Md. missionaries are still planning journey to Kenya Families are ready to go despite deadly bombing

August 09, 1998|By Sheridan Lyons and Lisa Breslin | Sheridan Lyons and Lisa Breslin,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Mike Farabaugh and Jacques Kelly contributed to this article.

Families from Westminster and Bel Air plan to leave today for mission work in Kenya -- despite the bombing late last week of the United States embassy in the African country.

On Friday, the State Department issued travel advisories to U.S. citizens planning trips to Kenya and to Tanzania, where the embassy also was bombed. It also urged nonessential U.S. personnel to leave the countries.

"Like many people, we're praying this doesn't affect our trip," said Jerry Rebert, a Westminster resident who is leaving his construction job to spend two years as a missionary for Africa Inland Mission International.

"You don't go this far to stop," he said.

His wife, Lillie, said she checked with mission officials in New York on Friday afternoon -- the day of the massive car bombings -- and was told, "It's still a go."

"The phone lines are all down," said Glenn Peterson, the personnel administrator at Africa Inland Mission headquarters in Pearl River, N.Y. "It's unlikely I'll be able to get through, but that's not an untypical situation. The phone lines in Africa are not very good most of the time. Even when it rains hard, the phones lines go out."

Another Maryland missionary couple, Douglas and Jill Dempsey of Bel Air, also intend to return to Africa to resume teaching at the organization's Rift Valley Academy near Nairobi, after a month back in the United States, Peterson said.

Douglas Dempsey is scheduled to leave today for Africa, while his wife, Jill, and their four children, Luke, 9, Hannah, 7, Abigail, 5, and Sarah, 5, are planning to fly there Aug. 24.

The nondenominational organization "sends missionaries to Africa to bring the good news of Christ to people there," Peterson said of the group's primary work.

"We have a couple of million folks in Kenya affiliated with the church," Peterson said. "It's been there over a hundred years."

Africa Inland churches have a presence in 15 countries in the east, south and Congo regions of Africa, he said.

About half of their 800 missionaries are stationed in Kenya, Peterson said. Of those, about 300 are from North America.

News of the bombings, which resulted in more than 100 dead in Nairobi and at least seven in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, did not make her fearful, Lillie Rebert said.

"You just have to trust in the Lord to keep you safe and use common sense," she said.

The Reberts and daughters Jill, 16, Heather, 12, and Leah, 9, will live in an apartment on the campus of Rift Valley Academy, a boarding school for missionary children in Kijabe, about an hour's drive from the Nairobi bombing.

The Reberts will work for the school while their daughters attend classes.

Lillie Rebert has taken early retirement from her job as a nurse with the Carroll County Health Department to work in the school's infirmary.

Jerry Rebert, who has spent 16 years building custom homes, will oversee maintenance.

This is not the family's first trip to Africa. The Reberts spent two months ministering to needy families in Kenya and Tanzania in 1994. The family donated clothes, tools, health care services and the labor and skills needed for a school library, a communion table and a pulpit.

Watching baboons, standing on the Equator and ministering to families in Kenya, where the average daily wage is $1.50, made for a summer unlike that of most families.

However, they left knowing their work was not over.

"We have spent the last four years preparing to go back," said Jerry Rebert.

When daughter Jill graduates in two years, the family will return to Carroll County to get her settled in a college in the United States. Then they'll head back to Africa to continue their ministry.

Savvy from their previous trip to Africa, the Reberts have packed a few new essentials: a computer (with an e-mail account and theology books on CD ROM), spices, and compact disc players for each of their children.

"We hoped they could take one to share, but ," Rebert said.

The family's ministry is financed by more than 80 sponsors, including several in the Westminster business community and from the Reberts' Westminster Bible Church.

The family is allowed to take 35 pieces of luggage.

"I'm proud that the Lord has called them," said Jerry Rebert's mother, Virginia. "But I'm divided. I'm going to miss the family terribly. I pray he continues to provide for them and for me when they leave."

Pub Date: 8/09/98

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