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Memorial Service for Paul Johnson: 3 Turks Kidnapped in Iraq

Aired June 26, 2004 - 13:16   ET


FREDRICK WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: At this hour, the start of a memorial service in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, for slain American engineer Paul Johnson. At this hour the family and friends are now beginning to gather at the Greentree Church there. You're looking at a live picture right there. Our Alina Cho is outside the church and gives us an update on the gathering there and memorial service just about to begin -- Alina.
ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fredricka, in fact the family we understand was caught in a bit of traffic, arrived just a couple of minutes ago with a police escort. Of course this is perhaps the most difficult of a series of difficult days. It was two weeks ago today that Paul Johnson was captured, captured by a group claiming to have links to al Qaeda.

Today's memorial service will include several hymns including "God Bless America," a scripture reading, presentation of a flag. The senior pastor here at the Greentree Church in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, where sister Donna is a member, will be presiding over this service. Family members will not be speaking.

We understand that they considered it for a short time but decided at the last minute that it might be too difficult for them to do that. We also understand that a bit later on, Lockheed Martin may be releasing a statement on behalf of the family and that the pastor will be reading that statement to the media some time after the service.

WHITFIELD: And Alina, even though Paul Johnson has not been in that area in many, many years, given that he has been a resident in Saudi Arabia while working there, this really did -- the family struggle really did touch an awful lot of hearts there in the community. So many people have pulled together, those who have expressed over the last couple of weeks having known him years ago, and many who say they were out to support the family even though they never met him before.

CHO: That's absolutely right, Fredricka. In fact, many residents we heard time and time again called this area small town America. And they really came together for Paul Johnson's family in this very difficult time. Paul Johnson, as you mentioned, hadn't lived here in many, many years, more than 20 years in fact.

But his roots are here. His mother still lives here, his sister, his brothers still live here. Some of his nieces live here as well. And so this clearly is where he was born, where he was raised, he went to high school here. His local papers talked about how he was a member of the chess and library clubs, how he ran cross and -- country.

And so he really was remembered here very fondly by people here who group up with him. But of course, he spent the past decade in Saudi Arabia, working as an Apache helicopter specialist for Lockheed Martin. But still, many, many people in here, as I mentioned remembering him fondly today -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And Alina, you mentioned a number of his family members who are expected to be present. His sister Donna who's a member of the church, Greentree Church, as well as his mother. And he had two grandchildren as well. Might they be in attendance? We know that his wife may still be overseas and will not be in attendance, but how about the smaller members of the family?

CHO: That's right, Fredricka, his wife will not be here today. We're told by the senior pastor at this church that his understanding is that she has not yet arrived in this country, is on her way here. But yes, Paul Johnson had three grandchildren. They are expected to be here today.

In fact, there were little white pillows left by the grandchildren in tribute and honor of their grandfather who they called "Pop-Pop." And those grandchildren are expected to be here today as are Paul Johnson's daughter, son. There was some question as to whether Johnson's mother would be here today. She is ill, we are told, has been battling cancer and really has been very, very difficult for her, especially difficult for her as it has been for the entire family. So there is some question as to whether she will be here today.

WHITFIELD: And why, Alina, is the family or even friends expressing why they wanted to have this memorial service now, two weeks after his capture and subsequential beheading, in Saudi Arabia his remains still have not been recovered?

CHO: That's absolutely right. It was thought early on as you remember, Fredricka, that his body was found in northern Riyadh. But that turned out not to be the case. The pastor here who has been talking to the family almost daily, said to us that really, a memorial service, not just in this case but in many cases, provides sort of a public forum for people to gather together, people who know Paul Johnson and the family, people who don't.

And even though they may not be able to go right up to the family and express their condolences to them, just being in the midst of them, as the senior pastor said, will help them return to some form of normalcy, whatever that may be, after this is all over.

WHITFIELD: All right, Alina, we're going to take a moment and listen in to the opening hymn that is now beginning at Greentree Church in remembrance of Paul Johnson.


WHITFIELD: The opening hymn there, "He Hideth My Soul", now Pastor Pat Tedeschi. REV. PAT TEDESCHI, PASTOR: Our gracious heavenly father, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. You are our refuge and our strength. A very present help in time of trouble. We ask for your blessing this day, that we might look beyond Earth and embrace the light of eternity. We ask you for your grace this day. Comfort hearts, calm spirits, we pray in Jesus' name, amen.

We would like to welcome everyone today to the memorial service for Paul Johnson, Jr. And on behalf of the family, they wanted to express their gratitude for your support and concern for them at this time. And on behalf of the Greentree family, we want to extend our condolences to all the Johnsons. We want you to know that our hearts and our prayers are with you at this time.

