Posted by: Titus Presler | November 18, 2010

Slain Christian aid worker to Afghanistan to be awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

In a remarkable sequel to the August murder of eight USAmerican and European aid workers in Afghanistan and two Afghan associates, the White House yesterday announced that one of the six USAmericans, Dr. Tom Little, a Christian aid worker, will be among the 15 people to whom President Barack Obama will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The news release said this about Little:

Dr. Tom Little was an optometrist who was brutally murdered on August 6, 2010, by the Taliban in the Kuran Wa Munjan district of Badakhshan, Afghanistan, along with nine other members of a team returning from a humanitarian mission to provide vision care in the remote Parun valley of Nuristan.  Dr. Little and his wife, Libby, lived and worked  in Afghanistan for three decades beginning in 1976, raising three daughters and providing vision, dental and mother/child care to the people of that country through the NOOR program (Noor means “light” in Persian) that Dr. Little ran for the International Assistance Mission.

The Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor, “presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors,” said the White House. The awards will be presented at a White House ceremony early in 2011.

President Obama said, “These outstanding honorees come from a broad range of backgrounds and they’ve excelled in a broad range of fields, but all of them have lived extraordinary lives that have inspired us, enriched our culture, and made our country and our world a better place.  I look forward to awarding them this honor.”

Doubtless lost on the general public is the fact that Little was a Christian aid worker, and his receiving the award is cause for celebration in the mission community. Despite its name and openly Christian character, the International Assistance Mission prefers that its personnel not be termed missionaries, and its media officer has told me that Tom Little never called himself a missionary.  Whether one terms him a missionary, then, is a theological judgment call.  The citation naturally cites the errand during which Little was murdered under the rubric of humanitarianism, but it does cite it as a “humanitarian mission” (my italics) and mentions the International Assistance Mission through which Little ministered.  Little’s is the only posthumous award among this year’s awards.

Little was the parent of three alums of Woodstock School in the north Indian Himalaya, the school of which I am a graduate.  Also killed in the Afghanistan massacre in August was Little’s close friend, Dan Terry, ’65, who was rostered with the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church.  Click here for the Woodstock School news release about the award.

Click here for the August 9 Titus on Mission blog posting, “Afghan massacre raises issues of Christian mission,” which analyzes issues inherent in the incident.

Here is this morning’s e-mail from Woodstock about the award:

Dear friends of Woodstock,

We wanted to share with you the great honor that the President of the United States has accorded to Dr. Tom Little, a former Woodstock parent and frequent visitor to the hillside. Today we learnt that he is this year’s only posthumous recipient of the Presidential Media of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States. You can find a story on this at the Woodstock website.

Dr. Tom Little was an optometrist who was brutally murdered on August 6, 2010, by the Taliban in the Kuran Wa Munjan district of Badakhshan, Afghanistan, along with nine other members of a team returning from a humanitarian mission to provide vision care in the remote Parun valley of Nuristan. Another member of the team who was killed was Dan Terry ’65, a Woodstock alumnus, parent and friend. Dan’s class is at Woodstock this week celebrating their 45th reunion. Part of the program included a memorial service for Dan in Parker Hall, where his wife Seija was also present.

Dr. Little is survived by his wife Libby, and daughters Moira ’92 (Molly), Nellika ’95 (Nelly) and Kathryn ‘00. Dan Terry is survived by his wife Seija and daughters Hilja ’96, Anneli ‘99 and Saara ’02. Both the Little and the Terry families have lived and worked in Afghanistan for over three decades, and have demonstrated their love for the country in many, many ways.

While we celebrate this honor, as a Woodstock community our hearts and minds are specifically with the Terry and Little families in the Advent season.

– Abhra Bhattacharjee, ’92, Director of Development

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