Kenya missionaries return to work despite continuing unrest

Global crisis consultant commends Episcopal Church's response
January 29, 2008

Kenya's Episcopal missionaries Nan and Gerry Hardison are steadfastly committed to continuing their ministry as teachers and health care specialists in Maseno, despite tribal and criminal gang violence that has roiled the east African nation since the December 27 contested presidential election.

The Hardisons returned to Maseno in west Kenya January 25 and are back to work, Gerry as the medical director of Maseno Mission Hospital and Nan as a teacher at St. Philip's Theological College.

They had been evacuated to Nairobi January 11 following the post-election conflict that threatened their security and is responsible for the deaths of more than 900 people. Also evacuated were a Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) volunteer, Liz White, who continued home to the U.S., and nine student nurses.

Violent protests between supporters of President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga erupted across the country after Kibaki was declared the winner in the closely contested election.

Parishioners from All Souls' Church, Point Loma, in the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, the Hardisons said that people in Maseno "are thankful and grateful to have us here -- we are a sign of hope. They are afraid for the future, and we are a signal that they are not abandoned by brothers and sisters in Christ from other parts of the world."

The problems in Maseno and nearby Luanda "are not tribal or revenge issues but criminal gangs that are out to steal what they can," the Hardisons reported in a January 30 email to the Rev. David Copley, mission personnel officer for the Episcopal Church. "They blockade the road to extort money, and loot shops. The police in Maseno are patrolling and protecting the college, the hospital and local businesses."

The Hardisons reported an 18-hour blackout in Maseno January 29. "Looters broke up the market in Luanda on Monday, the traders all scattered, and our administrative assistant and driver were able to get out safely. They were getting food for the college," they said, adding that the shops, bank and post office are now all closed.

Speaking of the Hardisons' desire to return to Maseno, Copley said: "We decided that the instability in the country may continue for some time. We had to make the decision whether to evacuate them from the country, in which case they may not be able to return for some considerable time, or to allow them to return to Maseno on the understanding that the situation remains uncertain."



ArmorGroup, a private protective security group in Kenya, recommended by the insurance broker with whom the Mission Personnel Office works, issued a report naming Kisumu -- some 19 miles from Maseno -- as one the areas worst hit by the post-election violence.


The relationship between the university and the hospital, the ArmorGroup report says, "was the reason for the well-planned deployment, just after the election but before the violence erupted, of nine young American nurses to Kisumu," who were on short-term assignment with Nan Hardison.

After the nurses' ambulance was stoned and the windshield smashed, Copley contacted the London-based global crisis consultant Neil Young Associates (NYA), ArmorGroup's international response specialists, to assess the security situation faced by the missionaries and the nurses.

"We believe your willingness to take ownership of the problem demonstrates exactly the correct approach to addressing the 'duty of care' responsibilities that all organizations face," said NYA country manager Neil Hellings in an email to Copley. "Your pro-active planning is a useful case study for other clients."

On January 10, a pre-emptive evacuation was carried out after it became clear that political unrest was likely to reignite tribal tensions.

"The situation deteriorated rapidly that day and, as such, evacuation by air was not immediately achievable," ArmorGroup's report states. "However, by that evening the evacuation team had managed to make it to the missionaries' home in Kisumu to provide reassurance and, using their detailed local knowledge, plan the extraction for the next day."

The missionaries were escorted January 11 to Kisumu airport where seats had been secured onboard a local tour operator's flight bound for Nairobi.

YASC volunteer White caught an onward flight to the U.S. the following day.

The Hardisons were escorted to the Anglican Guest House in the center of Nairobi, where ArmorGroup Kenya (AGK) continued to update them with security assessments and recommendations via text message and telephone.

AGK kept its team in Kisumu until the evening of January 13, it reported, "to provide protection to the nurses and then escort them to safety via a flight out of Kisumu.

"Throughout the process AGK made numerous calls to update the nurses' parents and similarly made sure the U.S. Embassy's American Citizens Service was kept fully briefed at all times."

Meanwhile, Ndungu and Rose Ikenye, Episcopal missionaries based in Thika, are reported to be safe, and Canon Percia Hutcherson, a former Episcopal missionary to the Diocese of Eldoret, Kenya, returned to the United States on January 9.

Hutcherson, 86, is a physical therapist who works with crippled children and adults at a clinic she established at the bishop's compound in Eldoret.

Reached at her Los Angeles home, Hutcherson said that the facilities there have not been directly affected by the violence. "In the past, churches were respected," she commented. The deliberate torching on January 2 of a nearby Assemblies of God church where some 35 women, children and elderly persons had sought shelter was a terrible shock to Kenyans, she said.

Hutcherson left Eldoret a few days after the massacre in the church, and took a chartered plane to Nairobi. "Things were calmer there," she said, adding that she was able to get a ticket home to Los Angeles a day or two after her arrival in Nairobi.

Hutcherson hopes to return soon to her work, but says that her plans are "totally up in the air" until conditions improve in Eldoret. "I'm just holding tight, not knowing what the next step will be."

"David Copley has done a tremendous job in the past few weeks, staying in touch with the missionaries, and responding quickly to their increasing concerns, while simultaneously checking with denominational counterparts on their responses and also exploring our evacuation options, insurance coverage, expenses, and other issues," said Canon Margaret Larom, director of the Episcopal Church's Office of Anglican and Global Relations. "I've been very impressed by the immediate, professional and pastoral actions taken by Neil Hellings, country manager for ArmorGroup, the provider of protective security contracted by Willis Insurance, and his close protection team."

The World Council of Churches (WCC) announced January 29 that it is sending a fact-finding and support team to Kenya.

WCC general secretary the Rev. Samuel Kobia, himself a Kenyan, said he hoped Kenya "will overcome the prevailing situation and that the churches will play an important part in speeding up that time."

The WCC said the January 30-February 3 visit aimed "to express the solidarity of churches worldwide with the Kenyan churches at a particularly challenging time." The visiting team will investigate how the world's largest grouping of churches can support Kenyan Christians in their quest for "peace and reconciliation."