- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 13, 2010

SELINSGROVE, Pa. (AP) — The gathering of Christian missionaries from Pennsylvania to watch the World Cup final at an outdoor restaurant in Uganda was to have been a highlight of a month of evangelizing and sightseeing in one of Africa’s more Christian countries.

In a flash of fire and shrapnel, it turned instead into one of the darkest hours of their lives, according to relatives, friends and fellow missionaries who gathered at a central Pennsylvania church Monday to pray for members of the group injured by a terrorist bomb.

Five of the people helping build a wall around a church and school in a poor section of Kampala were hurt in one of the twin blasts, which killed more than 70 people. The al-Qaida-linked Somali group al-Shabab claimed responsibility for the bombs, which killed one American not connected to the Pennsylvania missionaries.

Debbie Bingaman, the mother of injured 19-year-old college student Kris Sledge, said her blood ran cold when an American diplomat reached her with the news of the bombing as she ate dinner Sunday night.

Mr. Sledge told his parents that he was going to be OK but that doctors were tending to a leg wound so deep he could see bone. He had surgery Monday morning, then was on his way to a medical facility in Kenya with two other victims.

He also suffered burns and shrapnel cuts around his left eye.

“He went over with the thought, ‘I’m going to make those kids smile,” Ms. Bingaman said.

Mr. Sledge, a student at Messiah College in Grantham, said from his hospital bed in Uganda that he was “just glad to be alive.”

Fifteen people, about half of them members of Christ Community United Methodist Church outside Selinsgrove, flew to Uganda on June 16 to evangelize and volunteer their efforts at Bwaise Pentecostal Church, the fourth such trip the church has supported in the past six years.

Susan Heintzelman, an accountant who was among nine members who recently returned home, said she has had difficulty sleeping since getting word of the bombing. She said authorities think the church group was within a few feet of the blast.

“Even now, it doesn’t seem like this is happening,” said Mrs. Heintzelman, who accompanied her 14-year-old daughter, Megan, to Uganda. “It’s like a dream we’re going to wake up from.”

Dozens of people attended prayer services at Christ Community church on Sunday and Monday.

“This kind of evil perpetuated can happen to anybody at any time,” said the Rev. Kathleen Kind, pastor of Christ Community. “The bottom line is that in this God is present and in this God is at work.”

Rev. Kind said none of the injuries appeared to be life-threatening, but reliable firsthand details about the victims’ conditions were difficult to come by.

Mrs. Heintzelman has been posting information about the injured on a website dedicated to the trip, at http://uganda2010.editme.com. She said Mr. Sledge, Emily Kerstetter, Joanne Kerstetter, Pam Kramer and Thomas Kramer were hurt. The sixth team member, Lori Ssebulime, was unhurt.

Her husband, Mohammed Ssebulime, said after the prayer service Monday that he expected she would return to Pennsylvania later this week. Mohammed Ssebulime, a Ugandan national, said the church gathering of about 250 people touched him deeply.

“I don’t remember the last time I really cried, and this has been tough,” he said.

Lori Ssebulime told The Associated Press the members had arrived early at the Ethiopian Village Restaurant to get good seats to view the match between the Netherlands and Spain.

“We got there early so we could be near the screen,” she told the AP. “The blast happened. It was total chaos. I fell over backwards. Everything was gray.”

She said she scrambled around the bodies, found 16-year-old Emily and got her inside a minivan.

“Emily was rolling around in a pool of blood screaming,” she said.

The high school junior from Ellicott City, Md., was to be flown from Kampala to a trauma center in Johannesburg, South Africa, for further tests, family friend Nikki Liskovec said Monday by telephone from the Kerstetters’ home near Baltimore.

“She’s bad off” but stable, Ms. Liskovec said. She declined to disclose the girl’s injuries.

She said Emily’s grandmother Joanne Kerstetter, of Selinsgrove, suffered a broken arm but was well enough to accompany the girl to Johannesburg. Emily’s parents were preparing to leave for Africa Monday evening, Liskovec said.

Associated Press writers Max Delany in Kampala, Uganda, and David Dishneau in Hagerstown, Md., contributed to this report.