(Editor's Note: This January 14, 2008 press release involves one of our broadcasters, Evangelical Methodist Church in Darlington, Maryland.)
Nairobi, Kenya â Along with the rest of the country, the Evangelical Methodist Church of Kenya (EMCK) has been deeply affected by the continuing turmoil which followed Kenyaâs highly contested December 27 national elections. Mobs took to the streets shortly after president Mwai Kibaki declared a narrow victory and had himself sworn in. Questions concerning election irregularities surfaced immediately and the death toll began to mount as age-old tribal tensions resurfaced.
Kibaki is a member of Kenyaâs dominant tribe, the Kikuyu, with more than 20 percent of the population. Raila Odinga, the opposition candidate, belongs to the Luo tribe that comprises about 13 percent of the population. Ethnic clashes have resulted in more than 600 deaths across the country, in addition to rampant looting.
Rev. Tom Omukhobero heads the EMCK, which is a sponsored affiliate of the Evangelical Methodist Church in America. EMCK churches are located in the Mathare slum area of the capital Nairobi and stretch from the remote Masai tribal areas on the border of Tanzania to the western Lake Victoria region and Ugandan border. EMCK ministries include an orphanage which houses Aids orphans from the streets of Nairobi, theological training for scores of native pastors, and a fresh water well project to serve congregations in Kenyaâs remote bush country.
During the two weeks of the Nairobi rioting, Pastor Omukhoberoâs two-room Mathare slum home provided refuge for more than 30 people hiding from roving marauders who attacked with stones, machetes and live ammunition. âNobody could go outside unless there was police escort,â said the slender 45 year-old EMCK leader. Omukhoberoâs only contact with the outside world came when he was escorted from his home by police to an Internet cafĂ© where he corresponded with Dr. John McKnight, pastor of the missionâs chief supporter, the Evangelical Methodist Church of Dublin, MD.
According to McKnight, the EMCK orphanage in Nairobi was broken into and looted during the height of the rioting, leaving dozens of children with virtually no food for more than a week. âEmergency contributions have begun to come in and we are praying that we will be able to provide help right away,â he said.
In the wake of the violence, stores were boarded up and/or looted, sending the prices of scarce food supplies up astronomically. Farmers who normally bring large amounts of produce into urban areas are avoiding cities like Nairobi, adding to the shortages.
Though Kenya is one of the most economically sound countries in Africa, the number of poor is staggering, as witnessed by Nairobiâs teeming slum areas of Mathare and Kibera. âMany of our peoplesâ houses were burned and there was no place for them to go,â Rev. Omukhobero added, âAnd the shortage of food has made things much worse: families are going hungry.â
Throughout the Mathare slum, many houses and shacks are made of castoff materials such as cardboard and odd sized pieces of tin. More than 255,000 Kenyans have been driven from their homes since the ethnic violence began following the December 27 election.
The post election ethnic violence seemed to be waning according to Rev. Omukhobero, who was interviewed Thursday evening. âPeople are beginning to go out now, but there is still much tension. Everyone looks at everyone else with suspicion,â he said; âFear still reigns.â
âBut one of our EMCK church members, Brother Simon, has a business flight scheduled for tomorrow, so some airports are beginning to open.â
Omukhoberoâs faith remains strong, in spite of the hardships. âGod is still in control, and He can use all this for a bigger reason. We are content to abide by His will.â