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United Methodists caught in Uganda blast

 
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4:00 P.M. EST July 12, 2010

Members of a United Methodist volunteer team from Pennsylvania visit with children from the Bwaise Pentecostal Church Life Care School in Kampala, Uganda, in June. Photo by Sue Heintzelman.
Members of a United Methodist volunteer team from Pennsylvania visit with children from the Bwaise Pentecostal Church Life Care School in Kampala, Uganda, in June. Photo by Sue Heintzelman.

Six United Methodists from Pennsylvania were injured and a Ugandan pastor killed July 11 as they gathered with others to watch the World Cup final match at an Ethiopian restaurant in Kampala, Uganda.

At least 74 people were killed and 71 injured in the bombings at that restaurant and the Kyadondo Rugby Club. A Somali militia, al-Shabab, is suspected of being behind the terrorist attacks, according to news reports.

The church members were part of a 14-member team from Christ Community Church in Selinsgrove, Pa., a city bordering the Susquehanna River 50 miles north of Harrisburg. Eight of the team members already had returned home after completing work at a mission project in Uganda.

On July 12, the team reported the death of Pastor Peter Mutabazi on its website. “Please pray for his wife Alice, 5 children, Bwaise Pentecostal Church and the LifeCare School,” the posting said. “We deeply mourn this loss.”

After learning about the bombings, more than 75 church members came to the sanctuary to pray, said the Rev. Kathleen Kind, pastor of the 500-member congregation.

Another vigil was planned at 7:30 p.m. July 12. “It will be a very informal opportunity to be in prayer,” she said.

The pastor said the news about the bombings came as a “huge shock” to the congregation, which was concerned about everyone affected there. But, she added, “we believe in a God who hears our prayers and is faithful.”

Kris Sledge (left) and Thomas Kramer lead team devotionals in June. Sledge was among those injured in the blast. Photo by Sue Heintzelman.
Kris Sledge (left) and Thomas Kramer lead team devotionals in June. Sledge was among those injured in the blast.
Photo by Sue Heintzelman.

Kind was not certain when the six involved in the bombing would come home. “We’re honestly still waiting on confirmation on our folks being medevaced,” she explained. It was hoped the team members would be airlifted to a trauma center in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Leg injuries

The most severely injured, she reported, were two youth, Kris Sledge and Emily Kerstetter, who was traveling with her grandmother, Joanne Kerstetter.

Sledge was being treated for facial burns and a deep blast wound and shrapnel to his leg. “I remember blacking out, hearing people screaming and running,” Sledge told The Associated Press. “I love the place here, but I’m wondering why this happened and who did this ... At this point, we’re just glad to be alive.”

Emily Kerstetter also suffered a leg wound. “We’re waiting to hear what happens next with her,” Kind said.

Two other team members, Pam Kramer and her son, Thomas, had leg injuries. Lori Ssebulime, the team leader, was shaken but not seriously injured, according to the team’s website.

Ssebulime founded the Uganda mission project, Kind said, with work teams sent from the congregation every other year. The church helped support the ministry of Mutabazi and Bwaise Pentecostal Church, located in one of the biggest slums in Kampala. “They really function as a sister congregation to us,” she added.

Bwaise church started a school in 2006 and currently has 200 students. “Our vision is to educate the disadvantaged children and to disciple them for Christ to be exemplary citizens and productive leaders in their communities,” Mutabazi wrote.

Pastor Peter Mutabazi (right) was killed in the blast. At left is his wife, Alice. Photo courtesy of Christ Community Church.
Pastor Peter Mutabazi (right) was killed in the blast. At left is his wife, Alice. Photo courtesy of Christ Community Church.

The team from Christ Community Church had arrived in Uganda on June 18 to engage in evangelism and help construct a fence around the school and church property. They also spent some time in Kenya before part of the group left July 7. The remaining team members had expected to depart on July 13.

Kind expressed appreciation for the calls and assistance the church had received from others in the United Methodist Susquehanna Annual (regional) Conference, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission.

“Thank God for the connection,” she said.

"Our hearts and prayers go to the victims of this violent act," said Harrisburg Area Bishop Jane Allen Middleton. "We keep the members of the work team organized by Christ Community UMC in Selinsgrove in our prayers, as well as their families and the people of Uganda. May all be held in God's loving arms during this tragedy."

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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