Mission trip proceeds after attack

GREENFIELD — About a month after a terrorist attack in Burkina Faso left 28 dead and dozens more injured, a mission group from Park Chapel Christian Church plans to proceed with its trip to the west African nation.

The eight-member group, which has plans to deliver supplies and attend an event celebrating the 10th anniversary of a medical clinic in the area, leaves Sunday for the first leg of a trip that will pass through Washington, D.C., and Brussels, Belgium, before landing in the Burkinabe capital of Ouagadougou on Monday evening.

Ouagadougou was the scene of a spray of gunfire Jan. 16 when assailants shouting “God is great” in Arabic began shooting in a popular café. They set fire to the café and then moved to an upscale hotel.

Customers of both establishments, frequent destinations of foreigners, rushed to escape, with some retreating to the hotel roof or hiding in bathrooms. American missionary Mike Riddering, who was in the area to meet a group of volunteers, was among those who died.

Military forces have killed the four known assailants; at least two of the al-Qaida-linked militants were women.

Kathy Larson of Greenfield, who grew up in Ivory Coast and is among those traveling to the area this weekend, said it’s the first such attack Burkina Faso has experienced.

“It was upsetting to everyone and heartbreaking to see what happened,” she said.

Though the Park Chapel team is aware of the danger, church leaders decided after prayer and discussion with the mission team to move forward with the trip.

The U.S. State Department has not issued any statements advising Americans not to travel to Burkina Faso.

Larson, the daughter of missionary parents, has been in touch with friends in the region. They note a curfew imposed after the attack has since been lifted, and residents, while cautious, are not making plans to flee the area.

She feels strongly about continuing as planned.

“We wanted to go back and let people know that we have not forgotten the people there, that we still care for them and pray for them.”

Park Chapel’s team will attend the 10th anniversary celebration of the Larry Ebert Clinic, which offers medical support to expecting mothers in the area. It will also visit another missionary the church supports. Group members will also deliver supplies that would be difficult to mail, including an X-ray machine battery, and share of talents and equipment ranging from beekeeping tools to soccer camp lessons.

“We each have something different that we’re bringing — a different skill, a different part of our heart,” Larson said.

In 2013, the Dr. Stephen Dillinger Maternity Center, named for Larson’s father, opened in Ouagadougou. Dillinger and his wife, Lee, served as missionaries in Ivory Coast for 28 years and lived in Greenfield in their retirement. During their mission service, they became friends with Dr. Felix Kohol, who leads the Burkina Faso clinic. Kohol’s wife, Nema, is a nurse there and also the first baby Stephen Dillinger delivered at the Ivory Coast hospital where he was serving.

The maternity center in Burkina Faso opened just months before he died, so no one from the family was able to go to its opening. Now Lee Dillinger wants to attend the celebration to encourage the people serving there and also to honor her husband.

“There are close ties there, and I wanted to go and encourage them in whatever way we can,” she said.

Though some family members of mission group members are concerned, she believes group members themselves are without hesitation about the trip.

“If we let evil win by reducing what we’re doing, evil will just triumph,” she said. “I feel like the God we worship is stronger (than terror groups) … He will protect us.”

Even if the unthinkable did happen, she said, “We know where we’re going, and we know we will be victorious.”

Author photo
Anne Smith is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at annesmith@greenfieldreporter.com