21 July 2008

Missionary couple brutally beaten in Kenya

This is heavy on my heart. Please pray for John and Eloise. I don't know them, but I am burdened to pray for them.

45 minutes of hell but couple forgives attackers

Their story is horrific, the photos are heartbreaking, but these Alberta missionaries are making a remarkable recovery. John and Eloise Bergen survived a vicious home invasion in Kenya.

Eloise Bergen was taking a hot bath last week in her Kenyan home when she looked up to see five men, each clutching machetes and clubs in their hands. "I thought, 'This must be a joke,' so I said, 'Can you please pass me my clothes?'” the 66-year-old from British Columbia, said in a telephone interview Friday from a Nairobi hospital room. "They raised their machetes and told me to get out of the tub. They wouldn't give me any clothes."

The men took Eloise's hands and tightly tied one with a black cell phone adapter cord and the other with a cord from her husband's electric shaver. Then Eloise, naked and dripping wet, was forced to stand up so the men, all local Kenyans in their 20s, could rape her. Three of them did. The attack lasted a horrifying 45 minutes. It was not nice," she said.

The gated home she shares with her Canadian missionary husband John, a place that was supposed to be a safe haven, had been violated.

"The tall one was in charge of me. He did everything standing up. He didn't lie me down," she said, her voice composed and unwavering. "I think he thought he could get away faster if we got caught. It was quite painful. Then he handed me over to the two others."

The whole time, she said, she did not utter a single word except whisper 'Jesus' over and over under her breath. After the men were done, they punched Eloise in her private parts, choked her three times and cut her with their machetes. Her jaw was broken. She needed 35 stitches to close the cuts on her face.

Seven people - five men and two women - have been arrested for the brutal attacks on the Bergens. Two of the men taken into custody have been identified as their security guards, hired in the last three weeks to protect the couple at night.

Eloise and John, 70, had recently moved into their own house on a gated farm in Kenya, where they grow food for local children. They were working with the non-profit organization Hope for the Nations.

The retired couple had moved to Africa to help widows and orphans in the city of Kitale and help refugees who had fled a political crisis. They had been living in Kenya for four months when the brutal home invasion occurred.

Eloise said after she was attacked the suspects demanded her car keys. She was then forced to lie down on the floor and was covered with blankets and a mattress. That's where she lay, waiting to hear the thieves start her car and drive into the distance before she got up and cut her bonds loose with a pair of cosmetics scissors to search for her husband, who she hadn't seen since the attack started.

With a thin blanket draped around her body, she ran out into the yard, calling his name. Eventually, she found him lying in the bushes, his arms and legs broken. His head had been slashed by the machetes.

What followed, Eloise said, was "miraculous." The car she thought the thieves had driven away was still sitting in her driveway. They had crashed it into a tree and fled.

The petite Eloise dragged her husband, by then a "dead weight" into the car. "He kept asking me, 'Are we in Africa? Are we in Africa?' "she said. "My face was pouring blood." It took her three tries to get the car moving. Eloise had to ram through the gates surrounding her farm to drive for help, 20 minutes away.

Ryan Schumacher, the director for the East Africa division of the Hope charity, said the couple was a horrifying sight when they pulled into the missionary camp. "It was one of the worst things I've seen in my life. They were covered in blood, head to toe."

The Bergens were rushed to Kitale's tiny and understaffed hospital, where the lone nurse on duty that night had to cope with rats the size of coke bottles while performing first aid. Within half an hour, however, the hospital was crowded with doctors, pastors, and friends looking to help the wounded couple, said Schumacher.

It was only when they arrived at the hospital that she realized how seriously injured her husband was. The assailants had struck John's skull, jaw, arm, knee, and leg with clubs.

He also had been severely cut with machetes. He needed so many stitches to his face that the doctors "lost count," Eloise said. She said John will need to undergo four major surgeries. Both will need extensive medical procedures to fix their broken jaws. They were later air-lifted to Nairobi.

Steve Pippin, who lives in the same Kenyan village as Eloise and John Bergen and works for the same Christian group, said police made the arrests about a day after the attack.

"She's an amazingly tough lady for how she dealt with it," he said of Eloise. Or, as her husband put it: "She's a trooper, for one thing."

This crisis has given her more strength to help those in need, Eloise said. "Today in my hospital room, an Ethiopian young girl came in and she just started crying. We both cried together because she had gone through the same thing (rapes) too," she said.

Her husband was in similar spirits just hours before he was scheduled to undergo the first of his surgeries. Although he couldn't move either of his arms and his jaw was about to be wired shut, John spoke in glowing terms of his co-workers and the residents of Kitale.

"The people here are hospitable, charitable, and have shown us nothing but love," he said "It's just a few thugs that are a little different."

