Slain American's Wife: He Said 'All Are Created in God's Image'

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The wife of American teacher Joel Shrum, who was gunned down in Yemen by terrorists in March, said her husband "lived in the reality that we are all created in the image of God and that nothing can separate us from the love of God."

"These truths were an inspiration for everything that he did," Janelle Shrum told reporters Saturday night via email.

Mrs. Shrum said she was not yet comfortable talking on camera but agreed to answer questions via email as best she could.

Her husband, Joel Shrum, was assassinated while on his way to work by two assailants on a motorcycle, March 18. The Yemen branch of al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack, accusing him of proselytizing in the mainly Muslim Arab nation.

The 29-year-old had served as deputy director of the International Training Development Centre, a Swedish institute offering vocational and language training for Yemen's poor in Taiz. He had moved to the city in 2009 with his wife Janelle and their son Valen, who is now 4 years old. Their son Liam, 20 months, was born there.

Motivated by Love

Taiz has been at the center of unrest for the past year. Still, Janelle Shrum said though they fully understood the risks of living there, they never felt threatened.

At one point the family did evacuate the country for three months but returned in late June. When violence broke out again in Taiz in December, they decided to stay, despite the hardships.

"Our family always knew that it was a risk to live in Yemen and this was not a matter that we took lightly," Janelle said.

"Our neighborhood where we lived was never in any danger and we certainly never felt targeted," she continued. "If anything, the locals were simply encouraged by our presence there."

In the weeks following the attack, Yemen youth in Taiz cried out for justice for their beloved teacher, marching and holding signs that said "We love you, Joel"

"It is important to remember that it was supposedly terrorists who committed this horrible crime, not your average Yemeni citizen," Janelle wrote, responding to questions about the safety of living there. "Foreigners are welcomed there and are treated with great respect."

In an article in World magazine, Jessica Lloyd, Joel's sister, said her brother did not go to Yemen to proselytize, but was simply "motivated by the love of God and God's heart for people" to help the those in a strife torn-area, despite the dangers.

"He downloaded in his heart not to be fearful of Arab people and often said they are not the killers we see on the news," Lloyd told World magazine.

'A Genuine Man'

Janelle also spoke candidly about her husband and father of their two boys. She said they first met in college in Spanish class in 2001, adding that while it "was love at first sight for him... it took him a few months before he won my heart!"

She described him as being very mild mannered and laid back, yet he "was very passionate about living out his values."

"Joel was a very loving, genuine man. But there was also a mystery about him that was very intriguing," she said. 

Despite the demands of living in a foreign country, learning the language, and teaching at the institute, family was always a priority for him, she said.

"Joel was an amazing father to our boys, Valen and Liam," she wrote. "He was always showering them with love, lots of hugs, kisses and cuddles; and he always told them how proud he was of them."

"He was very patient and caring with the boys, as well as very sensitive to their emotional needs," she said.

As for the young couple, Janelle explained that while they didn't share many mutual hobbies, they "thoroughly enjoyed each other's company."

"Perhaps our deepest connection was our mutual love for God," she said. "Joel was a wonderful, devoted husband and my best friend."

Memorial Services

Shrum's remains have returned to the United States, according to his father James Shrum. Memorial services are planned for Saturday, April 14 at the Evangelical Free Church of Hershey in Hummelstown, Pa.

The family has also set up a memorial fund to benefit his wife and children, called the "Joel Shrum Memorial Fund." Donations can be made through any PNC Bank branch.

Online condolences can also be sent here.

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