Fred’s Front Row Seat to Death and Violence

Last Wednesday Fred almost went back to Kenya for the burial of a dear family friend, who had died, at least in part, because an extended doctors’ strike in Kenya has made health care incredibly difficult to access. He decided that he didn’t have peace about going for the burial, in part because of upcoming travel to a refugee camp in the southwestern part of Tanzania. Thursday morning he got an emergency call from one of his colleagues in the albinism awareness project. Pendo is a young woman with albinism who has her own tragic story, including the loss of her sister to “hunters” who mutilate and kill people with albinism, then sell their body parts to powerful witch doctors. (Click here for more information about the violence against people with albinism.) Her family, including her teenage sister and six-year-old sister with albinism, live in a village about two hours’ drive from Mwanza, and they were attacked by hunters in the early hours of Thursday morning. The details over the phone were confused by panic, so Fred and one of the pastors working on the project collected some regional government officials and rushed up to Magu. (Since this is a public page, I’ve not included photos of Pendo or her family for their protection and privacy.)

Around 1am, three men had jumped over the gate into the family compound in search of the little girl with albinism. They didn’t know where she slept, so they started by breaking down the first door they came to. Inside a pregnant neighbor was sleeping. They beat her, demanded to know where the little girl sleeps, and when she wouldn’t say, they raped her. They moved to the next room, that of a man who works in the family’s hardware store. They beat him severely, for an extended period of time, until he told them the area to look for the girl. They broke into the family’s sleeping area and found the teenage sister. This girl was also raped and abused in ways that she couldn’t mention. Meanwhile, on the other side of a closed door, her mother and little sister listened to the abuse. Reminding the little girl of the murder of her older sister years before, the mother hid the little girl and implored her to keep silent. The men stopped abusing the older daughter when she told them where the little girl slept. They found the mother, didn’t find the little girl, and finally, three hours after they first jumped the gate, they left. They took the man they’d already beaten with them, beat him more, then dropped him in the bush to die.

Over the next few hours, the family called for help from neighbors and relatives, found the man, took him and the ladies to the district hospital. The women were given HIV preventatives, the man’s broken bones were set, and they were released to return home. Meanwhile, 10 hours after the thugs had arrived and the police were first called, the police arrived at the family home, far too late to be of help to anyone.

The trauma of this event, physical, psychological and emotional, is too great for me to communicate here. In East Africa, an event like this is generally suppressed and not discussed any further. Any advice or counsel they might have available would likely be tempered by traditional stigmas about sexual violence and about albinism, and probably not best for the holistic care and recovery of the family, especially the women who were raped and the little girl whose safety was purchased at dear price by her family and neighbors.

Now, a few days later, Fred is in a refugee camp for Congolese and Burundian refugees who have fled violence in their own countries, especially sexual violence in Congo. He is with representatives from Tanzania Bible Society and American Bible Society, there to provide orientation on trauma healing counseling to pastors and other lay religious leaders in the camp. He usually does these orientations for groups of 30, but more than 150 people expressed interest in attending! He will be busy over the next few days coaching these leaders to look into the dark places in their own lives and allow the Holy Spirit to heal and restore brokenness, grief and trauma.

Two different friends, also involved in development work here in Tanzania, have asked me this week how we carry on without getting too discouraged to carry on. Of course we do experience seasons of heaviness or depression (as recently as last month!), but we trust that God has given us some gifts and tools that can be of help to people who are suffering. Sometimes that looks like financial help with hospital bills, clothes for a newborn baby, an advocate with government or health workers, prayer or just a supportive, peaceful presence in time of distress. Many of you are part of the team that allows us to be present in the lives of those who suffer, including many of you who contribute financially to the needs of our family or the families we serve.

Right now we would like to collect some funds in order to facilitate counseling, further medical treatment and increased security for the family who was attacked last week. We have an American nonprofit which will process donations for this purpose, 12oz of Hope, so you can give through their website (click on Team Otieno at the bottom of the page) or by sending a check to the organization. Please let me know in an email to or in a chat message that you’ve given for this purpose so that we can keep track of the funds. We’ll continue in relationship with this family and find out from them what is needed, then update those of you who have given.

Thank you, friends, and as always, we love you and are grateful for your prayers and support.

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