Forgiving hearts

John Bergen was in his yard in Kenya when out of the darkness a man grabbed him by the neck and choked him to the ground.

John & Eloise Bergen: after giving their talk to the Crossroads congregation John & Eloise Bergen joined them in prayer.

John & Eloise Bergen: after giving their talk to the Crossroads congregation John & Eloise Bergen joined them in prayer.

John Bergen was in his yard in Kenya when out of the darkness a man grabbed him by the neck and choked him to the ground.

Other armed robbers began to beat him with clubs and slash him with machetes, breaking his jaw in five places, breaking both his arms, slashing his knees and cutting into his skull with a machete.

John, 72, and his wife Eloise, 67, were serving as Canadian missionaries in Kenya when they were attacked, close to two years ago. They shared the story of how they forgave their attackers with hundreds of people during two Sunday services at Crossroads Church in Red Deer on Sunday.

As John was being beaten, he said he called out to Jesus and with each pounding he heard Jesus’ voice and it mitigated his pain. Finally when he passed out, the men thought he was dead and threw his body under a hedge.

Then the attackers went into his house, where his wife Eloise was having a bath.

“I’ve never watched a horror movie,” Eloise said. “But I’ve lived one.”

The robbers beat her and sliced into her skin with machetes.

They ransacked the home, looking for anything they could steal, overturning furniture and emptying cupboards, as a man held a machete to her throat.

“I remember thinking to myself. I know a secret that these men know nothing about. They don’t know that whatever they do to my body, whatever they do to our possessions, they can never touch the real me because long before this happened I found the address to the secret place of . . . God and when you live there nothing can touch the real you,” Eloise said.

The men left with a laptop and a few other possessions, after tying Eloise to a chair.

As she sat there bleeding, she called out to Jesus and a voice reminded her of the scissors in her make-up box. She managed to hobble her way over, retrieved the scissors and slowly cut herself free. Covering herself in a blanket, she went outside to find her husband.

She called to him, “John, are you OK?”

A small voice, barely audible said, “No.”

“Where are you?,” she said.

“Over here,” he said, and she found him under the bush.

Just that morning John had shown Eloise how to drive the white standard-transmission car and she had to put those skills to use to drive them to safety.

She managed to lift her husband into the vehicle, saying she felt angels helped her.

Eloise had faced difficult situations before in childhood and when her daughter ran away and then returned.

She created a card of Biblical verses to help her focus on happiness and laughter and they came to good use then, helping her gain the strength she needed to her husband and herself to safety at another mission.

Eloise had been so severely slashed the skin below her nose, on her chin and cheek were all hanging in flaps. She still attempted to laugh, only making a “ho, ho, ho” sound as they raced along the darkened roads.

It would take many months to recover, but the Christian couple forgave their attackers as soon as they were conscious enough to do so.

The couple had long before learned how to forgive everyone, from family members who had hurt them to colleagues and friends who had let them down.

“If I met (the attackers) again I would tell them Jesus loves them and I love them and there is forgiveness for what they have done,” John said.

Around 16 years ago, John came to the realization that he needed to find forgiveness in his heart for his father, who made his mother cry, and his older brothers who abused him.

He had a colleague back betray him, but he knew he had to relieve himself of thoughts of revenge and instead accept forgiveness into his life.

“For one thing I am not a victim,” Eloise said.

“Jesus died on the cross to give us back everything the devil has ever stolen from us. He died on the cross to give us back our virginity, our honour, our dignity and our purity.”

The Bergens have written a book Forgiveness in the Face of Terror about their harrowing experience.

The Christian missionaries, who celebrate their 46th wedding anniversary next weekend, no longer have a permanent home, and instead spend their time travelling around North America in their van, talking to people about how they came to forgive their attackers.

They continue to do work in Kenya and plan to return there in November. More information on their work is available through their website at www.bergensmission.com.

sobrien@bprda.wpengine.com