Slain aid worker was led by faith in land she loved

In the lobby of Woodlawn Christian Church, Pastor Charles Beckett talked about what his late daughter couldn’t speak of, at least not in Afghanistan: her deep and abiding faith.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In the lobby of Woodlawn Christian Church, Pastor Charles Beckett talked about what his late daughter couldn’t speak of, at least not in Afghanistan: her deep and abiding faith.

Humanitarian aid worker Cheryl Beckett, 32, was one of 10 International Assistance Mission medical-aid workers killed in an ambush late last week in Northern Afghanistan’s Nuristan province. The group was providing medical, dental and eye care to poor rural villagers.

It was Cheryl Beckett’s sixth year in Afghanistan, where she educated people on nutritional gardening and mother-child health. “I sat in disbelief and awe as I saw her not only leading women, but men” who would come to her for counsel, Charles Beckett said.

Cheryl Beckett’s sister, Sarah Beckett, had visited her about four weeks ago, when she was preparing for this latest mission, their father said.

She was excited to have been invited on the three-week trip by a “hiking buddy,” team leader Tom Little, a New York optometrist who had lived in Afghanistan for about 30 years. Instead, her family got a call letting them know it was likely that Cheryl was dead. By the weekend, the FBI confirmed she’d been shot and killed. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the ambush, saying the group was “spying” and attempting to convert Muslims to Christianity.

But Charles Beckett said that wouldn’t happen. Like the other members of the team, he said, his daughter was well versed in Afghan law and culture and had respect for both.

And he can’t help but grieve, not only for the daughter he loved, but for her good works cut short by “terrorists … mercilessly killing defenseless unarmed people.”

“Had these men had the opportunity to know her,” Beckett said, “I think they would have laid down their weapons and sat at her feet, and asked her, ‘Tell us: Who is it that is giving you this kind of life, and this kind of hope and this kind of love?’”

Nelson writes for The Knoxville, Tenn., News Sentinel