As many of us watched the horrific attack in Kenya unfold, we were unsure of what had happened to the seemingly peaceful Kenya. Now, we wonder what this means for the future of Kenya, and especially Christians there. The following is an interview with one of our field workers in the region, about all that has happened: As the team leader of the work of Open Doors in the Lakes Region, including Kenya, what is your response to the Westgate siege? This is indeed is a very sad event that we condemn in the strongest terms possible. We call on supporters around the world to pray for this nation and particularly for all those who have been affected by this terrible act. Many people know Kenya as a famous tourist destination and are surprised by the turn of events. Although we are appalled by the attack, we are by no means surprised by it. Al-Shabaab has always threatened to invade Nairobi. And there have been attacks in the past. Additionally, we have to keep in mind that Kenya is neighbor to countries where conflicts have left a proliferation of weapons floating around. Terrorists find Kenya a soft target because of the ease with which they can smuggle such weapons into the country. Kenya also hosts many prime terror targets, such as U.S. and Israeli properties and businesses. In your observation, is there more to this attack than merely revenge on Kenya’s involvement in Somalia? Yes, we believe there is. The attack has to be seen in terms of wider regional political and religious context. The Kenya Defense Force (KDF) campaign in Somalia was launched to protect the North Eastern Province from the chaos that was raging across the border. The campaign also came in the interest of protecting those drawn to the area through the tourist and relief aid industries after tourists and staff were kidnapped and murdered. In terms of the wider geo-political agenda, Al-Shabaab counts among those Somalis who believe that the North Eastern Province belongs to them and is waging a low-level guerilla war there. They are trying to exploit historical grievances against the Kenyan government. Their aim is to have this area secede from Kenya and join Somalia. Apart from the geo-political motive, Al-Shabaab also has a religious agenda. Al-Shabaab is waging war against Christians and Christianity in Somalia and Kenya. Their agenda is in line with the overall jihadist agenda to bring Africa under “the House of Islam”, as described by the Open Doors World Watch List. Similarly, attacks on churches in Garissa, Wajir and Mandera are aimed at ridding North-eastern counties of its Christian testimony. We have long warned that the religious atmosphere in Kenya is changing and for us the Westgate attack is another vivid indication to the deepening new dimension of persecution that has been dressed up as terrorism and tribal conflict. Why Westgate? Sheikh Abulaziz Abu Muscab, al-Shabaab military operations spokesman told Al-Jazeera, “[Westgate] is a place where tourists from across the world come to shop, where diplomats gather. It is a place where Kenya’s decision-makers go to relax and enjoy themselves. Westgate is a place where there are Jewish and American shops. So we have to attack them.” What does this attack mean in terms of religious freedom in Kenya? We are worried about the religious aspects to this conflict. The group claims to have let all Muslims go free. Their claim is substantiated by many witnesses. Unfortunately news like this only deepens religious divisions. If this aspect is not carefully managed it will lead this country down a precipice. Although all Muslims are clearly not terrorists, the Christians are starting to notice that of the terrorists they see are Muslims. Christians are tired of the senseless killings and of politicians downplaying the role of Islamic radicals in driving such attacks. This soft stance only serves to infuriate Christians. We fear further confrontation. We need to pray for the country at this time. We pray that the Church maintains the love of Christ and that they are not distracted from their collective mission of loving Muslims to Christ. We pray that Christians focus on eliminating Islamic false teachings by an increased impetus on outreach with the gospel in love. How will these events influence Open Doors activities in Kenya? At Open Doors we will continue to help the Church to respond in a biblical manner to persecution. We will also continue to help churches equip their members for cross cultural outreach and ministry in their communities through a dynamic and contextual approach.
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