Maud, angel of the Congo, back 'home' among the people who need her most
A Northern Ireland missionary shot by bandits in the Democratic Republic of Congo has received a heroine's welcome after returning to the country.
Hundreds of people gathered at a small grass airstrip to greet Maud Kells as she stepped off the plane.
The 76-year-old Cookstown woman was seriously injured after being struck by a bullet during a raid on her jungle home in early January.
She returned to Mulita, where she previously worked, for the first time at the weekend to the sounds of a brass band and cheering.
Maud enjoyed the celebrations and then headed back to the Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) plane she arrived in to help unload baby clothes and other supplies she packed up in Northern Ireland.
The team at MAF said it was an honour to fly courageous Maud back to the village, less than a year after the medical evacuation flight that saved her life.
Maud told the Belfast Telegraph of the "great excitement" she felt at getting back to the work she loves.
"It's really nice to see them again… they're always very welcoming," she added.
After exchanging greetings with village and church leaders, Maud and MAF pilot Dave Jacobsson were escorted through the village in a parade of celebration.
The procession ended at a makeshift amphitheatre, where a ceremony with singing, dancing and preaching was held in Maud's honour.
Mr Jacobsson spoke of the love there was for Maud in the country.
"The whole community was there," Dave said.
"I think we got a slice of the appreciation, the love and the concern that the people had for her, and the joy of having her back again."
After the ceremony Maud returned to the airstrip to help unload the plane full of medical supplies and gifts.
"I brought quite a lot of stuff out from home," she said. "Baby clothes, supplies, literally, everything under the sun."
The Belfast Telegraph Woman of the Year is a WEC International missionary who has served in the DRC since 1968. Her work in Mulita includes helping to build a primary school and hospital, training staff and teaching at a Bible school.
Maud praised the role MAF had played in her work over the decades.
"All during the years I could never have continued the work at Mulita without MAF - I couldn't have done any of it," she said.
On this trip to Mulita, Maud is hoping to finish work on a nursery that she started building before the shooting on the night of January 4.
Maud had been lured from her house in the village in the dead of night by a man pretending to be the husband of an ill patient. When she returned home, she was confronted by two masked bandits.
She reached to grab the weapon one of them was holding and was shot in the chest.
"I yelled at the top of my voice, but nobody came to help me," Maud said.
Eventually, help did come and her condition was stabilised.
MAF received a call requesting a medical evacuation flight.
"We were really upset when we heard that she was shot," MAF pilot Jon Cadd said.
"The whole team just jumped into action."
MAF staff quickly contacted local doctors and rearranged the day's flight schedule.
A few hours later Jon landed in Mulita with medical personnel on board and was able to evacuate Maud to MAF's base in Nyankunde.
After receiving treatment in the Nyankunde mission hospital, Maud spent a week recuperating in the home of Jon and Cher Cadd before returning to Northern Ireland.
"So much of the healing process was really MAF caring for me, loving me, and just being so kind and so hospitable," she said.
"I probably wouldn't have survived if it hadn't been for MAF."
Maud is keen to help clear the names of the men she believes have been wrongly accused of involvement in her attack.
It is understood that a court case is expected to be held while she is in the country over the coming weeks.