Attacks like the Bergens' experience are common in the poorest and most remote regions of Kenya. But those attacks never targeted Western aid workers and missionaries, said John. He never expected to be jumped while tending to the gardens, but he said the farm had had problems with their night watchmen, who would later take part in the assault. "Maybe they just got tired of the Mzungu (white person) telling them what to do," he said.

He remembers standing outside in the dark, when seemingly out of nowhere, he was hit repeatedly with clubs and could feel the machetes "just gashing me, slashing me, cutting."

For the moment, John said he's glad to have survived the attack. "I was just praying, 'Jesus, help me, Jesus, Jesus,'" he said. "They left my life intact. It's amazing . . . it was an answer to my prayers."

John said he is now more determined than ever to help the impoverished children and widows of western Kenya, and he can't wait to get back to work. "My job is in Kenya, to grow food for the hungry, to build schools for children who really need them, and to teach them about God," he said. "What would we do in Canada? There's a social safety net back home that just doesn't exist here."

His family is shaken by what happened, their 20-year old son, Josh said, and he knows there will be disagreement over whether his parents should come home. "Of course I'd like them to come back, because it's safer," he said. "But at the same time, if you want to stay in a country after something like that, there are probably good reasons for doing it." The couple has no medical insurance and had sold their house, vehicle, and furniture before departing.

"It's unfortunate that these guys turned on us. It might've been an influence of alcohol and drugs," Schumacher said from Nairobi. "It's this bush mentality. They had grown up in the bush, not owning a pair of shoes and they thought that they could get something out of the Bergens."

In the end, the thieves stole laptops, cameras, clothes, and as much as $5,000 in cash, money that was supposed to go to African orphans. All of it has since been recovered.

Schumacher returned to the Bergens' house with police to find bloodied machetes and blunt instruments carelessly strewn about. The police dusted for fingerprints and caught the seven suspects after a quick fight in which the young men were soundly beaten, said Schumacher.

Nonetheless, Eloise said one of the first things she and her husband want to do once they fully recover is to visit their assailants.

"When I woke up this morning, I was picturing the time will come when John and I are physically well again," she said. "It's in both of our hearts to go to the prison and tell them about our forgiveness."

They had recently moved from the organization's compound to their own house about six miles away because they had wanted to be nearer to the widows and orphans in the city of Kitale, helping people who have fled a political crisis.

Eloise said that she remained calm during the ideal because God was on her side. "I was conscious of an overwhelming fear. But I knew I must do what they tell me to do. I have to remain calm." She said the culprits were very nervous during the whole ordeal.

"They were very nervous and jumpy and afraid that somebody might find me during this. They had the machete at my throat almost all the time," Eloise said.

When asked what the motive was behind this attack, she replied: "I don't know the reason. It was not reasonable." Mr. Bromley said Friday that he knows the couple wouldn't let an attack like this deter them from their volunteer work. "The Bergens are wonderful, fabulous people," said friend, Alicia Chirkoff. "They were continuously looking for people to help."

"They left him for dead in the bushes," said Ralph Bromley, president of the Hope society, which is based in Kelowna. "The brutality of it is very difficult to handle."

Although the locals are desperately poor, Mr. Bromley said it doesn't explain the viciousness of the assaults. "Especially at their age, why can't the thugs just tie them up and take the stuff?" he asked.

"They were drenched in blood. A Canadian medic had never seen anything like it. Our team was traumatized," said Mr. Bromley. "The family is deeply concerned and shaken. The amount of sympathy and support in Canada has been overwhelming."

John Bergen, an experienced international aid worker originally from Alberta, has retired from the construction industry. Eloise, an American from Georgia, has retired from teaching music. They were teaching English and providing food to locals, who are hard-pressed by threefold increases in the prices of beans and corn. "The poorest of the poor were around them. They are under tremendous stress," said Mr. Bromley.

Their daughter-in-law describes a conversation with her eighteen year old son, after he arrived at their hospital in Nairobi. "He said Mom, Grandpa shouldn't have any legs, any arms. They should be all chopped up and gone and he said the angels stopped the machete from going right through his body."

Once they are back on their feet, the family says the Bergens will likely return to Kenya to continue their mission to help orphaned children.

Eloise Bergen was already out of the hospital Friday, and John was expected to be discharged during the weekend. They are to fly back to Canada this week.

18 July 2008

Please Pray for Joe

This is my friend, Joe Kuria. He's the one I mentioned recently that has TB. Please pray for him:

  • complete healing and renewed physical strength
  • healing from past emotional hurts
  • an overwhelming awareness of God's love for him
  • a place to live after he finishes his course of treatment (August 30th)
  • a job or some sort of income

George and Linet's family

George, Linet, Derrick, and Jeremy came to my house for lunch recently. We always have a great time together!

