It is our joy to serve over 100 churches in Kenya among the Newfrontiers family. When serious unrest arose in December 2007 following the presidential elections, Edward Buria, who leads the Newfrontiers churches, immediately launched ‘Mission Rebuild Kenya’ to help meet the immediate needs faced by some of the 350,000 people who were displaced from their homes.
As a family of churches we have stood financially with our Kenyan brothers and sisters through the formation of a Crisis Fund. My friend and colleague, Nigel Ring, has just returned from a visit and reports…
‘When our TVs reported the serious conflict many assumed this was a spontaneous response to unpopular election results. However, I soon learnt that was far from the truth. The conflict, which is along tribal lines, had been under the surface for decades. The elections were merely the catalyst. Some groups had been preparing for this conflict for months or years.
“The school I owned and my house were burnt down and I lost everything” said Ann, who was single-handedly teaching 180 children in one camp set up for Internally Displaced People (IDPs). “Will you go home after the conflict?” I asked. “Why should I? We have nothing to return to and are hated by our neighbours. I am frightened to return. I will stay here (in a tent).”
‘I encountered similar stories and reactions time and again. According to government statements most people have already returned willingly. The evidence on the ground tells a different story. Some ‘returnees’ are already back in the IDP camps with stories of their ‘welcome’ – one with a hand chopped off, others having had hate posters littered around their homes, or having received text messages of hatred with death threats.
‘I was greatly encouraged by the eight teams set up by Edward across the Rift Valley to bring the compassion of Christ in such practical ways. They have distributed many tonnes of food, hundreds of blankets and mosquito nets, clothes and basics like soap and cooking oil. Post-trauma counselling has also been given where possible to both adults and children, who, when asked to describe their experiences on paper, drew burning buildings and people wielding weapons.
‘As a result hundreds have been saved and baptised. They are now using their idle time in the camps to be discipled. In due course they will return to new locations as missionaries!
‘But not all IDPs are in camps. Many sought relations in other villages or were taken by truck to safe areas where they were embraced and cared for by local churches. These, too, need help. Not many African families can absorb ten extra mouths to feed without help or are equipped to handle traumatised people. I was amazed to find one rural church of 80 who had cared for over 1100!
‘In Naivasha, one of the real hotbeds of trouble, the Newfrontiers church was only two months old when the conflict erupted. They were overwhelmed by the need and a team travelled from Meru, four hours away, to assist. Over 600 children were added to the local primary school (normal school role of 2880) which was helped with food, exercise books and funding for 10 new pit latrines. Many families have now been added to the church including a substantial group of deaf people.
‘What about the children who have lost their parents, not knowing if they are even alive? Family tracing is an important part of such crisis intervention and working both with the Red Cross and as an independent network attempts are being made to bring families together once again.
‘What of the future? The urgency is to get people settled more permanently, especially as the cold season is now starting. The government is seeking fresh land where people can settle and build new homes, a process which is painfully slow if you are living day to day in a tent. Compensation has been mentioned, although not at a level for building houses. Employment is also being sought locally for the IDPs who can travel daily from the camps. However, such opportunities may not exist. It may require a start up grant to begin a small business and these are being made available through the Crisis Fund.
‘In many ways the future is bleak – is there worse to come? Tribal hatred runs deep and only the love of Christ will bring healing. Practically, Kenya is heading for severe food shortage. The Rift Valley is one of the main food production areas and many crops were destroyed in the conflict. Inflation is now in excess of 30%.
‘As I travelled round the different locations I was deeply impacted. The horror so many had experienced will be seared on their memories for years to come. Many exhibited hopelessness – one day they could have been wealthy business people the next they had nothing. And yet I was also encouraged by the radiance on the faces of many of the Christians and found myself reflecting if my faith would stand strong under such circumstances.
‘Please pray for this situation. The work being carried out by the teams is immensely demanding and funds are running short. As I spoke on many occasions to groups of IDPs I found myself often quoting Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep”. Let us be those who can stand with our brothers and sisters at such a time as this and faithfully play our part as we seek to identify with them.’