Kenya: Beyond the bloodshed
By Kirk Noonan
Discerning rumor from truth must have been difficult. Angry
protestors — enraged by the outcome of Kenya’s general election last
December 27 — were looting, burning down people’s homes and killing
Kikuyus, Kenya’s ruling class. Even worse for Steven Mburu, pastor of Kiambaa
Assembly of God, a mob was reportedly headed toward his church near Eldoret, a
town situated in the central Rift Valley near the Ugandan border.
Mburu wisely took precautions and invited everyone in the
village to camp out on the church compound. He must have figured the church was
the most secure place to be. After all, churches are places of refuge, and
Kenya had a reputation as one of the most stable democracies in Africa. Why
would anyone attack people at a church?
Mattresses, blankets, clothing, housewares and furniture
cluttered the church grounds, making it look like a Saturday morning flea
market. Mburu didn’t mind. The mismatched collection of goods represented
everything the people owned — or at least everything they could carry.
The church usually celebrated on New Year’s Eve, but because
of the turmoil Mburu and a handful of church elders held an all-night prayer
vigil instead. Just after 1 a.m. Mburu was informed that 200 men armed with
clubs, machetes, and bows and arrows were headed toward the village.
“We cried out to the Lord that we would see the morning,”
recalls Mburu. “Our fear grew, but we made it through the night and into the
Hoping to be spared, Mburu and the elders agreed to meet
again at 10 a.m. to pray about what to do next. Shortly after 10 a.m., the
church was surrounded by a mob bent on destruction.
“The attackers were coming fast and from all different
directions,” says Mburu. “Some people decided to run, while others stayed to
take care of the children.”
Those who stayed hurried inside the church. As they did,
Mburu overheard an attacker say that women and children could leave without
threat of harm. Mburu alerted the women and children, and some of them left.
Others were too scared to move.
Within minutes the mob swarmed into the compound and made
quick work of piling mattresses, bedding and clothing in front of the church
doors and windows. With all escape routes blocked, they doused the mattresses
with flammable liquid and lit them. The people inside were trapped.
A decades-long tension has existed just below the surface
between the Kikuyu people and Kenya’s other ethnic groups. Only 22 percent of
the nation’s 34 million residents are Kikuyu, yet they have made significant
strides in business, entrepreneurship, politics, land acquisition and community
affairs. The resulting prominence has led to envy and jealousy among other
“Kikuyus own a disproportionate amount of land and money
compared to other tribes,” says Mike McClaflin, Africa Regional Director for
AGWM. “Because of this, a seething tension exists between Kikuyus and other
When Raila Odinga’s presidential bid ended after the
incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, was declared the winner, many people felt as
if they had been cheated. In response thousands of Odinga supporters, led by
the Kalenjin ethnic group, began attacking Kikuyus.
“The simmering frustration between Kikuyus and Kalenjin
tribes erupted unexpectedly,” says McClaflin. “But the situation goes far
beyond politics. It is a tribal issue.”
Gregg Beggs, AGWM area director for East Africa, says
tribalism has fostered hatred and served as a source of division in Kenya for
“Even if the opposing parties reach peace, tribalism is not
going away,” he says. “It’s demonic.”
By the end of January more than 1,000 people were dead. The
U.N. estimates 600,000 are homeless. Though the root of the violence stemmed
from ethnic hatred, AG adherents absorbed much of the abuse. The attacks on AG
people led some to mistakenly believe that Christians were being targeted for
persecution. Nearly 400 churches were destroyed, and more than 70,000 AG
believers were displaced.
“Many AG people and churches were attacked simply because of
their location in the central Rift Valley,” says McClaflin. “We have many
churches there comprised primarily of Kikuyus.”
Fight for life
On New Year’s Day, Mburu and his congregation found
themselves squarely in the crosshairs of an angry mob. Within minutes after the
fire started, the church was engulfed in flames. Flames and smoke overcame the
people inside as they pleaded for mercy and screamed for help.
A few people escaped, only to be beaten and hacked by the
mob. Mburu decided he would die trying to save others.
“I thought, The children are our future, the ones who will
continue to preach God’s Word,” he recalls.
He helped four children out of the burning building before
the raging flames forced him to flee. As he did he heard a young boy cry,
“Pastor, rescue me!”
It was too late.
Away from the flames, Mburu was attacked and viciously
beaten. Several blows struck his face, and eight teeth flew from his mouth in a
cascade of blood. Then he felt the searing pain of a stab wound.
“After I was pierced I felt like I was dying,” he says. “My
strength left me as my blood did.”
After a month of fighting, thousands of refugees still live
in overcrowded camps in the Nairobi area. One teenage boy surveys his surroundings
and wonders aloud about his family’s future.
“We’ve lost everything,” he says, waving a hand as if to
say, Look at our pitiful circumstance. “We have absolutely nothing. No place
for accommodations or for business. When we go back to our villages, we’ll have
to start from zero.”
For some Kikuyus, going back to their villages is not an
option. Because of this, Beggs is convinced that relief efforts will continue
“The refugee situation is deteriorating and will get worse
in the coming months,” he speculates. “It’s been a difficult task to feed and
shelter people. Eventually, we will begin to rebuild the churches that were
destroyed, but first we must help get the 70,000 displaced AG believers back
Doing so will not be easy. Many refugees are afraid to leave
the confines of the camps — even though disease, abuse, deprivation and
theft are common.
“There is a huge scar on Kenya’s psyche,” continues Beggs.
“Our job is to preach forgiveness and acceptance. The tribal rift will be hard
to overcome, but healing is possible. However, it may take months if not years
for that to happen.”
