This past Sunday, Stephen Mburu, the 43 year old pastor of the church that was burned down – with 35 people inside – told his story in our church.
[What I am posting here is mostly taken from the March 1 article in the Nation newspaper– (sorry, I can’t find the link, but it was reposted on allafrica.com). I’ve rearranged it a bit and mixed in a couple of quotes from FaithSpot.com’s 29 Feb article.]
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“Violence broke out on the evening of December 30, just after the presidential result was announced,” he recalled. “On that evening, Kimuri, a neighbouring village, was attacked, forcing the residents to flee to Kiambaa.”
The fleeing Kimuri villagers were offered refuge at the church where Pastor Mburu ministered before the violence broke out. “We thought the church was the safest place for them to be. Normally, a church or any other religious building is a place of sanctuary. “We did not imagine that somebody would attack people who had sought refuge in a place of worship since such a thing had never happened before in our country.”
Fearing that violence would break out, the Kiambaa elders advised women and children to pack their belongings and congregate at the church alongside Kimuri villagers.
Despite the anxiety and tension, Pastor Mburu attended an overnight service at a neighbouring church to welcome the New Year. “Everyone was worried about the unfolding situation,” he said. “I knew there was going to be trouble, but I did not imagine it would be so catastrophic. Since there was little I could do about it, I went to pray for peace and the unity of our nation.”
[When he heard a huge mob was menacing the refugees at his church, he raced back to help them.]
. . . “Just as they started attacking, we told the children and women to lock themselves inside the church because we thought the gangs were targeting men,” the clergyman told the Saturday Nation this week.
The few men present tried to resist, but they were easily overpowered by the about 300 attackers. “It is natural for anyone to defend their life when in danger,” he recalled. “But there were only a few of us and we were easily overpowered.
“We started fleeing in different directions. Unfortunately, some people were not lucky and were either shot with arrows or hacked to death with machetes.”
The youths then doused the displaced villagers’ mattresses and blankets with petrol and set them alight. “While this was happening another group pursued those trying to escape and hacked them to death,” he recounted.
Pastor Mburu found an escape route through a fence, and as he was about to jump over the fence to safety, he heard voices of children calling for help as they struggled to escape through the church windows.
“Although my life was in great danger too, I could not ignore the calls from the children,” he said. “I decided to save them if this was the last thing I would do in this world.” He braved the inferno and rescued five. “The sixth child, a girl, was already on fire and I led her back into the church in order to save others who were not yet on fire.
Somebody called out my name and when I turned around, I saw arrows pointed at me. Fear gripped me, sapped all the strength in my body and I fell on my knees.”
Mburu remembers the scene clearly. “When I turned from the church window, I saw a group of people with bows and arrows aimed at me,” he says. “I remembered that just the previous Sunday I had preached on Psalm 91:5: ‘Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day.’”
[Now there is a man who believes what he preaches and stand by it!!]
Although he was not hit by the arrows, one youth viciously attacked him with a sharpened stick, knocking off eight teeth and inflicting deep cuts on his head, leaving him for dead.
The youths then heaped blankets and wood on him, set them on fire and proceeded to attack other people. “The smell of petrol and fire brought me back to consciousness and I managed to crawl to safety, but collapsed again due to excessive bleeding,” Pastor Mburu recalled.
At the end of the attack, 35 women and children lay dead in the burnt out church in Uasin Gishu district’s Kiambaa village, victims of the post-election violence that has so far claimed more than 1,000 lives and displaced over 350,000 people.
The 44-year-old church leader said his escape was a miracle. “My attackers attempted to set me ablaze, knocked off eight of my teeth, inflicted deep wounds on my head and left me to bleed to death,” he said. He thanks God for sparing his life. “I am not more special than the people who died in the church that day,” he said. “I think God wanted me as a church leader to see what happens when there is not enough love in our hearts for our neighbours.”
True to his calling, the pastor says he harbours no grudge against the people who perpetrated the violence that nearly claimed his life. “I have forgiven them,” he said. God, he added, spared his life so that he could preach love and forgiveness to all people. He has visited the ruins of the church many times accompanying local and international visitors since the horrific incident, and its sight overwhelms him. “Memories of this church fill me with both sadness and joy,” the pastor said. “Sadness because many people died in this place, and I could have been one of them, and joy because I survived to tell the story.”
Asked if Kikuyus and Kalenjin’s could get along together, Mburu said, “It will require the intervention of God. People can forgive, but it will be hard for them to forget what happened.”
. . . .As Steven Mburu surveys the rubble of Kiambaa Assembly of God, he knows the crisis will continue long after the violence stops. Within his congregation, people are grieving their losses and wondering what the future holds. While he cannot answer all the questions, he plans to remind them of the only sure thing in life — salvation through Christ.
“When I go back to the pulpit, I want to remind them to be ready for the possibility that tomorrow may never come,” he says. “In this world we are passersby. Then I’ll preach salvation — so that people get prepared.”
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Everyone was obviously moved as he retold his story this Sunday. Every Kenyan I know is shocked about how such a thing could have ever happened here. I still can’t fathom how someone who has lived through that picks himself up the way this pastor has. I didn’t get a close up look at him, but he looked and sounded pretty good from the middle of the church where I was sitting. My sister, who met him personally at the church office, said he looks like a walking war wound.
One of the things he mentioned on Sunday is how all of his congregants somehow escaped alive. All those who tragically died were refugees from other areas. As sad as he is for all those other people, it was significant to him that God had rescued everyone he had assured of God’s deliverance in an earlier sermon. I know this is a tricky issue and it’s hard to say it right, but it meant a lot to him God had not failed to deliver those who had specifically trusted in him – even though they had to pass through the valley of the shadow of death.
When my pastor first heard this story, he sent a text message to all the dentists in the church asking if any of them could help. One dental surgeon had already been wondering how to get involved, so he is doing all the reconstructive surgery for free. Some of the other dentists have organized themselves to contribute to the cause as well.
Our church also gave him about $6,000 to help him build a house (that’s actually a huge amount for his context). Earlier in the week when he met my sister and found out she was American, he immediately started telling her he needed steel beams for the church he wants to rebuild. She had to tell her that although she is American, she’s just a lowly intern in this church. He should really be talking to some of the highly successful Kenyans in our church.
At the end of the service, as Mburu was thanking the church, the dentist, and his host family; he mentioned that there are things he has always hoped and prayed for . . . Not only has God answered all those prayers, but he has surpassed even his wildest dreams.
He deserves it!