Kassig family remembers hostage son’s desire to help

The United Methodist parents of the latest hostage executed by the Islamic State group are remembering his dedication to assisting those who have suffered during Syria’s civil war.

“We are heartbroken to learn that our son, Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig, has lost his life as a result of his love for the Syrian people and his desire to ease their suffering,” said Ed and Paula Kassig, members of Epworth United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, in a statement posted Nov. 16 on the family’s Twitter account and Facebook page. “Our heart also goes out to the families of the Syrians who lost their lives along with our son.”

The Rev. Bill Hoopes, Epworth’s senior pastor, told United Methodist News Service Nov. 17 he would be meeting with the family in the evening to start planning a memorial service. Kassig was 26 years old.

The White House confirmed Kassig’s death after a video surfaced claiming that the Islamic State group, also known as ISIL or ISIS, had killed him. The Indianapolis native was taken hostage on Oct. 1, 2013, while traveling in an ambulance to deliver medical supplies and equipment and provide medical first-responder training to civilians in eastern Syria.

In a statement, President Barack Obama contrasted the “act of pure evil by a terrorist group that the world rightly associates with inhumanity” with Kassig’s work at a hospital treating Syrian refugees and the aid group he established to further assist Syrian refugees and the displaced in Lebanon and Syria.

Kassig converted to the Muslim faith while in captivity, and the president noted that his actions represented his adopted faith while ISIL’s actions represented no faith at all.

“Today we grieve together, yet we also recall that the indomitable spirit of goodness and perseverance that burned so brightly in Abdul-Rahman Kassig, and which binds humanity together, ultimately is the light that will prevail over the darkness of ISIL,” Obama said.

“We are incredibly proud of our son for living his life according to his humanitarian calling,” his parents said. “We will work every day to keep his legacy alive as best we can.”

Inspired by grandfather

Kassig’s inspiration to pursue humanitarian work, according to a recent story by Indianapolis Star reporter Brian Eason, came from his maternal grandfather, the Rev. Jerry Hyde, a United Methodist pastor who died in 2008.

Hyde was a leader of the Indianapolis Committee for Peace and Justice in the Mid-East, now known as Christians for Peace and Justice in the Mid-East, and an advocate for Muslim victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

His grandson, who briefly served as an Army ranger in Iraq, took a leave of absence in 2012 from his studies at Butler University in Indianapolis to work with the Syrian people through an aid group he founded, Special Emergency Response and Assistance or SERA. Kassig was interviewed by CNN in June 2012 while assisting Syrian refugees at a hospital in Lebanon.

According to the United Nations, some 2.5 million Syrian refugees are living in neighboring countries, and at least 10.8 million people – including 6.5 million who are internally displaced –need assistance inside Syria.

In an email message, the denomination’s Indiana Conference encouraged all its members  “to pray for the Kassig family and the Epworth community.”

Those wishing to honor Kassig’s dedication to the Syrian people can contribute to the Syrian American Medical Society, his parents said.

They also remembered the families of the other hostages executed by ISIL– James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines and Alan Henning.

“We ask people to continue to pray for the safe return of all captives being held unjustly and all people being oppressed around the world, and especially for the people of Syria, a land our son loved,” the Kassigs said.

Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe or contact her at (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org

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