Would they stay in Kenya, or would they come home to the Okanagan? That was a burning question for John and Eloise Bergen, after they were attacked by machete-wielding men apparently recruited by one of their former security guards.
The short answer is that they planned to come home for healing, and then return to their work in Kenya.
At press time, the latest news came in an email from their son Darcy, who had just visited them in hospital. His father, he said, “is anxious to be released; he keeps asking the nurses and doctors to take him off the pain medications. He laughs every time we talk, so happy to have cheated death.”
One day was an exception. “He did spend Thursday in tears. He was crying for Eloise, thinking about what had happened to mom. A local pastor here came and prayed for mom – and since then, dad has been back to his normal ‘laughing’ self.
As for Eloise, Ralph Bromley – head of the couple’s ministry, Kelowna-based Hope For the Nations (HFN) – said her emotional ordeal was not quite over. She had gone to Kitale, the town where the attack occurred, to comply with police procedures.
“Eloise stood face to face, with 30 men to be identified,” said Bromley. “There was no glass or barrier between the men and Eloise. She was quite traumatized by this, and identified no men. She has returned to Nairobi to be with John.”
The attack took place July 9, at the Bergen’s colonial-era home and organic farm near Kitale.
Both John, 70, and Eloise, 66, were left with deep cuts and multiple broken bones, and Eloise was repeatedly raped for close to an hour by her attackers.
The Bergens, who come from Vernon, had been in Kitale for four months. They went there to work in refugee camps during the post-election unrest. When the conflict ended, and the camps were disbanded, they began gardening to supply food to the many orphans and widows in the area.
Eloise spoke to BCCN by phone from her bed in the Nairobi Hospital July 12, while her husband was recovering from surgery.
She said she was attacked while taking a bath. “I saw four or five black men with machetes and clubs,” she recalled. “But I sensed a surrounding pillow of God’s presence. It was terrible but there was no overwhelming fear.”
She says the attackers clubbed her, tied her hands with her husband’s shaver and cell phone adapter cords.
“They left me with blankets over me, and mattresses. I asked God to help me to get free, then remembered where I had scissors.” Eloise backed herself across the floor, till she could cut the cords. “Then I went outside to find out what happened to my husband.”
Other attackers had beaten him up and left him for dead in the bushes at the side of their driveway. He had broken bones in several parts of his body. Like his wife, he was bleeding profusely from the machete cuts.
With what she believes was help from God, Eloise was able to start an unfamiliar farm vehicle, get herself dressed, and find a pillow and blankets for John.
Then she hauled her almost unconscious husband into the truck and headed off to the HFN Kitale compound 10 kilometres away. A few gates blocking the road at various points quickly gave way to the careening vehicle.
From there, the couple were airlifted to the Nairobi Hospital where, Eloise reported, “the doctors and staff have been awesome. Many of them are Christian, and they know how to pray over us.”
The doctors decided her jaw damage was not sufficient to require surgery, as had John’s. Healing would take place naturally, she said.
But why, after all this, would they want to stay in Kenya? Well, she said, vegetables must be grown for the orphans. Most don’t have enough to eat. “There are so many street children, [many of them] glue sniffers.”
HFN and partner ministry Love Mercy are developing a ‘City of Refuge’ on 600 acres, with the capacity to produce enough food organically for thousands of these orphans.
The hope, in the words of the HFN website, is “to change this desert region to a well-watered garden, one oasis at a time.”
But there is another element for Eloise.
Rape is endemic in many African conflicts, as a form of attack used as a means of intimidation. That means many of the widows with whom she works have been raped.
“What I been through, [many] women have experienced – being raped and beaten with much violence. I feel God has something so big here,” she said, referring to future points of contact in ministering to the widows.
John and Eloise have been married for 45 years. They met at Canadian Bible College in Regina. They have four grown children – two natural and two adopted. For many years, they worked with the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination in New Zealand.
In recent years, John has been in construction and renovation work, and Eloise has taught piano and guitar.
John has spoken of their joint willingness to continue in Kenya. “We realize there is good and bad in Africa, just like there is good and bad in Canada,” He told a CBC reporter on July 11. “We’ll try to reach the bad as well as the good. What else can you do?”
Seven men have been arrested in connection with what is being described as a revenge attack, and four more were being sought at press time. Two suspects were former security guards who had been fired because they slept during night watch, allowing animals to get into the vegetable gardens.