Photo by M. Scott Moon
Rocks and bottles were being hurled at their hotel, people were being stoned, buildings broken into and through it all a 13-year-old boy and a 72-year-old man from Sterling held fast to their belief that God would protect them and save them from Kenya's violence.
Keenan Wegener and his senior partner, Marv Brazington, were serving on an African mission for Ministries of the Living Stones church in Sterling when political discord turned to violence in late December, catching the pair in its midst.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga claims Kenya President Mwai Kibaki's re-election vote Dec. 27 was a sham. As many as 600 people have been killed and 100,000 displaced by the violence.
Wegener and Brazington had been serving at an orphanage in Kakemega and were walking back to their hotel when they heard something like a gunshot and then saw people burning car tires in the street.
A church friend took them into the back of his shop and then to the home of church elder Joseph Obare, who lives in the small village of Amlemba.
Pastor Bernard came to get them and the three returned to the hotel to pick up clothes, planning to spend the night in the relative safety of the orphanage.
"The next day, the roads were clear. Nothing was happening. We went back to our hotel after church," Wegener said Thursday as he and Brazington sat in the comfort of a Soldotna eatery after finally making their way home.
"But then we were in a shop buying some water, not 50 feet from the hotel and we heard Kibaki won," the teenager said.
About 100 angry people were coming down the road and the two hurried to get to their lodging.
"The manager and the chef knew something was happening," he said.
By the time the missionaries got to their room on the second floor, the crowd, which had turned into a mob, was hurling rocks and bottles anything they could find at the hotel.
It was owned by Kibaki's tribe.
Customarily, houses, businesses, even their hotel, were built with walls around them.
The demonstrators kept coming, and now crashed through a steel gate protecting the hotel grounds. They burned a guard shack, the small reception building that served as the hotel lobby and the hotel restaurant.
"They broke through a second gate the one leading to the rooms," said Wegener.
"I don't want to say we were scared, but you have to pray ... pray that God will get you through," he said.
Asked if he felt safer being in the company of Brazington, still in good physical shape some 50 years after serving as a U.S. Marine, Wegener said, "He might be a Marine, but it's because he's older and has more wisdom in God; God protected us."
As the demonstrators began burning rooms on the hotel's first floor and beat the hotel manager and the cook, the missionaries received a phone call telling them to get out because the hotel was on fire.
The caller was unknown to them. It could have been a trick to get them outside.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"When we were in the hotel room ... I had brought Keenan into my room ... the Lord ministered to me and told me to stand still and watch the salvation of the Lord," Brazington said.
Two members of the church found the missionaries in their room and called police alerting them that help was needed.
"That brought the police into action," Brazington said.
Police had been outside the hotel doing nothing as the rioters hurled rocks and began burning rooms, but when they were put on notice by the church members, they were forced into action knowing others were watching.
"We took our suitcases and the police took us by truck to their police station," Wegener said. "They had to drive around tires and stuff burning in the road."
After staying at the police station for about four hours, the two were taken to Elder Joseph's house where they remained for three days.
All roads in and out of Kakemega were closed.
Another friend of the church came and offered to get them to the Uganda border if they paid for gas.
Once there, they found the border was closed as nothing and no one were being allowed into or out of Kenya, but Elder Joseph simply walked across the border without being stopped and helped arrange for bus transportation to Kampala another intervention Brazington attributes to God.
"As soon as we crossed the border, it was completely a different place," said Wegener. "It was all peaceful. I felt much safer over there."
They went straight to the U.S. Embassy in Kampala and vice-counsel Dan Langencamp drove them around until they found a hotel room.
The two only had plane tickets to fly out of the Kenyan capital of Nairobi and had to remain in Uganda 12 days until they could buy other tickets.
They found other mission work to do while there, ministering to 400 children at a children's church on two Sundays, and speaking to church members six or seven times over the 12 days.
They also learned that in one week, the death toll in Kenya had climbed from 300 to 600.
Although British Airways would do nothing in terms of exchanging or refunding their plane tickets, Wegener and Brazington were able to buy new ones and flew out of Kampala on Monday morning, arriving later that day in London.
After a 20-hour layover there, they continued on to Chicago and flew into Anchorage around 11:30 Tuesday night. They stayed in Anchorage overnight and finally made it back to their homes in Sterling on Wednesday afternoon.
Both say they will gladly go serve on another mission in the future.
"I don't know when. We'll have to wait and see what God says," Brazington said.
"I believe we got a lot done," Wegener said. "We had two months of going good and a week or two of going bad."
"Overall, over that period of time, we reached between 500 and 1,000 people," Brazington said.
"Matthew 28, (verses) 18 to 20 says: 'All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I commanded you.'
"We just have to come back and regroup and go a different route next time."
Phil Hermanek can be reached at email@example.com.
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