President Obama today awarded the United States' highest civilian honor to Dr. Tom Little, a Christian worker for the International Assistance Mission (IAM) who was murdered in Afghanistan last August.
"Tom Little could have pursued a lucrative career," President Obama said during the ceremony for Little and 14 other recipients. "Instead, he was guided by his faith, and he set out to heal the poorest of the poor in Afghanistan. For 30 years, amid invasion and civil war, the terror of the Taliban, the spread of insurgency, he and his wife Libby helped bring Afghans—literally—the miracle of sight."
Little, an optometrist, was leading an eye care team in the remote northeastern region of Badakhshan when he and nine others were found dead last summer. According to Compass Direct news service, the attack's motive is still unclear. Though the Taliban, who claimed responsibility, alleged that the group had been proselytizing and carrying Bibles in the Dari language, the IAM insisted that neither was true.
Christian workers Glenn D. Lapp, of the Mennonite Central Committee, and 32-year-old Cheryl Beckett, a pastor's daughter from Tennessee and a graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, also died in the attack.
Little's widow Libby Little accepted the award on her husband's behalf. Last year, shortly before his death, Libby Little wrote an essay for Christianity Today's Global Conversation project. In her essay, she suggested that mission agencies were sometimes too quick to evacuate when a mission field grew dangerous, and missed "the fruitful door of opportunity to embrace suffering in service." She related two stories of times when she and Tom reaped benefits from sticking around in a troubled spot.
"God blessed those occasions and visited us with his power," she wrote. "His amateur followers, stricken with stage fright, forgetting their lines, were acting out in miniature something of his own Grand Narrative—Immanuel, God with us—in the miserable mess. The scenes set the stage for the Holy Spirit to work in a mighty way."
In his remarks, President Obama characterized Little as "a humanitarian in the truest sense of the word: a man who not only dedicated his life to others, but who lived that lesson of Scripture: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.' "
Little's was the only posthumous Medal of Freedom awarded this year.