Cookstown woman working in African rainforest when told of her OBE

Maud Kells at home in Cookstown
Maud Kells at home in Cookstown

A veteran missionary discovered she is to be honoured with an OBE whilst checking her emails deep in a remote patch of central Africa.

The award recognises 75-year-old Maud Kells’ lifetime of work in the impoverished and war-ravaged Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The Cookstown woman is currently at a medical centre at Mulita in the east of the country, due to return in March, and cannot be reached directly.

However, sister Margaret Keane, 77, spoke of breaking the news to her after finding the letter at Maud’s bungalow.

“She is absolutely delighted,” said Margaret.

“She said: ‘I’m not getting that! They couldn’t honour me like that!’ She could not believe it.”

Miss Kells only turns on her solar-powered laptop once a week to check emails.

Margaret said the machine did not have enough power to let her download the Cabinet Office forms needed to accept the award, so she had to fill them in on her behalf.

“She lives in the rainforest and it’s very primitive,” said Margaret. “Not many of us could live out where she lives.”

She has worked in the DRC since 1968.

She is in Africa with charity WEC International, and its Ireland director Norman Cuthbert said: “She works on her own and has done for many, many years.

“She studied nursing here and then one day as a Christian she felt God was calling her to go overseas.

“She’s a tough lady. I think the last time she was out there she got sick for a while, but seems just to get back on her feet again. We’re sometimes a bit concerned because we’re so cut off from any news.”

The DRC has been the scene of a long-running and extremely bloody conflict for decades, and Mr Cuthbert believes she even had to be airlifted out once due to rebel activity.

She is not the only Christian humanitarian recognised on the New Year’s Honours list.

Rev Ronnie McCracken, a 71-year-old “itinerant evangelist” from Crumlin, is to receive an MBE.

Since shortly before the break-up of the Soviet Union, he has been sending aid to Leningrad (now St Petersburg) after making contact with churches there.

This has continued since, both there and elsewhere in the globe.

“These things we were doing were practical expressions of our Christian faith in the Saviour,” he said.

“After 70 years of people in eastern Europe being told there is no God, it was not enough to go and hand out pamphlets.”