Missionary shares tragic story of surviving attack in Iraq that killed her husband
Missionary Carrie McDonnall delivered a powerful message of personal sacrifice at Monday’s convocation for the first day of Missions Emphasis Week at Liberty University.
McDonnall lost her husband, David, and three close friends in a terrorist attack on the mission field in Iraq, and she nearly gave up her own life as 22 bullets from the same terrorist attack pierced her body. Despite her heartbreak from this loss, God strengthened McDonnall to share her testimony.
As she spoke of God’s goodness in Psalms, McDonnall recalled the day that changed her world. On March 15, 2004, the McDonnalls and three other missionaries traveled to a run-down factory in Iraq after the U.S. Army sent word that displaced people were living there. Welcomed into the factory, the missionaries immediately began talking to the Iraqis inside and asking how they could help.
“As I was walking, one of the ladies grabbed me by the shoulder and said, ‘We need water. We desperately need water,’” McDonnall said.
The community had two large water containers. One was empty, and the other only had a few inches of water left for drinking, cooking and bathing. The missionaries promised they would help and left the factory with a feeling of assurance that God was opening a door for them to witness in the future.
“That [opportunity] would never happen for us on that day because as we traveled back home … we went through the town of Mosul,” she said. “It was not unusual for us to be in and through that town. And so as we went through, we came upon a very busy part of town. There were shops on both sides. People were out taking care of business. And as we traveled … some men came up around us and began shooting with automatic weapons.”
When the terrorists started shooting, she said everyone in the town scattered, and Mosul turned into a momentary ghost town. By the time the gunmen fled, McDonnall’s three friends were dead, and she and her husband were critically injured.
“David and I were able to get to safety with the help of Iraqis that came out of hiding. And I don’t care how many times I tell this story, it will never cease to amaze me that anybody came to help. Because, you see, [the people] did exactly what any one of us would do if we heard gunshots at this moment. We would duck, and we would hide,” she said.
Not only did the complete strangers come out of hiding to lend their aid, not knowing if the terrorists would do a U-turn and attack again, but the strangers also helped lift McDonnall out of the vehicle since her injuries left her unable to move.
“These men had to overcome so [many] cultural boundaries in order to reach in and pull out a woman,” she said. “In this culture, Muslim men do not touch women … . They certainly don’t touch women who are bloody from head to toe, but these men overcame that.”
The men had to place McDonnall along the roadside for a moment, and when they sat her down, the hem of her skirt came up over her ankles.
“In the Arab world, for a woman to show her ankles is the most absolute immodest thing that you could possibly do and show,” she said.
Feeling like she was screaming just to communicate in a whisper, she didn’t notice her ankles, and she couldn’t move to cover them anyway since one arm was broken and the other was injured. In response, one Iraqi man did something that McDonnall never imagined a man in that culture would do even for his own mother or wife.
“He reached down and he pulled the hem of my skirt over my ankles, maintaining my modesty, and showing [this] huge amount of respect and compassion,” she said.
To this day, McDonnall still marvels at that moment of incredible kindness.
“I share this with you so that you could see the heart of the Iraqi people because this is not being displayed to you on the news. I share this [with] you also so that you can see the sovereignty of God in the midst of chaos,” she said.
The Iraqis helped the McDonnalls to a U.S. Army medical area, and doctors immediately started treating both of them.
“I was dying. I was bleeding to death,” she said.
It took 10 hours for medical personnel just to stabilize her.
“You name it, it was broken. You name it, it was hit,” she said, later holding up a hand to show that three fingers are missing as a result of the attack.
Doctors kept McDonnall in a medically-induced coma to allow her to travel back home to Texas — and when she woke up, David was not there. McDonnall’s father told her that David had died in Iraq.
“There in the hospital I was dealing with pain and grief and sorrow at depths I’d never dreamed I would ever have to face,” she said, explaining that she’d expected David to be OK.
She turned to God’s word for comfort in her times of loneliness and pain, but it wasn’t easy.
“I will not lie to you. I will not be Pollyanna about it. I had some dark, dark days after I got home from the hospital — dark days, days where all I wanted to do was lie in the fetal position with the covers over my head and cry,” she said.
Finally, she made a decision to get back to the basics of her faith and continue trusting and relying on God every day.
Though God does not call everyone to remote places like Iraq, McDonnall said she believes God has a task for all of us.
“What you are called to be is intentional with the life that God has given you,” she said.