A Recent Cycling Adventure

A lack of playtime keeps you from taking in information effectively and seeing the totality of a situation. Lack of play has a negative impact on your reflex time, general resilience, and ability to ward off infection. Recreation deprivation also makes you cranky.

"When did you have your last vacation?" Almost always, the answer is some variation of, "Well, I don't really do vacations that are about relaxing and rejuvenating. There's just too much to get done."

The bitter irony is that the vacation-deprived usually think they're doing everybody a favor by continuing to work themselves to the brink of exhaustion. But the reality is that they're costing everyone -- and themselves. Work addiction is an insidious thing. Like other addictions, you usually have to bottom out before you can summon the courage to change."

Written by Barbara Reinhold, Monster contributing writer.

Taken from the Missionary Travel Service website.

Indeed, my recent hike at Mt. Longonot, my personal retreat at Manzoni, and now... my cycling adventure this week were all little mini-vacations for me.

Kim and I recently cycled 30 kilometers (20 miles) in the Ngong Hills area. We had an absolutely exhilarating day! It was cloudy and cold, but we didn't let that deter us in any way!

We stopped here for a soda and some biscuits.
And a rest.

Our destination was Denys Finch-Hattan's grave. If you've read the book or seen the movie of "Out of Africa", you'll likely recognize that name. His grave is very obscure and none of the local Kenyans seem to be familiar with it. I had to do a bit of research (asked lots of people lots of questions) to find out where it was located. In fact, we were prepared to NOT find it on this day.

I was so excited to see this dilapidated sign hanging on a tree. WE'D ACTUALLY FOUND THE PLACE!

Here we are at the grave site. This blue sign is the marker on the obelisk. It contains the dates of his birth and death (1887-1931) and a line from one of his favorite poems. The poem is by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and is titled, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

"He prayeth well, who loveth well both man and bird and beast"

The grave is located on private property; we paid $7.00 for both of us to enter. The entry fee helps to support the poor family that owns the land.

More Sights on our Journey

This very tall cypress tree has bougainvillea growing all the way up! It was beautiful, brilliant purple.

We encountered literally dozens and dozens of children going home for lunch from the school at Kahawa village. Because they're mostly all Kikuyu, they greeted us with, "How ah roo?" (How are you?)

Notice the woman on the right.
She's carrying a load of grass, likely to feed some cattle.

This woman is carrying a heavy load of firewood. She's probably spent several hours to cut this. Depending on how large her family is, it may last her a couple of days. Rural Kenyan women have a hard life, to put it mildly!

Final Two Shots from our Ride

A couple of the peaks of Ngong Hills.
This was early on in our ride.

On our way through Ngong town, as we headed back to my house, we stopped for a late lunch of "nyama choma" (roasted meat).

The meat is usually served on a wooden platter like this. The waiter cuts it up for you at the table. The two little white piles are salt. The green stuff is "sukuma wiki" (greens) and the red stuff is "kachembari" (fresh salsa). The white stuff on the far right is "ugali". Everything is eaten with your fingers.

It was delicious! We were both stuffed. The entire meal, including two large sodas, cost less than $4.00!

Photos from My Hike during My Recent Personal Retreat

More on My Hike

07 July 2008

July Prayer Letter

This month I have many things for which to praise the Lord! June seems to have been an eventful month.

  • Jess and Jason had their baby! Cadence Jaylee was born on Saturday, the 28th of June. That makes five grandkids for me now. Be sure to go to their website by clicking on the link on the right.
  • I’m feeling much better emotionally. The heaviness of depression seems to have lifted!
  • I am continuing to renew my mind regarding the fact that I am an alien in a foreign country. Just call me “Gershom”.

  • Kim and I took a day out of our normal routine and climbed Mt. Longonot. What an exhilarating experience that was! Here I am at the rim of the volcano.

  • I was greatly blessed to be invited to the rural home of a couple from church. They feel like God has given them a ministry of offering their home in this way to refresh missionaries. I had an absolutely wonderful two-and-a-half day retreat. The above photo is the view I had from the sitting room of the guesthouse.
  • I got a ride with Claire (another friend from church) to Matunda. It was a pleasant change of pace to be able to travel in a private car. We stopped at a few places that I’m unable to when traveling in a public service vehicle, including two scenic viewpoints. Kenya is such a beautiful country!

