as well as offering resources from their worker care coordinator and employee assistance programme. Second, they prioritise keeping international staff informed and inviting them to share with the headquarters and with each other.

Flaming also said he is concerned when some media outlets ask, "Isn't this an example of the terrible things Muslims are doing?"

"Glen would want us to know that the vast majority of Afghans are desperate for peace," Flaming said. "They are deeply mourning the people they love. It's a deep loss for them as well." For some remote areas of Afghanistan, this is the only medical care they had access to, he said.

Lapp had been in Afghanistan with MCC since 2008. His two-year term was scheduled to end in October. Lapp wrote this in a report: "Where I was [Afghanistan], the main thing that expats can do is be a presence in the country, treating people with respect and with love and trying to be a little bit of Christ in this part of the world ... MCC is very much involved in peace-building in Afghanistan, and my hope is that MCC can continue along that vein and continue to help this country work toward peace on many different social, ethnic and economic levels."

Lapp was the son of Marvin and Mary Lapp and a member of Community Mennonite Church in Lancaster. He worked as a nurse in Lancaster, New York City and Supai, Arizona and was a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia.

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