Presbyterian World Mission is asking for prayers for longtime Presbyterian Mission co-workers Gwen and John Haspels, who were injured Wednesday, October 1, when their car was attacked by armed bandits on a rural road in Ethiopia.

After the attack, John drove four hours to the nearest hospital in Aman, Ethiopia, where he was treated for injuries to his eye and is now in good condition. Gwen sustained more serious injuries and was in critical condition when they arrived at the hospital. Her condition has since been upgraded to fair, and the couple is now in route to an expertly equipped hospital in South Africa.

Presbyterian mission workers and World Mission staff worked around the clock to arrange for medical attention and the air ambulance flight to South Africa.

World Mission’s regional liaison for the Horn of Africa, the Rev. Michael Weller, said by phone from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, that the couple is greatly loved by the people of Ethiopia. He said that more than 200 people had quickly gathered at the rural hospital in Aman to show their love and support and that almost 1,000 were present when they left the airport in Addis Ababa on Thursday.

“The people of Ethiopia are surrounding the Haspels with love and prayer,” Weller said. “First they praised God for intervening and now are praying for God to heal their bodies. It’s just a privilege and an honor to be surrounded by this amazing community of witness.”

“We are so thankful that Gwen and John are safe and being given excellent medical care,” said Hunter Farrell, director of Presbyterian World Mission. “We ask everyone to lift them up in prayer and ask God for their continued recovery.”

“This was a random act of violence,” Farrell said. “They were not targeted.”

All World Mission co-workers receive extensive safety training and are linked to church partners worldwide, who carefully watch over them. “Our mission co-workers are aware that safety can never be guaranteed,” Farrell said, “but they are ready and willing to serve God’s mission.”

Gwen and John Haspels have been mission co-workers in Ethiopia since 1974, serving at the invitation of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY). They are currently planting churches among the Suri people of Ethiopia, who had none before the Haspelses and their EECMY colleagues arrived.

The couple was on their way to a new site in Moga — where they were to build a house for the Baale people — when the attack occurred.

Heather Kebede, one of the couple’s daughters, was able to see her parents briefly at the airport in Addis Ababa. “The Haspels family would like to say that we choose to forgive the men who did this and pray that they meet Jesus,” she says. “We are also very thankful that both of our parents are stable, and we praise the Lord for this miracle of life.”

Ethiopia, in East Africa, has a population of 36 million, of which 56 percent is Christian. One of the continent’s most populous countries, it struggles with severe poverty and hunger issues.

John Haspels was born in Pittsburgh and grew up in Ethiopia. He attended high school in Alexandria, Egypt, and is a graduate of Sterling College in Kansas. He received an M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., and was ordained in 1973. Before starting his mission work, John worked in development and church planting for the former United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. He has continued this work in Africa.

Gwenyth Adair Haspels was born and raised in Sudan. She also attended high school in Alexandria, Egypt, and then Sterling College. She received an RN diploma from Wesley School of Nursing and worked as a nurse in Pasadena before becoming a mission co-worker. She has continued her medical work as a clinic supervisor in Africa.

John is a member of Southern Kansas Presbytery, Gwenyth of Halstead Presbyterian Church in Kansas. They have four grown children: Desta, Charles, John, and Heather.