  • While I was at my house at Matunda, I spent some time with Charles and Agnes. I was happy to see her doing much better. She’s not 100% yet, but Sunday (the day I went to visit them) she had walked 30 minutes (one way) to church. They asked me to thank all of you that prayed for her. Please continue to uphold them in prayer.
  • Joe is continuing to do ok; he’s still quite weak and thin. However, he’s putting his hope in the Lord for his complete recovery.
  • I got my work permit, re-entry pass, and alien card renewed for another year. The hassles of Kenyan-style bureaucracy completely defy description! The best (and actually only) approach is to just patiently and politely go through each and every step, jumping through the hoops one at a time.

  • I had a great birthday! I heard from many of you in the States, plus some of my Kenyan friends. Kim and I went for a long walk through a really neat hilly area. We carried a simple lunch and flew a kite. Here I am flying it. The sun was out for much of our day, which was an extra blessing during this chilly, gray "winter" season Kenya is experiencing.
  • I took Jeremiah and Karo out for their 4th wedding anniversary.
  • I got to see Sammy play rugby at the Safari Sevens international tournament. In fact, it was my first time to attend a sporting event in Kenya. He’s a good player.
  • I moved into a different house on the same compound where I’ve been living. This one has only one bedroom, so it will save me some money every month. I like it. Somehow it seems to be more cozy and homey than the other one.
  • I started the long and tedious process of editing more of my stories for another book.

Please continue to pray for:

  • Agnes to find out what exactly has been causing her pain. Also, pray that they would find a different house. The one they’ve just recently rented has to be knocked down for a new road.
  • Joe to be able to eat nutritionally and continue to heal from TB.
  • Sammy to find a job in the tourism industry. He’s almost finished with his first year of college.

“Many little people in many small places undertaking many modest actions can transform the world.”
- African proverb

The "Arresting Sight" of Mt. Longonot

Rising from the shores of Lake Naivasha up to an elevation of 9,108ft, Mt Longonot is the highest volcano in the Great Rift Valley. Its name is derived from the Masai word oloonong'ot, meaning "mountains of many spurs" or "steep ridges". One of the youngest volcanoes in the world, it is thought to have last erupted in 1860.

Mt Longonot is known for its exceptional scenic beauty and amazing V-shaped valleys. A dense forest of small trees covers the vast crater floor; small steam vents are found spaced around the walls of the crater. From the top (on the rim of the crater) you can enjoy breathtaking views of the surroundings, offering an unforgettable and arresting sight.

Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth. Rise free from care before the dawn, and seek adventures… we should come home from far, from adventures and perils and discoveries every day, with new experience and character.

- - Henry David Thoreau

Of the gladdest moments in human life, me thinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of habit, the laden weight of routine, the cloak of many cares, and the slavery of hope, one feels once more happy.

- - Sir Richard Francis Burton, wanderlust-struck explorer, author, poet, and linguist

I paused to recover my breath. I looked about me to form some notion of the topographical features of the extensive landscape that lay before me. The view well repaid the toil of climbing - indeed when does not a mountain prospect repay the adventurer?

- Joseph Thomson (Through Maasai Land)

The scene was of such an astounding character that I was completely fascinated, and felt under an almost irresistible impulse madly to plunge into the fearful chasm. So overpowering was this feeling that I had to draw myself from the side of the pit.

- - Joseph Thomson, explorer and first white person to climb Mt. Longonot in 1884

More From Our Hike at Mt. Longonot

Our Hike up the Mountain

As we approached the mountain, we saw numerous zebra, giraffe, and Thomson gazelle - all very beautiful animals! We also saw a Secretary bird and some eland.

This photo really doesn't do the steep incline justice! It was a hard, but fun hike. There's some areas that have about three inches of powdery volcanic ash. Kim kept saying it was "puffy". It was an appropriate term to use! Every time our feet would step down into it, it would almost explode in a tiny billowy cloud of dust. Very fascinating!

The stuff on these branches is called Old Man's Beard. In the background, you can see the bottom of the crater. It's covered in a very dense forest. Another time we go back, we'd like to try to hike down into it. We got to see jets of steam coming out of the sides of the crater. So very interesting!

Mt. Longonot

The mountain from a distance

The peak at the rim

Mount Longonot

Here's Kim, also at the rim of the crater. We had such a wonderful time! We chatted about God and His Word and some deep issues of life while we hiked.

I Attended My First Sporting Event in Kenya

I finally got to watch Sammy play rugby recently! None of these pictures are of him, though. Kenya has been hosting the Tusker Safari Sevens international tournament now for about 13 years. Most teams come from Africa, but there were also teams from Japan, Fuji, the UK, and France. It was a huge 3-day event! The teams are all what's called "seven-a-side" and the games only last for 14 minutes.

Kenya's main team won the tournament. Sammy played on Kenya's 2nd team - Shujaa. It means "hero" in Swahili. They got 5th place. He played well. He was quite pleased that I came to see him.