This past week has been an extremely bizarre and difficult one. The events at Westgate Mall and the unfolding of the story continue to shock and sadden us. It was a place where our family would sometimes go grocery shopping or out to eat. We had a date night there only a couple of weeks ago. We would nearly always take guests there, so those of you who have visited us will remember it most likely. It’s hard to imagine a place where you frequently go becoming a war zone, and now much of it is in a pile of rubble. You see photos and think, “that’s where I walked last week,” “that’s the table where I sat” or “that’s where we often park our car, now it’s destroyed.” It was an upscale place where we couldn’t afford to buy much other than food or a movie, but where we enjoyed some peace and the sense of getting away from everyday life.
However, much more important than the minor losses of comfort and familiarity, we are in a city that is in mourning over the loss of many lives. Our school community lost two parents and had two students injured – both families from the middle school. Everyone knows people who were there and most know others outside of our school community who were either killed, injured and traumatized by being there.
The miracles and horror stories of last week continue to be brought to light. There were no high school students from our school caught up in it. Most were on a retreat (that Lesa was on). That is amazing, considering that many students from our school hang out there regularly. One student not on the retreat was actually there at the mall but left quickly when he heard gunfire. However, the same boy has been to two funerals this week for people he knew who were killed. Several other families we know from school were there and got out alive. A middle school girl’s birthday party was just getting started when the attackers arrived and the girls there got out. Many students are struggling because of others they know who died, were injured or who were held hostage. One student had two 18 year old friends who hid in a ventilation duct for three days and, like many others, has had to deal with the trauma of not knowing if her friends were alive or not.
How do you talk to your kids about something like that? How do you worship God in situations like this? How do you lead worship for a church who is grieving, hurting, and fully cognizant the terrible ongoing attack just 3 miles away?
The day after the attack began, our church family, full of diplomats, missionaries, NGO workers, defied their embassy “shelter in place” requests and gathered in force at our church. It was a powerful time of worship as we read scriptures and prayed, and reminded ourselves of the unchanging character and goodness of our God.
A God whose character is not defined by our circumstances. A God whose promises are eternal.
The terrorists who killed 67 people last weekend, and held hundreds hostage aren’t any less deserving of God’s grace than we are. Our hearts are broken for not only the victims, but for the assailants who have been sold a great lie, who thought they were doing God a favor, and who were so desperate to earn his acceptance that they did the only thing they could do to guarantee that acceptance by martyring themselves.
The ordeal isn’t over, as there are many unanswered questions, people still in the hospital and the stages of grief still being experienced by most of us. We are all grappling with fear and new annoyances to our everyday life. The first time that we went out shopping took courage, not to mention selecting places to shop that feel safe. Heightened security everywhere means everything takes longer. Going to the grocery store is now sort-of like getting through security at an airport.
But God is loving and good, and we are so thankful to be serving him here in Nairobi, Kenya. Thank you to all of you who’ve been praying for us and thinking of us the past week.