Kayla Jean Mueller, a humanitarian worker who had been captured by ISIL in Syria, was confirmed dead by the White House this morning. She was 26 years old.
I had not heard much about her before the news of her death, but I now wish I had known of her incredible story while she was alive. According to her family, Kayla Mueller always held the desire to serve others. After graduating from college, she worked with humanitarian aid groups in India, Israel, and the Palestinian territories, and traveled to Syria in late 2012. She was an extraordinarily brave woman devoted to helping the people of Syria, no matter the personal risk. She found great joy in this endeavor, writing, “This really is my life’s work, to go where there is suffering.”
While working with families and refugees in Syria, she was captured by ISIL in Syria. Held captive for almost two years, Kayla was killed in an airstrike last week. During her captivity, Kayla displayed remarkable peace in the midst of her own suffering. In a letter to her parents, she wrote:
If you could say I have “suffered” at all throughout this whole experience it is only in knowing how much suffering I have put you all through…I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator b/c literally there was no else….+ by God + by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall.
According to a statement released by her parents upon the news of her death, in 2011 Kayla wrote:
I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. If this is how you are revealed to me, this is how I will forever seek you… I will always seek God. Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I’ve known for some time what my life’s work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering.
If I could say anything to her parents, it would be that their daughter is an inspiration to all young people. We should all meet the suffering of others, whether in a foreign country or in our own hometown.
Image of Kayla Mueller courtesy of The Guardian