Kenyan pastors tell of surviving the violence
“Five churches burned to the ground. The rest were looted. Many of my church members died. We couldn’t get to their bodies before the dogs got to them,”
By Sue Sprenkle
Jan 29, 2008 Kenya (BP)–The run-down minibus taxi rattles diligently up the rocky, potholed road. Inside, the mood is somber and tense. No one dares talk. All are too busy looking out the window for would-be attackers.
The minibus comes to a stop in front of a Baptist church with broken windows. It obviously has been looted - pages of hymnals are stuck in the weeds and part of a broken speaker sits in the road.
This is the first opportunity for these Baptist pastors and their wives to survey the damage. With each stop, the pastors share their individual stories. (Because so many Baptist churches have been burned or looted in this province, specific names of churches and pastors are not given.)
At one stop, an entire village lay in shambles. Pastor Samuel, who had led the local Baptist church, quickly picks his way through piles of burned corrugated tin, keeping a watchful eye on the forest and hills nearby for signs of danger.
Samuel stops in front of a piece of charred, ashen ground. “Here,” he says quietly. “Here is our Baptist church.”
“It started on Sunday [Dec. 30],” Samuel whispers. “That morning, people from four different tribes worshipped together in this church. A few hours later, after the election results were announced, they turned on each other.”
“Five churches burned to the ground. The rest were looted. Many of my church members died. We couldn’t get to their bodies before the dogs got to them,” Samuel says. “Those who survived lost everything. I am a pastor without a Bible.”
“Our house of God has really become a home,” Wallace says, proud of his church’s transformation. “It’s very important for a church to open her doors and help those in need.”
When post-election riots broke out, Wallace planned to pack up his family and seek safety. He didn’t want the two young men staying with them on the church grounds to be pressured into carrying out violent acts with their classmates. As he locked the church compound, 20 families from the community ran to him seeking refuge.
The church quickly became a transition house. Often, families knock on the gate in the middle of the night, having barely escaped their burning house. They stay in the church until they can get to a camp for internally displaced people.
Wallace admits there have been some tense times. A church just a few blocks away burned with 30 people inside. On several occasions, youth have also surrounded a Catholic compound not far away.
At another stop, white tents made of tarp span the show grounds for as far as the eye can see. More than 20,000 tents stake out plots in this camp for internally displaced people, with more added every day.
“We must learn to trust in the promises of the Lord. The Lord has not forgotten us,” Martin preaches. “God has plans for our future and we must not forget.”