Woodlawn Christian Church Senior Pastor Charles Beckett says his daughter, Cheryl, was a "mercy" worker, as were the 9 other humanitarian aid workers found dead beside her in Afghanistan Friday. He called whoever was responsible for their deaths the antithesis of that mercy.
Rev. Beckett described his eldest daughter as someone who could've done anything.
"She was the kind of person that didn't demand people follow her, she was the kind of person people just wanted to follow and listen to because they trusted her," Rev. Beckett said.
Years ago, Cheryl, 32, was offered a scholarship to continue post-graduate study at Johns Hopkins University.
"She declined, because she felt called to do something else," Rev. Beckett explained, growing teary-eyed.
One question drove her choice.
"She tried to figure out, 'What is it that God wants to do with my life?'" Rev. Beckett explained.
The answer eventually came -- Afghanistan and humanitarian aid. During her 6 years there, Cheryl became an avid hiker, and optometrist, Tom Little, was often beside her.
"It was a result of that relationship that he told her about this trip he wanted to make," Rev. Beckett said.
The trip would involve a long journey to give medical aid in one of the country's most isolated communities, where a toothbrush is a luxury.
"They were not ignorant, they were not naive of what they were facing," Rev. Beckett said. "What they were was compelled by the pleas of the Afghan people."
Rev. Beckett told members of the media that Cheryl was asked to participate in the trip because of her knowledge of the Pashtun language. He says she knew the language so well because she was so passionate about the people of Afghanistan.
The Becketts expected to speak with their daughter for the first time last Friday. Instead, the couple received a call from the organization Cheryl had been traveling with, and learned she was likely among those found shot and killed.
"Had those men had the opportunity to know her, I think they would've laid down their weapons and sat at her feet," Rev. Beckett said. "Merciful people were extended absolutely no mercy, the antithesis of mercy."
Rev. Beckett recounted a story about a time when a child with multiple disabilities fell into a well. Due to several cultural prohibitions, Cheryl was one of the only witnesses willing to touch the child in order to administer CPR. The child eventually died, and Rev. Beckett said Cheryl was angry that God did not "show up". He told her, "Cheryl, when you touched the untouchable, God did show up."
Cheryl's unwavering trust in God's love for society's weakest drove her 6-year-long aid work in Afghanistan. Fall 2009 was the last time she was in the US visiting family. Her younger sister, Sarah, returned just a month ago from visiting Cheryl.
On her last visit home, Cheryl told her father that if anything happened to her, she didn't care what they did with her body. Rev. Beckett explained that she peacefully smiled and said, "Because, I'm out of here."
Though Cheryl's life may have come to a tragic end, the Becketts pray that her life's work will not.
"My dream is that, as a result of what has happened, that someday, the Afghan people will live in freedom," Rev. Beckett said.
Woodlawn Church in Knoxville announced during their service Sunday morning that 32-year-old Cheryl Beckett, the daughter of senior minister Charles Beckett was among those found dead in Afghanistan on Friday.
Cheryl's family released a statement on Sunday which stated,
"Cheryl loved and respected the Afghan people. She denied herself many freedoms in order to abide by Afghan law and custom. Her international co-workers and the Afghan Nationals with whom she served loved her. She was honored to be included in this most recent three-week medical journey to the remote populations of Northern Afghanistan.
The wickedness of terrorism is being conquered through daily acts of mercy. Peace in Afghanistan can be achieved by the establishment of just laws for all people and the continued sacrifice and selfless love of people working together. Those who committed this act of terror should feel the utter shame and disgust that humanity feels for them. We share this pain with those who continue the difficult and dangerous work to which Cheryl committed her life. We, as a family, will continue to love and pray for the Afghan people.We pray that Cheryl's life and work will inspire existing and future ministries of mercy to press on."
Cheryl did not live in Knoxville but returned often to visit and the church gave financial support to her charitable missions.
"For her parents, they knew the risks involved and Cheryl did too, and knew that's what she wanted to be doing." said Associate Minister Dwayne Curry.
The Woodlawn Christian Church in Knoxville gave WBIR a statement on Saturday.
"She has been working as a humanitarian aid worker with an international, non-government organization in Asia since 2005. She's been involved in community development with a focus on nutritional gardening and mother-child health," the statement stated.
The Associated Press reported that six Americans were among ten people from the International Assistance Mission found shot to death in Afghanistan's Nuristan province. The group treated close to 400 people in various villages for eye disorders and other illnesses
A Taliban spokesman said they were killed because they were "spying" and "preaching Christianity." According to the Director of the International Assistance Mission, the group's work in remote parts of northwestern Afghanistan was strictly humanitarian.
The group had no weapons or security guards. The team was led by an optometrist from Delmar, New York who has been working in Afghanistan for more than 30 years. The charity said it hopes to continue the work it has been doing since 1966.
Memorial services will be planned at Woodlawn Christian Church in Knoxville and Christian Fellowship Church in Evansville, IL.
Donations can be sent to:
Woodlawn Christian Church
C/O Cheryl Beckett Memorial Fund
4339 Woodlawn Pike
Knoxville, TN 37920