NEW YORK - Several weeks ago, Felix was admitted to the Maua Methodist Hospital, in Maua, Kenya, with severe tuberculosis. Felix weighed 20 pounds and was three feet tall. He was nine years old. Missionary Jerri Savuto sat by Felix's bedside, watching him gasp for breath.
"How hungry, alone and desperate he must have always been. I reached out and touched him and smiled at him," said Nurse Savuto. "His eyes looked up and met mine and then his little face broke into a smile. He gained weight and seemed to be doing much better but died four days ago."
Suvuto is one of six United Methodist missionaries serving through the Board of Global Ministries in Kenya.
As many as 10 million Kenyans, a majority of them children like Felix, are dying due to pervasive drought and famine. The Kenyan newspaper, The Daily Nation, projected that October 2009 will be the first opportunity for a substantial rainfall. Savuto worries that many in Kenya will not live to see that next big rain.
As malnourished children are admitted to Maua Hospital, with their families' unable to pay, the staff goes without pay and the facility lacks money for necessities. So, too, families flock to Kenyan churches for food, prayer, and comfort, yet parishioners are no longer able to support their pastors. They subsist on donations. The Methodist Church in Kenya is seeking funding to continue the mission of the hospitals and churches.
Kenyan bishop visits
Bishop Stephen Kanyaru M'Impwii, head of the Methodist Church in Kenya, visited the New York offices of the General Board of Global Ministries Feb. 19-20 to highlight the need for increased relief efforts. He met, among others, with the Rev. Edward W. Paup, general secretary, to convey the urgency of the famine.
"I'm not telling you what I've heard," Bishop M'Impwii said. "I'm telling you what I've seen. Starving people have died. It's very serious. Even in the capital, there are many, many orphans."
"We are currently supporting churches in Kenya to respond to the famine in Nairobi, Coastal Province, and the Rift Valley (Nakuru)," said Melissa Crutchfield, an International Disaster Response executive with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
"These activities include provision of food aid for some of the most vulnerable populations, including nursing mothers, vulnerable children, orphans, school children, people living with HIV and AIDS, and internally-displaced people from the election violence last year. The grants are also providing some medicines for a clinic in Nakuru, and agricultural inputs like seeds and tools, so that farmers in that region can begin to grow for themselves again."
Starvation increases daily
A report from the United Nations indicates childhood malnourishment is at the level one out of five in Kenya, a number which exceeds emergency requirements. "The number of people who are starving in Kenya seems to increase daily. Our pediatric ward continues to have so many starving, emaciated children admitted," reported Missionary Jerri Savuto.
She wrote, "Their cattle are dying and they are migrating. We need your help. Please pray for us and please remember the hungry everywhere. You may not see them, for often they are invisible, but they are there, standing quietly, pleading with God to help them. I know God hears them. Do you?"
Donations to assist UMCOR's response in Kenya can be dropped in local church offering plates or mailed to UMCOR, P.O. Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. The check should be made to "UMCOR Advance #982450, International Disaster Response," with "Kenya Famine" on the memo line.
For credit card donations, visit UMCOR's Web site at www.umcor.org for online giving information or call 800-554-8583.
Mary Beth Coudal is the staff writer for the General Board of Global Ministries based in New York City.