|United Methodist team fulfills commitment in Kenya|
A United Nations map highlights areas of Kenya that have erupted in violence following the country's disputed presidential election on December 27. A UMNS illustration courtesy of the U.N. Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
Feb. 14, 2008
A United Methodist Volunteers-in-Mission team arrived in Nakuru, Kenya, just as violence broke out in that Rift Valley city.
C.M. "Kip" Robinson Jr., associate VIM director for the denomination’s Southeastern Jurisdiction, said the team was never directly threatened during its Jan. 26-Feb. 7 work trip and was happy to bring "a message of hope" to Kenyans there.
Although four people dropped out when violence erupted in Kenya after the Dec. 27 presidential election, eight team members from across the Southeastern Jurisdiction arrived to start construction on a school. One team member returned home early, he said.
Robinson, who was making his fourth trip to Kenya and 14th visit to Africa, said he had relied upon advice from his host, the Rev. Josam Kariuki, pastor of the United Methodist congregation in Nakuru, about whether to proceed. "He said they had not experienced any trouble in Nakuru and that the road between Nairobi and Nakuru was safe," Robinson said.
“We were never threatened and we were never inconvenienced, although we could see all around us that things were happening.”
–C.M. "Kip" Robinson Jr.
A family issue arose soon after the team’s arrival in Kenya. On the morning of Jan. 27, after spending the night in Nairobi, Robinson’s wife received word that her father had died.
The Rev. Nancy Robinson is pastor at the North Decatur (Ga.) United Methodist Church. Her father, Hunter Griffin, had served many years in Zimbabwe as a missionary through the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries. With the encouragement of her mother and three sisters, she decided to continue with the mission trip as a way to live out and honor her father's legacy.
The team arrived at the hotel in Nakuru that night––the same night, they learned from the next day’s newspaper, that 47 people had been killed "in fresh Nakuru violence," Robinson said. The next day, another 32 people were reported killed.
"We didn’t know what to do with this information, except that we knew that we were safe," he said.
Trip planned last June
Robinson, who has a background in civil engineering, had begun organizing the work trip last June when Kariuki invited him to participate in the beginning of his church’s major construction project. The plan involves a boarding school, with both primary and secondary grades, that eventually will include a number of buildings.
"The objective of the boarding school was to have a place where children affected by AIDS … would have a safe place to go and a way to get an education," Robinson explained.
Working around the 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew imposed on the city, the team was able to assist at the construction site. Although they could not visit with church members as they had planned, the team was able to attend a couple of worship services. "We were never threatened and we were never inconvenienced, although we could see all around us that things were happening," he said.
It was obvious, he added, that many people and property were on the move, coming mostly from the west. Members of the Kikuyu ethnic group from Elderot, for example, came to Nakuru because of its large Kikuyu population.
According to its Web site, the Nakuru United Methodist Church is sending mobile health units to the Rift Valley areas affected by violence, focusing on the needs of women and children. The church also is helping to provide health care to the more than 4,000 displaced persons at Nakuru’s showground.
Food shortages in other parts of Kenya were not evident in Nakuru. Robinson pointed out that the boarding school project is providing employment for local people, "even some of the displaced persons."
The diverse workforce at the construction site was about one-third Christian, one-third Muslim and one-third with no particular religion, according to Robinson. "Every morning, we had devotions with the workers at the work site. Our message was: 'We are a connectional church, and we do this in the name of a risen Christ.'"
At least three more Southeastern Jurisdiction teams plan to assist at the project between now and July, as long as Kariuki confirms that it is safe. "They, too will bring the same message of hope," Robinson said.
For more information on Volunteer-in-Mission projects, visit http://www.umvim.org/home.htm.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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