A widowed mother of three, Agnes Bosibori lost what few possessions she had when an angry mob burned her home to the ground in Kericho, in Kenya’s fertile Rift Valley.
She hid in the lush forest near her home for four days before police escorted her to her church family in the village of Kisii.
Her fellow Christians are sharing what they have, but the cost of everyday items, from sugar to soap, has tripled, minister David Marube said.
“The situation here is likely to worsen as violence continues,” Marube said in a recent e-mail from Kisii. “There are no signs of it coming to an end soon.”
Bosibori is one of the estimated 250,000 Kenyans displaced by riots in this East African nation. The ethnically charged violence, following a disputed presidential election, has claimed more than 500 lives.
At least 10 members of Churches of Christ are among the dead, said Isaac Onoka, a minister in Nakuru, in central Kenya near the flash points of the attacks.
Students with a Texas campus ministry were trapped near the capital, Nairobi, when the riots interrupted their mission trip to help impoverished children. Also trapped were eight members of the Kampala, Uganda, church, returning from Tanzania, said Kampala minister Isaac Sanyu. Nairobi church member George Onchang fed and housed the travelers in his humble apartment.
The conflict has “ceased to be just a Kenyan problem, but (has become) a regional one,” Sanyu said. A hub of economic and political activity, Kenya’s distress has caused price hikes throughout East Africa.
In Uganda, fuel prices are five times higher than before Kenya’s election, Sanyu said. ‘FAMILIES TURN AGAINST EACH OTHER’
Like many Kenyan Christians, Charles Ngoje used to think that the violence in his home country was “something that could happen only in Rwanda, Sudan and Somalia … not Kenya.”
“We were wrong,” said Ngoje, a missionary in Tanzania.
On Dec. 27, Kenyans went to the polls to decide between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga. Kenya’s Electoral Commission declared Kibaki the winner, but international observers said the election was flawed.
Supporters of Odinga began targeting members of the president’s ethnic group, according to news reports. Other clashes followed among Kenya’s 40-plus tribes.
“This is unspeakable and unexplainable — when once-loving neighbors, friends and families turn against each other with great rage, butchering one another without mercy,” said Mustafa Masudi, a church member in Mount Elgon, a focal point of the attacks in western Kenya.
About 125 miles southeast, seven church members were killed in the city of Narok, Onoka said.
Two church members died in violent clashes in the western city of Kisumu, and one died near Mount Sinai Bible Camp, a church-supported facility near Mauche, he said.
Six members of Aggies for Christ, a College Station, Texas-based campus ministry, were running a day camp for children in Kamulu when riots began 20 miles away in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.
The team canceled plans to work with street children in Nairobi and flew to Tanzania, said Charles Coulston, coordinator of the ministry, Made in the Streets.
The group worked with churches in Tanzania before returning to Texas. CHAOS BRINGS ‘POWERFUL TESTIMONY’
In the Rift Valley city of Eldoret, church members sheltered fleeing Kenyans whose homes were torched by mobs from rival ethnic groups, missionary Keith Gafner said. At the height of the violence, one congregation housed more than 200 people, he said.
In coastal Mombasa, minister Michael Mutai and his family barricaded themselves in their home during the worst of the riots. When he ventured out, Mutai found a family of five camping at the compound of the church he serves.
“We gave them what is available — prayers, water and a room to sleep,” Mutai said.
In addition to death, hunger and fear, the crisis has produced “the most powerful testimonies I have ever heard throughout my 20 years in the faith,” said Jacob Agak, principal of Winyo Christian Academy in the western Kenyan town of Rongo. “The skirmishes have drawn most of us even closer to Christ.”
Although many Kenyans claim to be Christians, the clashes have revealed that some are “tribal first and Christians second,” Gafner said.
Economic aftershocks of the violence likely will last for years, Sanyu said from his home in Uganda. Several U.S. churches are collecting funds to help displaced people.
Beyond providing relief, African churches must confront the underlying problem of tribalism, which has fueled conflicts across the region, Sanyu said.
“The only weapon and hope that Kenya and the rest of Africa have is the church,” Sanyu said.
“If the church is where unity stems from, if the church is where you find a common faith that is free of any cultural bondage … then Kenya needs the involvement of the church more than ever before.”