LOUISVILLE (PNS) Gwen and John Haspels, second-generation mission co-workers who spent more than 40 years planting churches and doing community development work in remote areas of Africa, have safely returned home to Halstead, Kan., to continue medical treatment and recuperation. They were injured October 1, 2014, when their car was attacked by armed bandits on a rural road in Ethiopia.
After the attack, John drove Gwen four hours to the nearest hospital in Aman, Ethiopia. They were then transferred to a top trauma center in South Africa, where they stayed for several weeks. There they were joined by their children and visited by several World Mission colleagues, who helped arrange their medical and spiritual care.
John, who was hit in the chest by bullet fragments and suffered deep graze wounds near his eye, has lost sight in one eye. Gwen, who took bullets to her face, was in critical condition when they arrived at the hospital. She has undergone several surgeries to repair the damage to her face, tongue and jaw and will require additional surgeries. But she remains positive about her recovery.
The couple stopped in Ethiopia to say goodbye to friends and colleagues on the way back to the U.S. Michael Weller, Presbyterian World Mission’s regional liaison for the Horn of Africa, says the couple is greatly loved by the people of Ethiopia. He says more than 200 people quickly gathered at the rural hospital in Aman to show their support and nearly 1,000 were present when they left the airport in Addis Ababa for Johannesburg.
The Haspels and their family ask for prayers and forgiveness for the people who injured them. “We told them that Jesus taught us that we should love our enemies, and that we should forgive them for what they did,” John wrote in a November mission letter. “That is what we did. The cycle of killing and revenge needs to be broken among the Suri. It can only be done by the heart-changing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ—by forgiving and being forgiven.”
Hunter Farrell, director of World Mission, who visited the Haspels in South Africa, says the incident was a random act of violence. The Haspels were not targeted. He says all World Mission coworkers receive extensive safety training and are linked to church partners worldwide, who carefully watch over them. “Our mission coworkers are aware that safety can never be guaranteed,” he says, “but they are ready and willing to serve God’s mission.”
In a recent letter, Gwen Haspels wrote: “Please pray about the continued healing and for us to have peace of mind. We know God is in control, and we can trust him to undertake for us. We just don’t know how that will look. Pray for us to be thankful in all things and for all who have stretched out their hands to help us.”
The Haspels will retire from service June 30, 2015.
by Kathy Melvin