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2010-08-02 issue:

MCC worker killed in Afghanistan

MCC spokesman says worker would 'want us to know the vast majority of Afghans are desperate for peace.'

by Anna Groff with release from Mennonite Central Committee

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A Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) worker in Afghanistan, Glen D. Lapp of Lancaster, Pa., was killed last week in a shooting incident in Afghanistan's northeastern Badakhshan province. Lapp was 40 years at the time of his death.

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

Lapp was traveling 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 Aug. 6 next to abandoned vehicles. One Afghan team member traveled home via another route and is safe. Another Afghan survived the attack and is being questioned by the police.

On Aug. 8, Lapp's family (parents and two brothers) received confirmation of his death from the U.S. Embassy. Memorial service plans are pending.

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

During a press conference on Aug. 9, Ron Flaming, said, "We don't know why the team was attacked and by whom." 

Flaming is director of international programs for MCC. The following three individuals joined Flaming at a press conference in Akron, Pa., to answer questions: Ken Sensenig, MCC East Coast assistant director; Joe Manickam, Asia director for MCC; and John Williamson, incoming MCC country representative for India, Nepal and Afghanistan. Arli Klassen, director of MCC, is in Ethiopia meeting with church leaders but will return to the United States Aug. 10.

Glen Lapp, left, and John Williamson, MCC Nepal, India, Afghanistan representative, pose for a picture in Kabul in July 2010. Photo by Tom Wenger.

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

Williamson, who spent time with Lapp in Afghanistan in July, said, "I felt like I was on holy ground" with Lapp, due to his dedication and love.

Sensenig said that while Lapp's family was shocked by the news, they were aware that there are risks that go with this kind of service.

Flaming said MCC has one other staff person placed in Afghanistan and confirmed she is safe. MCC 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," he said. "We assess this on a regular basis."

He said 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.

According to the Religion News Service, the IAM has rejected Taliban claims that 10 staffers from the Christian aid agency who were killed in Afghanistan had been trying to convert Muslims.

"Our faith motivates and inspires us, but we do not proselytize. We abide by the laws of Afghanistan," Dirk R. Frans, IAM's executive secretary, said in a statement at an Aug. 9 press conference in Kabul.

Williamson said that some organizations in countries like Afghanistan have guards with weapons. "MCC would be reluctant to do that," he said. MCC 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 Aug. 9, 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 program. Second, they prioritize 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. Lapp worked as a nurse in Lancaster, New York City and Supai, Ariz. He was a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va.

Note: Anna Groff viewed the news conference via CNN live streaming.

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