Image: Memorial for Kristine Luken
Oded Balilty  /  AP
Members of Kristine Luken's Christian community attend a memorial in Jerusalem's old city on Thursday before her body was to be flown back to the U.S.
updated 12/23/2010 1:55:00 PM ET 2010-12-23T18:55:00

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.

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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.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: American tourist murdered in Israel

  1. Closed captioning of: American tourist murdered in Israel

    >>> police in israel are searching for the killers of an american tourist brutally stabbed to death near jerusalem. martin fletcher has the detail this is morning.

    >> reporter: a close friend described the murdered woman as a wonderful, caring and godly person. she went for a christmas vacation hike in the jerusalem woods this weekend with a friend. it was a lovely, warm afternoon until according to the survivor two men speaking arabic asked for a drink of water. she was an american, christine luken, 46 years old. police found her body hidden under a bush. her friend also bound and stabbed multiple times surviveded only by pretending to be dead. she told rescuers -- i thought something was wrong, she said, i warned my friend, the men may attack. they did with what looked like a bread knife. susan bill son said the men tore the star of david from around here neck and stabbed her where it hung on her chest. i played dead, but i heard my friend die. christine luken was an evalngel can christian. she was on vacation. police sealed off the area and launched a massive man hunt for her killers. they were suspicion, there was a political attack aimed at jews. but it didn't rule out a criminal motivation. israeli troops surrounded a nearby arab hospital and checked the emergency room in case one of the killers was hurt. doctors showed them the patients' list.

    >> they asked by their id.

    >> reporter: but no arrests so far and police won't say a word about their progress. no organization has claimed responsibility for the murder which suggests to security sources the attack was unplanned. they say two men may have seen an opportunity and taking it. bad stuff for the christmas holidays in israel.

    >> that's certainly a horrible story. martin fletcher , thank you. it's


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