An American missionary couple who have worked in Africa for five years were killed in Uganda last week. After dark on the evening of Thursday, March 18, a group of between five and seven men, dressed in military uniforms, attacked and shot Warren and Donna Pett near their home in the district of Yumbe.
The Petts, originally dairy farmers from Brookfield, Wisconsin, outside Milwaukee, have worked since 1998 in Uganda, Zaire, and Kenya with the Africa Inland Mission (AIM). "They are truly beloved people because they had great hearts," said Mel Lawrenz, senior pastor of Elmbrook Church. "They served the youth ministry here, willing to help anybody, anywhere, anytime, which is why they were willing to go to Uganda."
Selling the farm for missions
Elmbrook annually hosts a Harvest Festival, in which missionaries and other international guests speak to the church on missions. "Warren and Donna heard the stories and saw the faces of people who had gone before them and made these decisions, and I think that had an impact on them," said Scott Arbeiter, Elmbrook's senior associate pastor . In 1997, the Petts sold their 100-year-old family farm and headed to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo).
They maintained strong contacts with the church, however, and were home as recently as January to visit Donna's ill mother. "I think one of the reasons for the shock in the congregation is because of how wide their connections were," said Lawrenz. "I've been hearing from all the kids in the youth ministry who remember spending time at their farm. They got very personally connected with the young people that they were involved with."
There was no pretence with the Petts, Arbeiter said. When they spoke to the church about their mission work, they were authentic and genuine. "They stayed farmers in the best sense of the word," he said. "Warren was this big barrel-chested farmer. He could be an imposing figure, but was as gentle as they come. All the kids in those slums would gather around Warren, and it looked like he was walking around like Andre the Giant with kids hanging from him."
Possible Muslim extremism
By March 2003, following a year's furlough, the Petts were teaching agriculture at the Esther Evangelical School of Technology in the northern Ugandan town of Aringa. The school is run by Here's Life, a Ugandan Christian non-governmental organization affiliated with AIM.
A student from the school, Isaac Jurugo, was also killed in the attack. Arbeiter said the church received reports that Jurugo attempted to save the couple and was killed after interposing himself between the Petts and the assailants. Another student was injured, and several buildings and vehicles were burned.
"The thugs, numbering over seven, were dressed in army uniform and armed with SMG rifles," a German missionary who was also attacked told the local press. There are conflicting reports regarding the attackers' motivation. At least one Ugandan official suspects opposition by local Muslims led to the attack. Other reports say the attack was either a robbery or an attack by a Northern Ugandan rebel group, The Lord's Resistance Army. But Gazan said such theories are only speculation.
A Ugandan army spokesman doubts that the LRA is involved. "I think they were just thugs who were after the missionaries' money or anything else," Maj. Shaban Bantariza told The Monitor, a Ugandan newspaper.
The German missionary, who works at the school with Christian Co-Workers International, also suggested that the attackers were financially motivated. She told New Vision, another Ugandan paper, that she was unharmed after giving money to the attackers.
There are, however, reports of increased vocal opposition by Muslim preachers. "There has been an ongoing conflict as the Muslims who are the majority have been opposed to any activities by other religious denominations and we suspect some extremists in the community targeted them," Yumbe police commander Okot Ayaa told the AFP news service.
Local police have arrested one man, Alima Amin, who fit the description of the attackers. The man is reportedly a member of a local militia. The militias were formed in villages to prevent attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army. The area, which is 90 percent Muslim, has not recently seen religiously motivated conflict. Gazan said the local religion is folk Islamic, a mix of Islam and local religious traditions. Missionaries use caution, he said, but do not expect violent opposition to their presence.
However, The EastAfrican is reporting that the area may be ripe for ethnic conflict. The Uganda Joint Christian Council is working with the government to prevent the possibility of local militias attacking other tribal villages. The UJCC warns that without intervention, the area may repeat the type of genocide seen in Rwanda in 1994.
Three years ago, two AIM missionaries in the same region of Uganda were shot during a robbery. Both men are now living in the United States. AIM has had missionaries in the country since 1917, when it was under British control.
Elmbrook Church in Wisconsin will be conducting memorial services for the couple. They are survived bythree adult children.
According to Operation World, the eastern African country enjoys religious freedom after severe persecution under the dictatorship of Idi Amin. Since 1986, Uganda has experienced relative stability and democracy, though the Lord's Resistance Army continues to terrorize northern parts of the country. Uganda is 89 percent Christian. Though AIDS is still a major problem in the country, Uganda is one of the only African countries to successfully fight the disease, due to the help of religious groups.
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Other articles include:
American Couple Murdered in Yumbe | AN American missionary couple and a technical school student were killed at their home in Yumbe on Thursday night. (New Vision, Kampala)
American Missionaries Killed in Yumbe | Police and the army could not immediately say who was responsible for the murders (The Monitor, Kampala)
Danger finally caught the Petts | Surely Warren and Donna Pett knew of the danger. No sooner had they given up their serene dairy farm in the Town of Mukwonago to become missionaries in Africa in 1997 when danger undercut their first assignment. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Uganda police detain man in slayings of Wisconsin missionaries and student | Police have detained a member of a local defense force in the killing of two American missionaries and a Ugandan student in northwestern Uganda, a senior police official said Sunday. (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
Waukesha County missionary couple robbed, shot to death in Uganda | Motive unclear; pair had sold Town of Mukwonago dairy farm to pursue their calling (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Local missionaries gunned down in Uganda | Couple left farm fields for the African mission fields (Waukesha [Wisconsin] Freeman)
Uganda 'Could Slide into Genocide' | Pointing At the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and the chaos that engulfed Somalia following the collapse of the government in 1991, the church and legislators in Uganda have warned that the current situation in the north and east of the country seems to be headed the same way. (The EastAfrican)
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Ebola Outbreak Leads to Suspension of Church Services | Panic and terror spread like virus as infections and deaths increase. (Oct. 20, 2000)
Innocence Stolen | A paramilitary group in Uganda is abducting younger children to fill its ranks. Those who manage to escape are plagued with haunting memories. (July 13, 2000)
Under Suspicion | Following cultic deaths of 900, independent Christian groups in Uganda come under a cloud of mistrust and fear. (May 03, 2000)