Pennsylvania missionary writes blog account of Uganda attack

Lori Ssebulime led the missionaries in Uganda.
Lori Ssebulime led the missionaries in Uganda.
Posted: July 15, 2010

The leader of a team of Pennsylvania missionaries who were injured in Sunday's terror bombings in Uganda has written a firsthand account of the episode.

"I remember a bright flash, and everything went gray and it felt like rain," Lori Ssebulime of Selinsgrove wrote from Kampala, replying on her blog to questions from The Inquirer. "I heard screaming from every direction."

Ssebulime was still in Africa on Wednesday, monitoring the medical care of the five team members wounded by one of two blasts that killed 76 people.

As plans were made to fly the missionaries home, offers of prayer and donations were starting to trickle in to the missionaries' home base - a church in Selinsgrove - from around the world, a spokeswoman said.

Ssebulime's is one of the first detailed narratives to come out of the bombings. She and the other missionaries were at a Kampala restaurant watching the World Cup final on television when a bomb next to their table exploded.

Minutes later, another bomb exploded on a rugby field across town. Among those killed by the second blast was Nate Henn, 25, a Wilmington native who was in Uganda to visit youngsters he had befriended in his work with the aid group Invisible Children.

The blast at the restaurant injured five of the six missionary-group members who had lingered in Uganda to complete a school building project after nine others had returned to Pennsylvania.

"I could taste blood in my mouth and felt burning sensations," Ssebulime, 40, wrote on her blog. "It seemed as if everything was swirling around me, and then I heard Emily screaming and I went to her."

She was referring to Emily Kerstetter, 16, of Ellicott City, Md., who with her grandmother was part of the Selinsgrove mission group. Kerstetter and Kris Sledge, 18, also of Selinsgrove, and Thomas Kramer, a teenager from Winfield, were severely injured by the blast.

"Emily was screaming," Ssebulime wrote. "I held both of her hands. . . . She kept saying it burned. . . .When she would stop screaming, I would yell her name because I was truly afraid she was dead."

Ugandan coworkers got them to a vehicle. "It was the worst state of confusion I have ever felt. I can hear her screams and the horn blaring as [we] sped toward the hospital."

Emily Kerstetter's grandmother, Joanne Kerstetter, 68, of Selinsgrove, suffered a broken arm. By Wednesday, both were in a hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Pam Kramer, 46, mother of Thomas Kramer, underwent surgery on Tuesday in Nairobi, Kenya, for a broken leg, according to the Selinsgrove mission's website. Sledge and Thomas Kramer also were being treated in Nairobi.

All five injured missionaries are expected to be flown back to Pennsylvania soon, the website said.

Ssebulime, who teaches in an after-school program and at Sunday school, lived in Uganda in the 1990s and worked with the Rev. Peter Mutabazi, pastor of Bwaise Pentecostal Church, which the group went to aid. Mutabazi died in the blast. Ssebulime attended his funeral on Monday.

The missionaries had built a wall to keep intruders out of the church-school compound. Susan Heintzelman, one of nine missionaries who returned to Selinsgrove last week, said the wall was built in part to protect pupils from the threat of ritual sacrifice. The Associated Press reported in April that at least 15 Ugandan children and 14 adults died in ritual sacrifices last year.

Ssebulime, who is from Selinsgrove, married a man she met while working in Uganda. She and her husband helped forge the ties between Christ Community United Methodist Church in Selinsgrove and Bwaise Pentecostal.

The first team of missionaries went to Kampala in 2004. In 2008, a group helped build classrooms at the school. located next to the church.

The Selinsgrove-based church helps pay for teacher salaries - $200 a month - at the school in Uganda. The congregation also helps students pay the annual $150 tuition.

In 2008, the mission group donated $15,000 for new classrooms, and this year contributed an additional $10,000 to help build the wall.

Team members said they traveled to Kampala June 16 to visit the children, Mutabazi, and other friends.

Ssebulime's account of the bombing, which contains graphic detail, begins with the words "During our dinner ..." on her blog, at http://uganda2010.editme.com/Lori-Ssebulime


Contact staff writer Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8232 or bcook@phillynews.com.

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