We're going to continue now with our second song.


REV. GENE HUBER, PASTOR: The scripture indicates there are events in life that not even great prophets understand. But as the Prophet Ezekiel said: "Lord, you know." We're here today as a result of an act that many don't understand. Reflecting on this brought to mind something that occurred many years ago.

One tortured in his mind, struggled for his sanity in an asylum, then one day light came to him. He found peace. His heart was comforted. I know light and comfort came to him because he wrote these words on the asylum wall.

Later, they were added to a hymn: "The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell. It goes beyond the highest star, it reaches to the lowest hell. The guilty pair bowed down with care. God gave his son to win. His erring child he reconciled and pardoned from his sin. Oh, love of God, how rich and pure, how measureless and strong. It shall forever more endure. The saints and angels song."

Those words have an emotion and a beauty. But their power, their power comes from the support they receive from the eternal word of God. Listen to those words, those words of God that are recorded in the Book of Romans. They tell us: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or sword? No." The great apostle tells us: "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life nor angels nor devils..."

WHITFIELD: As loved ones in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, there pay tribute to Paul Johnson, the American engineer who was beheaded in Saudi Arabia more than a week ago, now a new threat coming out of Iraq being attributed to the terrorist group of Abu Musab al- Zarqawi. Apparently this group is saying that they kidnapped three Turks in Iraq and the Turks are seen on a videotape describing their names and their jobs. They are workers. Al-Zarqawi's group is saying the Turks will be beheaded in 72 hours unless Turkish companies pull out of Iraq. This breaking news, we're continuing to follow for you as we continue our live coverage of the special tribute out of Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, for beheaded American engineer Paul Johnson. HUBER: ... the innocent suffering for the guilt of the guilty is the great story of redemption. The guilty, suffering because of the innocence of the innocent is the wonderful story of repentance. It is the love of God that enables both of these to be true.


WHITFIELD: "In His Presence," sung by Elaine King (ph). And now a message again from the Greentree Church pastor, Reverend Kyle Huber, in a very private ceremony for family and friends of Paul Johnson, killed in Saudi Arabia more than a week ago.

REV. KYLE HUBER, SR. PASTOR, GREENTREE CHURCH: We are here today to remember Paul Johnson whose life was tragically ended by a horrific act. We are here to support a family that has been placed under a terrible burden that none of us would want to bear. And we have come to acknowledge our need for God's strength, for his comfort and wisdom, and to affirm the hope we have in him through Jesus Christ, our lord.

To the Johnson family, today your love is hurting. Deep loss, anger, an evil action that cannot be understood, all weigh heavily upon your hearts. And there simply is no easy way to be separated from Paul, whom you love so deeply.

Yet, a greater tragedy would be not to have had to this love and not to have had Paul in your life and mark your lives forever. Grievous is the passing of a life when no one knows or cares that it is gone. We cannot bear your grief for you. But we share it with you, your loved ones, this church family, the surrounding communities. Indeed, a nation is bowed in grief and in prayer.

Although your love is hurting, it still remains. It is strong. It is firm. For true love is eternal. Today, you love Paul and you always will. And right now, Paul loves you and he always will. How you love and support each other cannot remove the wounds that your lives bear. But it can be a balm of healing to one another.

To all who are here today, we cannot help but feel helpless. How can we love this family in a meaningful way? Your being here today, it is meaningful. The prayers that you have offered and continue to offer, they are meaningful.

What is most important is not that you have the right things to say to this family. It is that you have the right commitment to love this family. It will be meaningful if we commit ourselves to loving this family and praying for this family over the long-term.

Our commitment is not for a period of time, our commitment is to them. We will stand with you for all the time that God gives us together in this life. We struggle so easily with how we love. Indeed, we are often disappointed in ourselves, with how we struggle and fail to love those who are closest to us.

There are many times we recognize we have not cared for those that are nearest the way that we want to, the way we know we should and could. But there is a perfect love, one that runs deep and one, as the Bible describes it, that never fails.

For God's love does not change from day to day. God's love is not deterred by circumstances, however burdensome. The love of God is sufficient to meet us and to sustain us, and even to give us hope when we walk through the valleys. This love is extended to all who would receive it, to all who would come to our lord in Christ Jesus.

Some may wonder, where then has God been in this terrible tragedy? We cannot comprehend why God's love does not remove such burdens. But we can know in these burdens that God's love is real and that it has not left us, that it has not failed.

