This morning was the first Easter Sunday service I’ve attended that was somber. Instead of cranking the normal high energy of our church to an “Easter” level, two days after the worst terrorist attack in Kenya in twenty years, people’s faces were etched with grief:
The stories are coming in: 148 gunned down and 79 wounded at the only university in the troubled and struggling northeastern region of Kenya by Al Shabaab. Among the first victims to be murdered in the early morning raid were the 22 young attendees of a Christian Union prayer meeting.
Three female students kneeling in front of the gunmen, begging for mercy, cried out ‘Jesus, please save us’, and were immediately executed.
One student called her mother to beg for prayer when the gunmen approached, and was shot and killed by the attacker who then picked up her phone and informed her father that he had just killed her daughter.
Of the 148 victims, only 54 have been identified by their families. Today at Nyayo Stadium in Nairobi, families and and students are trying to reconnect with the help of the Red Cross.
This Easter, we are mourning here in Kenya. Personally, I am struggling to come to terms with my own sadness.
In church today our pastor acknowledged being torn between grieving and rejoicing in the present and future reality of the resurrection this Easter. We want to rejoice, but we can’t stop the tears rolling down our faces.
We want to reflect on the beauty of God’s plan – but we selected our seats at church close to an exit and kept our children close in case terrorists came.
I want to reflect on the beauty of Jesus being the ‘first fruits’ of a future restoration of all creation, but I am filled with a deep sadness that I don’t have words for. The only words of prayer I can summon are those of the Anima Christi, the traditional 14th century prayer:
May the shelter I seek be the shadow of your cross.
Let me not run from the love which you offer, But hold me safe from the forces of evil.
On each of my dyings shed your light and your love.
Keep calling to me until that day comes, when, with your saints, I may praise you forever.
This morning, the words of Paul to the church at Corinth are painfully real: We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. (2 Corinthians 4:10)
I recognize this morning that following Jesus means being a signpost not only for hope and life, but also his death. Not explaining away suffering with pat answers, but doing the deeper work of identifying the various ‘dyings’ I encounter with the suffering of Christ, knowing that God redeems all. Finding consolation in the knowledge that, like us, Jesus knew suffering and experienced incredible pain and rejection.
Today in church we mourned, took authority in Jesus’ name over the strongholds of terrorism and corruption, and prayed for wisdom and strength for Kenya’s leaders…but what happens tomorrow?
I hope that tomorrow, I will remember to love and live in such a way that I am a signpost to the present and future reality that God is king, and all things are being and will be made new.
I hope tomorrow I will remember to live in love and forgiveness of Al Shabaab. I hope to remember that even if they literally put spikes in my hands and hang me on a cross, I will refuse to curse and hate them.
I hope to remember to pray for and encourage the leaders of Kenya, who face the incredibly difficult task of fighting terrorism with little resources and a premier training ground for terrorism just across an open border (1).
I hope to remember to love God with all of my mind, not just my heart. To recognize that this attack, like Westgate a year and a half ago, is not part of a ‘war on Christians’ by Muslims. No, the Kenyan army has led a successful joint African Union effort to route Al Shabaab out of Somalia, and the Shabaab want their territory and source of income from it back–their stated objective. Killing Christians (as identified by people who can’t recite portions of the Koran) is simply a convenient and news-airtime-maximizing way of going about it. They could just as easily be asking people to cite passages from Dr Seuss books and executing them if they couldn’t say ‘green eggs and ham’. No, I hope that tomorrow I will be able to resist overlaying a simplistic and false ‘Christian vs. Muslim’ narrative on what is a classic realpolitik clash over power and resources.
I hope to remember that I have not signed up for a life of certainty and risk-avoidance, but (even as we try to be wise with our children and our own safety) one of obedience and trust in the one who says ‘behold, I am making all things new’ (Rev 21:5).
And, most importantly, I hope that tomorrow I will be able to agree with Paul’s words later in his letter to Corinth:
“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more her than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
(1) Former US Ambassador to Kenya, Scott Gration–whose wife was an RVA grad–wrote a short piece yesterday on how greatly improved Kenya’s security services have become since Westgate.