"Do It!"

It was my wife Lorie’s and my privilege to accompany Kayla Mueller’s parents, Marsha and Carl Mueller, to Northern Arizona University October 23-24, Homecoming weekend.  The purpose for our campus visit was to gather with approximately 60 kindred souls at the Christian Campus Ministry Center Friday evening, and another like number of people at the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS) Saturday afternoon to celebrate the life of alumna Kayla Jean Mueller, ’09.

On Friday evening, the Muellers and Rev. Kathleen Day, Director of NAU Christian Campus Ministry and Kayla’s mentor, accepted the Francis Asbury Award given by the Southwest Conference of the United Methodist Church in recognition of the Christian Campus Ministry’s integral role in Kayla’s spiritual development and her humanitarian service which ultimately led to her death in February 2013 while an ISIS captive.

During the Campus Ministry event, Carl shared that while Kayla was helping Syrian refugees fleeing into Turkey, he told her via skype, “This is not your war.  These are not your people.  You don’t need to die for this.  Come home.”  Shortly thereafter, Carl said, Kayla e-mailed her response to him, which read:  “I do believe this is my struggle.  Really, in the end, the reason that 100,000 lives have been lost in Syria is not because people don’t care, or don’t have sympathy or compassion.  But rather it’s because people are under the illusion that this is not their struggle, it is not their people and it’s not their concern.”  Marsha added, “It was hard to let Kayla go to all these places she did because it gave her so much joy….” 

Carl shared another anecdote about a visit paid to them at their Prescott home shortly after Kayla’s death.  Their visitor was a Phoenix based rabbi who had come to pay his respects to Kayla’s family at the request of a rabbi residing in Jerusalem where she had worked with African immigrant children living there.   Within ten minutes after their Phoenix guest’s departure, they received a call from an official in Palestine wishing to express his condolences and appreciation for Kayla’s humanitarian work with children in his homeland.  

We attendees began to realize that Kayla’s choice to spend time in both Israel and Palestine, long-time adversaries, was intentional.  It was her way of acquiring a better understanding of the existing political and cultural dynamics prevalent in each of these places. “Best not to judge until you have sat on both sides of the wall,” she blogged.  

On Saturday afternoon, Kayla was one of four NAU alumni inducted into the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS) Hall of Fame.  Dr. Carol Thompson, a SBS professor who knew Kayla well, cited faculty colleague Dr. Joel Olson, deceased, as Kayla’s most influential Politics and International Affairs professor.  She noted Dr. Olson had enjoyed a reputation for teaching students the importance of rigorously applying critical thinking skills in examining all sides of any international conflict before drawing conclusions about it. 

It became readily apparent to those attending that Kayla’s major field of study, Politics and International Affairs, coupled with her Campus Ministry activities jointly contributed significantly to her decision to enter Syria August 4, 2013. 

Following Dr. Thompson’s introductory remarks, Kayla’s parents graciously accepted their daughter’s Hall of Fame award. They expressed appreciation to the NAU community for its affirmation of their daughter’s life work.  They reported that her example continues to inspire people in many parts of the U.S. and elsewhere.   Marsha reported she and Carl were invited to Madrid, Spain to share Kayla’s story with a reported 200 members of religious communities from 34 countries attending a conference on religious persecution.  Carl shared their experience in being invited to Dearborn, MI, home of the largest concentration of American Arabs in the U.S.  They received the “Special Humanitarian Tribute of Honor” awarded to Kayla by Dearborn’s American Human Rights Council.  This ceremony was attended by a reported 500 mostly Arab Americans who came to express their appreciation for Kayla’s humanitarian contributions in the Middle East.

“She symbolizes and represents the goodness of humanity….this must be recognized,” stated Sheree Akeel, Advisory Council Chairman.   

If only Kayla’s selfless, loving way of connecting with sisters and brothers here and around the globe could be emulated by many millions of other compassionate people, think what a more decent world we would live in.  What a meaningful tribute this would be to the cause for which Kayla Mueller gave her life.  As Kayla would say, “Do it!”