Brian Carderelli took his eye to Afghanistan in September 2009. The 25-year-old photographer and videographer "loved to travel, to see different cultures, and he loved using his gifts for kingdom purposes," said longtime family friend J.D. Patton.
An Eagle Scout and recent graduate of James Madison University, Carderelli recognized the unique dangers the country posed because both his parents had worked there, but he felt it was where God was calling him. As a short-term trip stretched into months, he posted dozens of photos on Shutterfly and Facebook pages and seized the opportunity to travel with a medical team to remote Badakhshan province. He was compiling an album of photos titled "The Beauty-It's Not All War" when he and his team members were killed in early August in one of the most brutal attacks on aid workers since war began in 2001.
Gunmen surrounded the medical team sent out by International Assistance Mission (IAM) as they traveled south from Badakhshan to Nuristan province on Aug. 5. The sole surviving eyewitness, an Afghan driver named Safiullah, told U.S. and Afghan authorities the militants shot the aid workers at close range and launched a grenade into an SUV where two of three female team members were hiding. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the aid workers were foreign spies spreading Christianity.
"IAM would not be invited back to villages if we were using aid as a cover for preaching," said IAM executive director Dirk Frans. "Our faith motivates and inspires us-but we do not proselytize." Tom Little, the New York optometrist who led the trip, had worked in Afghanistan since 1976 and according to Frans, "has led eye camps for many years to Nuristan-and was welcomed back every time." Prior to the attack, the team spent two weeks walking village to village to provide medical care in the Parun valley-an isolated area 9,500 feet in elevation where about 50,000 people subsist as shepherds and farmers.
Carderelli was the youngest of the team, a member of Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Harrisonburg, Va.-said Patton, who is a ruling elder there-and survived by his parents, an older brother who is married, a younger sister, and a younger brother who recently joined the Marine Corps. He was one of six Americans killed, along with two Afghans, a German, and a Brit. A number of them, like London surgeon Karen Woo, 36, had given up lucrative careers to serve in Afghanistan's harsh conditions. All had calculated the risk-and decided to be risk takers.
Dan Terry, 63, the oldest of the team, raised three daughters in Afghanistan along with his wife, a nurse whom he met there after his arrival in 1971. The family had together dodged bullets running across a Kabul tarmac during civil war in the 1980s; had survived Terry's imprisonment under the Taliban (for overstaying a visa); and later were kicked out by the jihadist government. Terry continued to return to travel all parts of the country, even sometimes on bicycle. He is survived by his wife, three daughters, and one grandchild.
Little, 61, like Terry fluent in Dari and with four decades of experience in the country that included rearing three daughters there, helped to establish an eye hospital in Kabul that was overrun by the Taliban in 1996. It has since reopened as a general hospital run by the Pennsylvania-based group Cure International. Little was known to carry saline solution and eyeglasses wherever he went-even to treat militants if needed. And he was widely regarded among Kabul's aid community, hosting for many years pancake dinners every Friday night that sometimes topped 100 in attendance. "People just had to bring their own toppings, and Tom would stand at the griddle and make hundreds of pancakes each week," said Rachel Schaus, a U.S. humanitarian worker and neighbor in Kabul for more than a decade.
This Labor Day issue is devoted to "Work & Calling" and to Afghanistan-topics we selected weeks and months before we could know how both would come together in the tragic loss of selfless workers in the remote reaches of the Hindu Kush mountains.