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Baptist teacher killed in Jordan dedicated life to students

9/7/2012

By Erich Bridges and Don Graham

RICHMOND, Va.—A suspect has been arrested in the death of Southern Baptist representative Cheryll Harvey in Jordan, according to Jordanian authorities investigating the attack on the veteran teacher.

Harvey, 55, whose body was found Sept. 4 in her apartment in Irbid, Jordan, was stabbed to death. Police reports indicate she was killed by a young Jordanian man. Robbery was the apparent motive, police said in the report obtained Sept. 7 by Southern Baptist officials. There was no indication the crime was sexual in nature.

Harvey, of Sudan, Texas, worked in Jordan for 24 years, teaching English and other subjects. Ten years ago she founded the ESL language center where she taught in Irbid, Jordan’s second-largest city and home to several universities. The center, which averages between 300 and 400 college students each semester, is so popular that a lottery system is used to determine which students can apply for entrance. Previously, Harvey taught primary school-age children at the Ajloun (Jordan) Baptist School.

Teaching wasn’t just a job for Harvey; it was a passion. Co-workers had to pressure her to take a vacation once in a while.

“God has given me the ability to teach,” she once said — and she used that ability to the fullest. But it wasn’t an end in itself. For her, teaching was a way to express the love of Christ to generations of Jordanian students.

“It’s obvious that they love her because they feel her love for them,” a friend observed.

Despite her relentless work schedule, Harvey made time to connect with her students as a friend and mentor.

“What was so amazing to me about Cheryll was that she could be the director of the center and teach full time and make numerous visits every week [to her students’ homes],” said a colleague. “In my whole life I’ve never known anybody who could pack one day with as much as Cheryll constantly did.”

She spent many hours of her own time tutoring Jordanian high school students to pass the high-stakes, comprehensive exams that determine who graduates, who gets into college and what they will study. 

She helped one student struggle through nursing school, even studying medical terms and textbooks to tutor him more effectively. He respected Harvey so deeply that he asked her to visit the family of his prospective bride to help him decide if she would be a suitable wife.

“She had such a gentle and mild spirit,” said a friend. “She was a person that people could come to.”

It was the same with her younger students at the Baptist school in Ajloun.

“Cheryll was known throughout the village,” recalled a co-worker. “She visited in the homes of all of her students. She even showed up at students’ homes when they weren’t expecting her. … Cheryll was all about the people. She spent a large portion of every year visiting her students, making sure that she went into the home of every single student.”

A colleague asked Southern Baptists to pray for the many people touched by Harvey’s life.

“Cheryll was a gentle person who loved Jesus,” he said. “She showed that love to Jordanians, first to the many children she taught in Ajloun and their families and then to those in Irbid as she taught English. … She connected with her people at the heart level. We pray that her witness continues to bear much fruit. … Cheryll’s life has crossed the finish line. She was faithful through the end of this life and to the beginning of her real life.”

IMB President Tom Elliff also appealed for prayer.

“We pray for her immediate family members in Texas, and for her family members and friends around the world, but especially in Jordan,” Elliff said. “The impact of Cheryll’s life will live on for eternity. For Cheryll’s assailant and his family, we pray God’s mercy and grace to invade the dark corners of his heart. For us, Cheryll’s death brings us face to face with the urgent importance of our work. With every word, thought and action we must glorify the One who purchased our salvation.”

Harvey was a member of College Heights Baptist Church in Plainview, Texas. She grew up attending First Baptist Church in Sudan. She received the bachelor of science degree from Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas; the master of arts degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas; and the master of education degree from Wayland Baptist University in Plainview. She taught in several Texas schools before going to Jordan.

Harvey is survived by two brothers who reside in Texas. Funeral arrangements are incomplete pending the ongoing police investigation of her death.

Bridges is IMB global correspondent. Graham is an IMB senior writer.

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