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New missionaries robbed at bush orientation camp

LIMURU, Kenya (BP)–New missionaries attending a camp designed to teach them about life in Africa got an unscheduled — and frightening — lesson when they were robbed at machete-point.

Robbers entered a campsite early March 21 where new missionaries sent out by the Southern Baptist International Mission Board and SIL International/Wycliffe were sleeping. They stormed into a tent housing a family of four, waving their machetes and demanding money. The missionaries handed over everything they had, which was less than $5, before the robbers ran off into the night. No one was hurt in the incident.

A group of 45 missionaries and staff were in the final days of a special orientation program for new workers in central, eastern and southern Africa when the incident happened. The program, called “40 Days and 40 Nights,” introduces missionaries to life in Africa. They experience a little bit of everything, from living in the city to living in a village. During the camp segment of their training, the missionaries were learning how to live and function in the bush — cooking over an open fire, fetching and purifying water, washing clothes by hand.

The intruders entered the camp around 1 a.m. One staff member heard her tent doorway unzipping in the dark. She thought it was a dog leaning against the doorway, so she reached out and zipped it back up. A few tents down, the intruders tried again. This time, they got the flap unzipped enough to reach in and grab a backpack and a pair of boots as missionaries slept inside.

Next the robbers went into the last tent, threatening a family and demanding money. The rest of the camp woke up when something that sounded like a gunshot went off. It was later determined that the lookout man for the intruders had pounded a stack of matches wrapped together against a rock to produce the sound.

Southern Baptist missionary Judi Sprayberry, who directs the orientation camp with her husband, Jack, said that God definitely watched over the new missionaries. During the first day of the bush camp part of orientation, the group prayerwalked around the campsite, asking for God’s protection.

“God really answered those prayers,” she said. “He protected this family and the rest of the camp. No one was hurt. He was watching over us.”

The orientation continued despite the incident. After some debriefing and counseling, the participants decided to finish the last 10 days of training in the villages.

“During this orientation, we try to give a brief look at what life in Africa is all about,” Sprayberry said. “We talked to the new missionaries about how one of the sad realities is that violence and danger is what life is like in some parts of Africa. I’m sorry that we learned this lesson the hard way.”