For the most part we promote the good in our Sports and Faith books. Yet sometime the good is mixed with tragedy and the presence of evil. Here’s a story from our book, Sports and Faith: More Stories of the Devoted and the Devout by Patrick McCaskey.  

Martyrs of Kabul

In 1975, Coach Wayne Gordon moved to North Lawndale located on Chicago’s Westside.  At that time, North Lawndale was one of the poorest neighborhoods in the United States.  Gordon was a teacher and coach at Farragut High School—a recent graduate of Wheaton College and a native of Fort Dodge, Iowa.  Gordon started the Lawndale Community Church and later with others from the community, he established the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation.  The organization was established at a grass roots level with many people from the neighborhood, growing and expanding to new ministries.  Rooted in these efforts was an initiative to provide decent health care for the community through the Lawndale Christian Health Center.

Coach Gordon, like all great coaches, has his own coaching tree—others follow his example.  But in Coach Gordon’s case, they follow him in following Jesus Christ.  Often those who turn their lives over to serve others continue that practice in good times and in bad—in good conditions and in bad conditions.  They serve until they can’t serve any longer.  In some cases, they give up their lives in faithful service of others.

Like Coach Gordon, Dr. Jerry Umanos followed the example of Jesus Christ in service to others.  He was one of the original four doctors at the Lawndale Christian Health Center.  He spent much of his last seven years in Afghanistan.  He worked for CURE International Hospital in Kabul—a pediatrician caring for children and training Afghan doctors and nurses.  In that time, he not only helped his Afghan patients, but he also helped prepare others to continue after him.

The Gabel family belonged to the Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois.  Gary Gabel sang in the church choir and was involved with the church youth groups and the leadership team.  His son, John Gabel, played center on the church basketball team.

John Gabel was a colleague and friend of Dr. Umanos.  Working for the U.S.-based charity Morning Star Development, John ran a health clinic at Kabul University and taught computer science classes.  The clinic provided pharmacy and emergency care for the students, professors and employees.  Beth Anderson, a family friend, said John Gabel was “greatly affected” by the September 11 attacks and war in Afghanistan.  He “kept caring long after it seemed the rest of us lost touch with what was going on there.”[1]

Gary Gabel was proud of the work his son was doing in Afghanistan and he and his wife went to visit his son.  On April 24, 2014, a security guard assigned to the Cure International Hospital in Kabul shot and killed Dr. Umanos and John and Gary Gabels in cold blood.  John Gabel’s wife, Teresa, was wounded.  The shooter sustained self-inflicted injuries and was treated by the doctors on staff before being taken away by Afghan authorities.  The death of these men will be felt by their families, church communities, and thousands of Afghans who were helped by Dr. Jerry and John Gabel and thousands more had their lives not been cut short.

Dr. Umanos wife, Jan Schuitema, said this about her husband:

“He always had a desire to be the hands and feet of Christ.  He was always a light for Christ and he had a love and commitment that he expressed for the Afghan people because of that love for Christ.”

[1] Matt McKinney, “Suburban Congregation Celebrates Life of Men Killed in Afghanistan Attack,” Chicago Sun-Times.com, April 27, 2014, viewed at http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/27090694-418/arlington-heights-congregation-celebrates-life-of-men-killed-in-afghanistan-attack.html#.U2JdDqIgzTQ on May 1, 2014.