JERUSALEM – Dozens of people attended a memorial service Thursday for an American tourist stabbed to death in a forest outside of Jerusalem, remembering her as a devout Christian who made great sacrifices for her faith.
Attendees sang songs, recited prayers and recalled the life of Kristine Luken, a 44-year-old Christian who left a job with the U.S. Department of Education to work with a religious outreach group in Israel. The service focused on Luken's life and faith, with only indirect references to how she died.
"There is a world to come," said Rev. David Pileggi of Christ Church in Jerusalem's walled Old City. "And our dear sister Kristine, even though she died a very tragic death, is now with God and enjoying his presence."
Pileggi said none of Luken's family traveled from the U.S. for the ceremony. Her body underwent an autopsy at an Israeli hospital, he said, and was to be flown to the U.S. Thursday night. He did not disclose the destination. Luken lived most of the last two decades in northern Virginia.
Luken, 44, was killed Saturday while hiking with a friend, who said two Arab men attacked them with a bread knife. The friend said she escaped to a nearby parking lot after playing dead. Police found Luken's body hidden under some bushes the next day.
The forest is inside Israel but close to the West Bank. Police say they believe the crime was "nationalistic" — a reference usually used to describe Arab attacks on Israelis — but have not ruled out crime. Police have placed a gag order on the case.
Luken was involved with the "Church's Ministry among Jewish people," a missionary group, in the U.S. and England. Some forms of missionary work are illegal in Israel, but Christian outreach groups quietly operate low-profile programs for Israelis interested in their message. Pileggi said Luken frequently visited Israel to lead educational programs.
Hints of the group's efforts among Jews and Christians were visible in the stone-arched sanctuary. A cross appeared in a stained-glass window above a wooden table holding a Jewish menorah. A Christmas tree stood nearby.