Florida college students risk lives in Kenyan riots

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Florida college students risk lives in Kenyan riots

Jan. 13, 2008  News media contact: Tita Parham*
tparham@flumc.org  Orlando {0783}

An e-Review Feature
By Steven Skelley**

With gunfire exploding behind them and police lobbing tear gas at men with machetes rioting in the streets, Polk Community College student Molly McEntire and University of Central Florida student Eric Smith ran for their lives to the relative safety of a missionary guest house in Kenya, Africa.

Molly McEntire (left) and her fellow team members worked with orphans and children who have AIDS while in Kenya as part of a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission team. Photo courtesy of Molly McEntire. Photo #08-0727.

Just minutes before, McEntire and Smith had been standing in line at a store trying to purchase minutes for a phone so they could call the U.S. Embassy and their parents. Suddenly, they were in the middle of a riot over the recently disputed election of President Mwai Kibaki Dec. 27 over opposition leader Raila Odinga.

“The people started to loot, kill, burn everything, destroy Kenya,” McEntire said after the ordeal from her home in Lakeland. “The violence in Nairobi was right down the street from us. A huge riot broke out right where we had just been. Hundreds of men came with machetes and clubs. For the rest of the day the gun shots were going off and we heard yelling and screams.”

McEntire and Smith, who lives in Titusville, were in Kenya with Florida State University students Jenny Frack of Lakeland and Brent Edwards of DeBary as part of a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission trip to help the area’s widows, orphans and poor residents. They worked at Beacon of Hope, New Life Orphanage and PCEA St. Andrews Parish Tumaini Children’s Home helping children between ages 5 and 11 who have AIDS.

McEntire says she has been interested in missions “my entire life.” She has been on a number of mission trips and says nothing makes her happier than serving others. She felt the call to go to Africa when she saw a video in sixth grade on the Sudan.

The four students met at the Warren W. Willis United Methodist Camp in Fruitland Park where they served as summer camp counselors. They soon agreed to participate in a mission to Kenya together.

McEntire says it was hard to witness the violence. “When you have people killing each other and destroying the few things the people of Kenya have, its heartbreaking,” she said. “I have so much love for the Kenyans. When the people you love are right outside your house dying and killing each other it is the most heartbreaking thing. But there was nothing I could do. That was by far the hardest thing.”

With all the violence surrounding the college students, McEntire’s father, the Rev. David McEntire, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church, Lakeland, was on the phone constantly with the airlines, the state department, the citizen overseas assistance center, travel agents and the U.S. Embassy.

College student Molly McEntire (center) says she has grown to love the people of Kenya through her mission work there and would readily put herself in harm’s way to help them again. Photo courtesy of Molly McEntire. Photo #08-0728.

The road to the Nairobi airport was extremely dangerous. Staff at the embassy suggested the four “stay put and not to even try to make it to the airport.”

Around 7 p.m. New Year’s Eve, McEntire says they lost contact with the embassy. “My dad was in contact with the citizen overseas assistance center, and they said to get us out,” she said. “They wanted us to make the run for the airport the next morning.”

According to McEntire, their families sent e-mails and called everyone they knew asking them to pray for the team because at 6 a.m. New Year’s Day in Kenya the four would try to get to the airport.

“People were praying for us all over the country,” McEntire said. “Thousands were praying for us. When we left for the airport at 6 a.m. my sister said CNN announced that one morning there was a lull in violence. That was the exact time we were on our way to the airport.

“We know that, because of all the prayers, we were able to make it to the airport. God got us through some of the scariest and hardest times of our lives. He got Eric and I out of the path of the mob; he got us to the airport.”

Before the riots, the college student had already spent “a lot of time with the orphans at Tumaini.” McEntire says the children with AIDS don’t get many visitors.

She also says she has learned from these young victims. “They are orphans, dying and have barely anything,” she said. “They taught us how to be grateful and happy for everything we have.”

When asked if she would return to mission work McEntire says a resounding “yes, yes, yes.”

“We all knew there could be a chance that something would happen in Kenya,” she said. “But that didn't stop us because these people deserve love. I would be put in the most dangerous situations just to see the children smile again. I would put my life on the line in order to see the women and children laugh. I would go right this minute back to Kenya and be in the middle of a riot in order for the people of Kenya to get the love they deserve.”

In a statement released Jan. 4, Bishop Felton E. May, the interim leader of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, asked all groups in Kenya “to put peace and reconciliation ahead of personal or party gains.”


*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Skelley is a freelance writer based in Beverly Hills, Fla.

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