Catholic charismatics give a blessing to Eloise and John Bergen.

WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER

Catholic charismatics give a blessing to Eloise and John Bergen.

May 20, 2013
CHRIS MILLER
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

In 2008, Christian missionaries John and Eloise Bergen were working with orphans near Kitale, Kenya. Late one evening, nine men broke into their rural farm and brutally assaulted them.

Outside, the men struck John with clubs and machetes. He was left for dead with two broken arms, a broken jaw, a fractured skull and lacerations all over his head and legs.

Inside, his wife Eloise was bathing, and they attacked her too. For nearly an hour she was raped by three men, and was left with a swollen face and broken jaw. The attackers stole their money and belongings.

When a CBC news reporter visited them at the hospital, he asked John what he would say to his attackers if he ever saw them again.

"I would tell them that Jesus loves them, and that I love them," John told the reporter. "And there is forgiveness for what they have done."

John was the guest speaker at the Edmonton Catholic Charismatic Prayer Breakfast, May 11 at the Chateau Louis Conference Centre. His central message was that of forgiveness, regardless of the wrongdoings against us.

"You and I have the potential to turn every bad situation into a good situation if we can learn to forgive and bless those who hurt us and wound us, like Jesus taught us to do," said John.

Everyone struggles with being unforgiving towards people who have wronged them, he said. But by blessing them and showing forgiveness, our lives blossom with unbelievable beauty.

Every crisis - falling off a roof, a failed marriage, bankruptcy, physical attack - should make us better, not bitter.

FORGIVE THE DOER

"To forgive is not the same as to condone. We can't excuse evil, but we can forgive the evildoer. In this way we protect ourselves from the poison of anger, and release the other person to be free to make positive choices," said John.

In Kenya, there are 42 tribes that nurse grudges against each other. Upon arriving in Kenya, John asked God what the message of their mission should be. He focused on teaching the people of Kenya to bless and forgive their enemies.

That horrible night in 2008, as he was being choked and beaten, he did the same thing he did in every crisis preceding it: he appealed to Jesus.

"All I could get out was this squeaky little prayer. When you don't have air, you still have prayer. I said, 'Jesus, help me!' It's not how nice your prayer sounds, but it's the sincerity of your prayer. I got help immediately," said John.

He felt the pain level subside with every blow of their weapons. They slashed his body from head to toe, but he never felt excruciating pain.

"I was outnumbered and they had all the machetes and clubs, and I had nothing in my hand, yet I was in the majority because I had the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit whirling around inside me," said John.

CALL ON JESUS

"Don't ever forget to call on Jesus in your time of crisis, and you'll have the advantage too."

A doctor told him he'd seen victims of machete attacks before, and usually one strike would tear off the person's leg. John had nine slashes across one knee alone, yet no tendon was touched. The slashes across his arms were much the same, the blade going through the bones, but stopping short of his tendons and arteries.

"That's what amazed me. Their blades could sever the hard stuff, but couldn't cut through the soft stuff," said John.

His jaw was fractured in five places. The machetes cut through his skull, but not into his brain.

"Jesus showed up in my time of crisis, all from my little prayer, so pathetic, yet it alerted heaven," he said.

Eloise had also called on Jesus to help her.

"I have a secret that these men know nothing about. No matter what they do to my body or my possessions, they can never touch the real me," Eloise said in the Bergens' book, Forgiveness in the Face of Terror.

FIGHTING FOR LIFE

After the attackers drove off, she wrapped a blanket around herself and went outside to find her husband. Through Jesus, she found the strength to lift him into the vehicle. She crashed through the farm-gates and drove to the hospital.

The doctors worked on John for five hours. He had 35 stitches on his face. When they came out of the operating theatre, a doctor said, "We stopped counting the slashes. There were too many."

The first thing he said after the operation was, "We have to find those men and share Jesus with them."

After the attack, the men went to a pub and bragged about how they had just killed a white man. Two reporters in the pub overheard their stories. The police arrived, and the men were arrested.

Eventually, John went before five of his attackers and shared his testimony about Jesus with them. All of them accepted Jesus as their saviour.