A missionary couple who faced unimaginable horror while working in Kenya were in Red Deer recently to share their amazing story of finding forgiveness.
They’ve recorded their experiences in their book Forgiveness in the Face of Terror.
In July of 2008, John and Eloise Bergen, who spoke at CrossRoads Church, became international news when they were brutally attacked in Kitale, Kenya by nine men – two of which were hired to protect them.
John was savagely beaten with clubs and machetes and near death, while Eloise was not only punched, strangled and cut with machetes but repeatedly raped as well.
“It just started out like an ordinary day,” recalls John. He was preparing to do some fencing on the property to protect the nearby gardens from predators. “It was that normal.”
Evening approached, and the couple had supper. John went outside to talk to a night guard while Eloise prepared to have a bath.
“Everything was dark,” said John. And suddenly he was attacked, on the ground with the guard strangling him. A group of other emerged from the bushes and joined in the attack as well.
Instantly, John started praying. Somehow, a sense of grace was building. He recalls feeling a kind of reassurance, even as the attack was taking place. “It was like I could feel the pain being mitigated by several degrees.”
John later passed out, which his attackers mistook for his death. They left him, entered the house and started attacking Eloise while John slipped in and out of consciousness outside.
“She was in the tub and suddenly she looked up and there were about five men standing there, armed with machetes and clubs.” She asked for her clothes, which they refused to give her.
“They told her ‘One sound and you are dead’.” Her hands were tied behind her back and the attack began. She was viciously beaten and raped.
“She spoke the name of Jesus and recalls immediately being surrounded by a sense of warmth. She remembers thinking that no matter what these men do to my body, they can’t touch the real me.”
After ransacking the home and robbing the couple as well, the attackers left on foot. They headed to a nearby bar and boasted of the attack – a conversation overheard by two reporters who promptly went to the police.
In the meantime, John, now 72, and Eloise, 67, were taken to the hospital where the extent of their injuries truly came to light. “A friend later told me that when he first saw me, I had been beaten beyond recognition.”
Healing to their bodies, minds and hearts flowed quickly, said John. “We knew that what was meant as evil towards us would be turned around for good.
“To forgive is not the same as to condone,” explains John. “We can’t excuse evil, but we can forgive the evildoer. In this way we protect ourselves from the poison of anger.
“We didn’t allow any unforgiveness, bitterness and revenge into our lives.”
Indeed, their story of violence has turned into a story of healing, forgiveness and triumph.
“I new realize God has impacted millions of people with the name of Jesus and the message of forgiveness. It’s humbling and gratifying.”
The couple originally met in Regina where Eloise’s parents were professors at the Canadian Bible College.
They married in 1964, raised a family and embarked on careers that included both pastoral ministry and operating a business. They had been living in Vernon, B.C. before heading overseas.
In 2007, they learned of the plight of Kenya’s orphans and felt called to served through the mission organization Hope for the Nations.
They moved to Kenya and planned to spend the rest of their lives there. In the months after the attack, the couple still felt they were still called to serve the people and orphans of Kenya.
The Bergens have found that the most effective way they can help the Kenyan people is through raising money via speaking engagements. They also have the opportunity to share their story and testify as to how God has worked forgiveness in their hearts.
“We share the story of the attack, talk about forgiveness towards the men who did it and also share about the need of the widows and orphans in Kenya.”
They plan to use these proceeds to help fun orphanages near the farm where they were assaulted. In fact, John is planning to return to Kenya this fall to start work on the project near the community of Chiwanga.
But they have been back to Kenya since the attack – they had to return in January of 2009 for court proceedings against their attackers. Seven ended up in prison while two were released on bail.
John eventually visited them in jail, and had the chance to share his Christian faith with five of them. They committed their lives to serving Christ, he said.
“One of them told me that they had been asking for forgiveness for what they did to John and Eloise Bergen. I assured them of my love for them and God’s love for them.”
For more information, visit the Bergen’s website at www.bergensmission.com.