The Bible records many occasions when men cried out to God from their pain and in their turmoil. In Psalm 55, the psalmist cries out to God in what was a time of great grief, saying: "Listen to my prayer, o God. Do not ignore my plea. Hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught at the voice of the enemy, at the stares of the wicked, for they bring down suffering upon me and revile me in their anger.

My heart is in anguish within me. The terrors of death assail me. Fear and tremblings have beset me. Horror has overwhelmed me. I have said, o that I had the wings of a dove, I would fly away and be at rest. I would flee far away and stay in the desert. I would hurry to my place of shelter far from the tempest and storm.

But I call to God and the lord saves me. Evening, morning, and noon, I cry out in distress and he hears my voice. He ransoms me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me.

God, who is enthroned forever, will hear and afflict them, men who never change their ways and have no fear of God. Cast your cares on the lord and he will sustain you. He will never let the righteous fall."

Another psalmist writes: "God is our refuge and strength, and ever present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear. Though the Earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging, the lord almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress. Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the Earth. The lord almighty is with us. The God of Jacob, he is our fortress."

How do we experience the comfort and the love of God in a meaningful way? How does what God has declared to us come into our lives? The starting place is to believe that God wants to touch us with his love.

WHITFIELD: You're listening to Pastor Kyle Huber at the Greentree Church in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey, as they pay tribute to American Paul Johnson who was beheaded more than a week ago in Saudi Arabia.

Meantime, more now on a breaking story we're following for you out of Iraq. A group claiming responsibility, associated with terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has taken hostage three Turkish workers. And on this tape that has recently been broadcast on the Arab television network Al-Jazeera, you see there the three workers, who on tape apparently have identified themselves as citizens of Turkey and as workers for a Turkish company there.

And apparently the group associated with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi are saying that those three will be beheaded in 72 hours if Turkish companies do not pull out of Iraq. We'll, of course, continue to follow this story for you and have live updates at the top of the hour from both Turkey as well as Iraq.

Now let's return to our live coverage out of Egg Township Harbor there -- Egg Harbor Township, rather, New Jersey, where the Pastor Huber is still talking about Paul Johnson and the family's tribute with him.

K. HBUER: ... so with our heavenly father, he loves us deeply and he desires that we would know it and that we would experience it.

It is not an absence of God's concern that gets in the way of our experiencing his love. We tend to push God away with preoccupation, ambivalence, and self-will. And yet our lord still calls to us. Christ came to Earth to present God's grace and love, and he died on a cross to meet us in our need.

The Bible says: "Cast all your anxieties upon him, for he cares for you." Jesus said: "Come to me all you who labor and are heavy ladened, and I will give you rest." If we will place our trust and yield ourselves to our lord who created us, who loves us, who knows us best, who sacrificed his own life for us, he meets us in our need and he will hold us up.

If our hope is in Christ, we are not at the world's mercy. We are not at the mercy of evil men and evil desires. We are in the mercy of our heavenly father. We have gathered today because we understand that we need each other. May we also receive Christ's invitation, knowing that we need him.

And now a music selection by Dana Tedeschi (ph), her rendition of "Heaven."


WHITFIELD: Dana Tedeschi singing "Heaven." And now a presentation of the flags going to the family members there sitting in the first couple of rows of the service.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please stand with us as we sing "God Bless America."


K. HUBER: ... as you now receive the benediction.

Now may the peace, God the father, son and Holy Spirit, rest abide, filling and overflowing your lives, both now and forever more. Amen.

You may be seated.

At this time, I would ask that the guests remain in their seats as we allow the immediate family to depart.

WHITFIELD: You have been watching a somber tribute to Paul Johnson, a husband, a family man, an engineer who worked on Apache helicopters in Saudi Arabia. He was kidnapped and killed by al Qaeda terrorists two weeks ago. The remains of Paul Johnson have still not been located in Saudi Arabia. His wife remaining in Saudi Arabia. However this tribute was assembled, a private ceremony for family and friends in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey.

HUBER: Shortly after this service concludse, I will be available in front of the entrance where you came in to read.

WHITFIELD: Your hearing there the words of the pastor of the Greentree Church, Kyle Huber. Following this ceremony, of course, family members and friends will be gathering as he gives instructions there. The family, during this ceremony, were given an American flag folded in traditional military style.

And this tribute involved a number of songs and hymns sung by members of the church, this church attended by the sister of Paul Johnson. And she found it to be fitting to have a ceremony at this time, at this church, Greentree Church in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey.

As the family there departs, some paying tribute, taking a moment there in front of the wreaths in tribute to Paul Johnson.


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