Chapter 28 – The Story Continues
This chapter is extracted and edited from the writings of Bruce & Norene Bond and from their book entitled When Spider Webs Unite, Pages 254-261. I only added my words to the story where appropriate.
Betty and I were not able to return to Langano. Veteran missionaries, Dr Nathan and Doris Barlow were appointed to take our place for a short while to continue providing medical help. But in time, they were virtually held as hostages. The Kebele leaders (local commune leaders) demanded that they hand over to them all the clinic equipment, medication, the furniture from the main lodge and many of their own personal belongings. Only after that were they free to leave themselves.
In the meantime the compound was taken over by various groups, until one day an Air Force helicopter arrived with a group of senior officers. After a brief inspection they appropriated the whole complex as an Rest & Recuperation Centre (R & R) for their officers. They replaced all the stolen and looted equipment; they even erected a Bailey bridge to replace the rotting structure across the river.
How did the Air Force know about the camp site and clinic? SIM personnel did not find out until years later, when one of the Christian Air Force officers told how he had visited the SIM compound before the communist take-over and had been impressed with the whole complex. On hearing that the SIM missionaries had been evicted and in order to protect the place, he recommended to his commanding Officer that they set up an R & R centre for their own personnel.
For the next twelve years the facilities were used but not seriously abused. Then before the end of the revolution, the Air Force packed their equipment and left; taking their Bailey bridge with them!
It was in February 1992, after Bruce Bond was appointed SIM Ethiopia Director that two Arsi farmers made an appointment to see him. He had never seen them before and wondered why these men had come. Quickly coming to the point they said,
“We have come from Langano and have been sent as the representatives of the local district. The elders have met and asked us to urge you as a Mission to come back to Langano. Our women are suffering terribly in child-birth, many people are dying of malaria and our children have nowhere to go to school”
Bruce reminded them of the way the Barlows had been treated and how all the equipment had been looted and destroyed These men were quick to admit they had been led astray by the false propaganda of the Communist Government and had suffered ever since SIM’s departure.
“However,” they said, “at the time when the Communist Government was finally overthrown on May 28, 1991, law and order completely broke down in the countryside. We heard that these gangs were headed over to the SIM compound to loot it, so we burnt the old wooden bridge so the looters could not cross. Then we took turns to guard the compound. Ever since we have protected the property by paying guards, by day and by night.”
Hardly able to believe their story, Bruce was shivering with excitement and delight. He thought,
“God has obviously been weaving events together. This could mean we are being offered a further opportunity to work in the district!”
Of course it must be recognised that these Arsi men were ultimately seeking their own material benefits. But their confidence in SIM was truly remarkable. Bruce further reminded them that being a Christian Mission we would teach the Bible and the Christian message if we returned.
They replied, “We would be willing now for our children to hear the Christian message. Then they can make their own decisions.”
Unbelievable! Here were two Muslim leaders begging for missionaries to return to their district. This after a break of more than 14 years. Bruce agreed to go and visit them in Langano as soon as possible. The road was bad, but the welcome was remarkable. Word had been sent in advance that they were coming. A crowd of men and women waited for them on the side of the river, greeting them as though they were their long lost parents.
Surrounded by a great hoard of Arsi people they marched up to the old SIM compound, wondering what they would find inside. The grass had all been neatly cut with hand-sickles and the buildings seemed no worse for wear from the outside. A coat of paint would be the answer for all the Communist slogans adorning the walls.
But inside the lodge I had built, it was a different story. Everything movable had gone, with the kitchen stripped bare. Although there was a huge fireplace, one group had decided it was culturally more fitting to light a fire in the middle of the concrete floor where everyone could sit around and warm themselves. But what of the smoke? Just one look at the rafters told the story. Mosquito screens had long gone. The bats had taken up residence in the bedrooms leaving their droppings inches thick. The whole building, in fact, smelt like a filthy toilet.
But with some good shovels, brooms, disinfectant, paint and lots of ‘elbow grease’ the buildings could be repaired. Beaming, the guards proudly showed Bruce around the buildings they had so carefully guarded since the Air Force personnel had left.
The SIM Council agreed this project had unique possibilities and should become a joint KHC / SIM project. This meant that in the future if SIM was forced to leave the country, the National Church would own and carry on the ministry. The number of meetings and the amount of time given to restart this project defies imagination.
Eventually another important meeting was convened on site at Langano, with representatives from the Air Force, the National church, SIM and hundreds of Arsi tribes people. A lengthy document was signed by all parties giving KHC / SIM the land on which to build a clinic, school and conference centre. Following the significant signing ceremony a great feast had been prepared by the Arsi women. The whole ceremony was witnessed by dozens of the black and white colobus monkeys, whose home territory was being invaded for the day.
The area of land given for this project was approximately 40 hectare or 100 acres. This was obviously much larger than the original three acres when we stared in 1971. It stretched from the original site down to the lake beach and from the river over to what we called the “chacka cathedral”.
Hermann and Andrea Buheitel
In 1993 a German couple, Hermann and Andrea Buheitel, with their three young daughters were appointed to head up the project. Hermann faced the impressive task of building some type of bridge, erecting a boundary fence, and re-roofing several buildings where the corrugated iron had started to rust. His task was enormous.
The Buheitels had been at Langano for almost a year when Andrea became very ill. Then came the devastating news! Andrea had passed away.
Hermann was absolutely distraught as were his girls. It was agreed that a special memorial service be held at Langano, where the Arsi people could come to pay their respect and condolences to Hermann. Hundreds of Arsi men and women gathered to meet with Hermann. He was presented with a purple cape, indicating he was considered a mighty warrior. The men all contributed to buying an ox which was butchered on the compound.
As Hermann stood up to address the crowd sitting under the giant ‘fig’ trees, there was a hush as he spoke,
“Your respect and love shown to me and my girls is greatly appreciated. I want to tell you that today my dear wife, Andrea, is in Heaven with Jesus her Saviour”
He went on to explain the simple gospel message of how they too could accept Jesus as their sin bearer and have the assurance of sins forgiven and a home in heaven. This no doubt was the most poignant moment in the history of SIM’s ministry at Langano. The people had seen this young family share their lives and message with them and now within a few short months the mother had died.
After returning to Addis for only a matter of weeks, Hermann insisted on returning to Langano to continue his ministry. Sister Lydia, a German nurse, agreed to go back with Hermann to care for his girls, while he sorted out what his future would be. After three months he and the girls returned to Germany.
But the story doesn’t stop there! A very special couple was appointed to Langano in 1994, Dan and Kim Scheel. New life and vigor was about to enter the front gate again.