Beggs and others believe selflessly serving others will help
bring healing to the country. Since the election, tens of thousands of Kenyans
have sought sanctuary at police stations, schools, fairgrounds and churches in
the Eldoret, Burnt Forest and Nakuru areas. Before the violence began, people
from multiple tribes worshipped side by side in AG churches. Even now, despite
what they have suffered, AG believers are quick to show love toward their
Since early January, the Kenya AG has helped provide support
for numerous camps throughout the country. The national church has been able to
respond swiftly to immediate needs with supplies and finances provided by local
churches and missionaries.
Within days after the initial bloodshed, Convoy of Hope had
filled 10 shipping containers with clothing, bedding and mattresses to help
those affected and was preparing for the long-term relief and recovery efforts.
AG Relief supplied funds for the shipping of the containers. This aid continues
to be a lifeline for thousands who have lost everything.
Convoy of Hope and AG World Missions have partnered together
to build a distribution center where supplies will be housed then sent to areas
via Speed the Light donated vehicles. Because of the center’s strategic
location in Nairobi, missionaries will be able to more easily address many of
the continent’s scourges, including lack of clean drinking water, food shortages
and insufficient housing. Recently, ground was broken for the center,
which will be completed shortly.
“The refugee situation in Kenya is going to continue for at
least several months,” says AG World Missions Communications Director Randy
Hurst. “The Kenya AG believers are sharing their food and clothing with their
homeless brothers and sisters as well as nonbelievers. But they are overwhelmed
with the refugee need and desperately need our ongoing help to adequately feed
“We need to keep offering all the hope we can to our Kenya
Assemblies of God national churches that are bearing such a tremendous load in
caring for the suffering,” McClaflin says.
Because of Convoy of Hope’s unique partnerships with
corporations, every dollar sent to AG Relief can provide $5 worth of supplies.
For $24, Convoy of Hope can purchase 110 pounds of beans; $41 will buy 110
pounds of rice; $13 will buy 110 pounds of maize; and $5 will purchase a warm
blanket. Just over $2 a day can feed a family of five.
“Two dollars will provide maize, beans and a vegetable for
an entire family,” says Hurst. “In 10 years of relief work I have never seen a
time when $2 could stretch so far to help people in need. This is an excellent
opportunity to impact people’s lives.”
Shortly after photographer Gaylon Wampler documented the
Kenya crisis for this TPE World Missions Edition, Jehosephat Karingu Mungai, an
elderly man who had sought refuge at Kamirithu AG in Nairobi, died. AG
missionary Bryan Burr, who serves as the East Africa regional representative
for Convoy of Hope and is leading relief assessment for the AG, attended the
funeral. He said, “At the funeral, it was announced that because of the love
and care that had been shown to their father and family, two of his youngest
sons had accepted Christ as their Savior just before he died.”
“Assemblies of God missions relief efforts always offer more
than just physical help,” says Hurst. “Jehosephat Mungai’s family saw the love
of Christ demonstrated. That’s the strength of our Fellowship. We are present
before, during and after crisis situations. When we do relief work, we touch
people’s lives spiritually.”
Burr says the long-term plan to help stabilize Kenya
includes helping people rebuild their lives. This will involve providing them
with tools, livestock, seeds for farming, and materials to construct homes and
“By giving them the basic tools to start a farm, we will be
helping them get back on their feet,” he says.
Within weeks after the violence began, attention by the
international media waned. But while the initial shock factor of the disaster
may have passed, the lean months of the aftermath have just begun.
Hurst recalls another horrific conflict in Africa 14 years
ago: the genocide in Rwanda. “After the worst initial violence was over (almost
1 million died in 100 days), a wire service photographer was packing up to
leave. He said to one of our missionaries, ‘This story is over; we’re moving
on.’ Our missionary replied, ‘This story is just beginning.’”
When Indonesia was racked by an earthquake-induced tsunami,
the international media, the AG and nearly 300 other relief organizations raced
into Aceh province, one of the hardest hit places, to help. Three months later,
90 percent of the agencies and almost all of the international media presence
had left. The AG stayed.
“We stayed for more than two years,” says Hurst. “In that
time we built 67 schools. Our AG churches in the U.S. gave enough to pay all
the costs of construction, and no project was left unfinished.”
Hurst says a strong AG presence in Kenya is critical.
“Though the media is not reporting on the situation in Kenya
as much as they were, the people still need our help,” he says. “AG Relief is
committed to sending several hundred thousand dollars to Kenya each month for
the next few months, if enough AG churches respond to our appeals.”
Despite the attacks, the national church in Kenya is strong
and vibrant. Thirty AGWM missionaries are ministering in the country and are
actively assisting the Kenya Fellowship in its efforts to rebuild homes,
churches and lives.
“We’ll be there to pick up the pieces when peace returns,”
says McClaflin. “We’ll be there to help rebuild the infrastructure, offer moral
support and be a conduit of tangible assistance from the United States.”
A place of refuge
Fifteen minutes after Pastor Mburu was beaten, police
arrived. He was taken to a hospital where he spent more than a week.
Mburu was one of the fortunate members of Kiambaa church.
More than 50 people died in the fire. Among them were women, children and
several of the elders who had prayed through the night with their pastor.
Recently, Mburu returned to his church. As he gazed at the
remains, he didn’t seem bitter. Instead, he seemed overwhelmed. “The attackers
did not recognize the church was a place of refuge,” he said solemnly.
But tens of thousands of homeless and suffering Kenyans are
finding refuge, not in a church building but in the love shown them by the
people of the church — in Kenya and around the world.
KIRK NOONAN is managing editor of Today’s Pentecostal
Evangel and blogs at Simple Plan (knoonan.agblogger.org).