Missionaries Killed In Oklahoma City Leave Legacy of Service
TEMPLE, Texas _ A lifetime of service to Jesus Christ is the legacy that Dr. Charles and Anna Jean Hurlburt left behind the morning of April 19.
That heritage has meant a world of comfort to the family and friends of the Hurlburts in the weeks since their lives were lost in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Sherry Elliott, the third of the Hurlburts’ four daughters, and her husband, Dr. Kent Elliott, both Oklahoma City natives now living in Temple, said they have found solace from the knowledge of what her parents did on earth and where they are spending eternity.
``Our lives just have never really had this kind of tragedy,″ said Mrs. Elliott, 37. ``It takes some time for us to really realize that they are gone.″
The bodies of the Hurlburts _ he was 73, she was 67 _ were among the last to be recovered from the rubble on May 4, the final day of the search for victims of the blast that eventually claimed 168 lives.
They were at the second-floor Social Security office of the federal building where they had gone to plan for their retirement.
The couple served as medical missionaries in Africa and established Bible schools in India.
April 19 and the 17 days that followed were an anxious time for the Elliotts and other family members.
Mrs. Elliott never considered that her parents might be in the building when she learned about the bombing. She did, however, think they were at the scene helping. Her mother, a nurse, and father, a dentist, were certified Red Cross volunteers capable of helping during a disaster.
As time passed without word from either of them, concerns began to mount. ``You try to convince yourself that everything’s all right even though you can’t reach them,″ she said.
The next day, Mrs. Elliott’s sister went to the Hurlburts’ home. She found a Social Security folder next to the telephone and realized her parents might have been in the federal building. The family asked that the couple’s photo be shown on television, and someone remembered seeing Dr. Hurlburt in the building.
When Kent Elliott received word from a family friend that Dr. Hurlburt had been identified, he left Scott and White Memorial Hospital, where he is an anesthesiologist, and brought the bad news home to his wife.
``I felt really badly hurting her,″ said Elliott, 40. ``That’s the thing that kept going through my mind. `I’m about to hurt (her).′ That was really hard.″
The Elliotts immediately packed and drove their three children to Oklahoma City the next day.
``By Thursday evening we knew there was a good chance they were in that building,″ said Sherry Elliott. ``My dad had been identified, and their van was parked by the building.
``We didn’t assume they were dead,″ she said. ``We were hoping they’d be found alive, and we continued to wait patiently.″
Six days after the bombing, family members become more realistic about the Hurlburts’ fate. They began talking openly of funeral arrangements.
Despite the enormity of the tragedy, Mrs. Elliott sees her parents’ death, and their being found together in a positive light. ``I saw that as a blessing because we could bury my parents together,″ she said, and that would provide a sense of closure for the family.
Some 1,300 to 1,400 people attended the funeral service for a couple who had diligently and unselfishly ministered their faith.
Charles Hurlburt completed dental school at the University of Illinois in 1953, and was also ordained through First Baptist Church in Wheaton, Ill.
The couple began their life of ministry in 1954, serving in what was then the Belgian Congo, now Zaire, for five years as medical missionaries. Sherry was born there. The family returned to the United States and settled in Naperville, Ill., where they were among the co-founders of the Naperville Bible Church. Mrs. Hurlburt continued nursing, while Dr. Hurlburt practiced dentistry and taught at Northwestern University.
The Hurlburts later resettled in Oklahoma City where Dr. Hurlburt was a professor of dental radiology at the Universityu of Oklahoma.
During the last quarter of their lives, they maintained an out-of-town Christmas list that exceeded 120 people from the various cities and countries where they had stayed during the past 40 years.
Their fervent mission work continued as recently as last fall, when they went to a remote section of India to conduct Bible school for 300 Indian children. In addition, they taught the pastors there how to teach Bible school.
The two of them became very ill in the extremely primitive conditions, and Charles Hurlburt told family members he was worried about whether they would be able to return.
Following the India trip, the Hurlburts, almost eerily, began talking with their family about their eventual death.
Mrs. Elliott said her father had recently told his sister-in-law that he believed their ``time is soon to be with the Lord.″
``These are the things that comfort us,″ she said. ``God has brought these things into our mind as an additional comfort, saying `This was their time. I had plans for them to come to heaven. I brought them to that circumstance.‴
The Elliotts have tried to put aside any rage or anger toward those responsible for the bombing.
``I feel bad about the tragedy and the evil in this world,″ said Mrs. Elliott. ``But my feeling from the very beginning has been that even though there is evil, God can use any situation He desires to accomplish His purpose.
``Even though there is a deep sadness in my heart, and I’m sure there will be for some time, there is a real peace. I know a lot of people have included us in their prayers and I feel that strength.″
That her parents died together is a comfort to Mrs. Elliott.
``So often when people die...it’s one at a time,″ she said. ``How beautiful to walk into the presence of the Lord together and not have to grieve the loss of each other.″
Distributed by The Associated Press