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Baptist pilot helps aid workers escape rioting in northern Kenya

MANDERA, Kenya (BP)–A Southern Baptist missionary pilot came to the rescue of 16 Christian aid workers who had fled rioting in a northern Kenya town near the Ethiopia-Somalia border Dec. 11.

In God’s providence, he was available for the mission only because the flight planned for that day had been canceled.

Violent demonstrations broke out in Mandera, Kenya, after authorities arrested an outspoken Muslim religious leader allegedly connected with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda movement.

Local youth raided a Catholic church and an agricultural training center. They set buildings and vehicles ablaze and looted property worth thousands of dollars in an effort to get the imam released.

Later that morning, hundreds of rioters encircled the aid workers’ compound, chanting, throwing rocks and shooting rifles into the air. The aid workers said they could see homes of fellow Christians burning in the distance and knew they were in trouble.

“They destroyed our house, our schools and threatened us,” said one worker, who chose to stay behind to protect their property against looters and to encourage Christians in Mandera.

An International Mission Board missionary pilot heard the distress call during his lunch break and scrambled his staff into action. The pilot works in conjunction with African Inland Mission to serve Christian workers in East Africa.

“We knew that if these people were calling for help it was really bad,” the pilot said. “Mandera is like the Wild West. These workers are used to violence and bombs going off overhead.”

Just minutes away from the borders of Somalia and Ethiopia, Mandera residents even have watched missiles fired between the two countries fly past.

The missionary pilot landed his plane at a nearby Kenyan military base so as to miss the tumult in town. Sixteen people crammed into the 13-passenger plane and were in the air within minutes, before any shots could be fired at the plane.

“I feel fortunate God allowed me to help,” said the pilot, whose name was withheld for security reasons “There is no denying that God was at work today.

“The airplane was supposed to be in Tanzania today but that flight was canceled, so the plane was just sitting there ready to fly when the call came in.

“God was in control of everything, from protecting these workers during the violence to getting the airplane out without being shot to the perfect weather for flying,” he said.