Trusting God when her world had been shattered, believing He would make a way when there appeared to be none- Claris Mathole’s faith is an inspiration as this grieving widow from Mombasa, Kenya, comes to terms with the senseless murder of her husband, Pastor Charles Mathole, inside their Redeemed Gospel Church in Mtopanga.
“I ask God questions but get no answers…but I still trust Him. I have peace in my heart,” she says quietly.
Facing the daunting task of shepherding a large church without her beloved, Claris prays for the strength and courage to carry on. “My husband and I were close, so close that people immediately assumed I too had been killed…they expected that I would have been at the church with him. We hardly did anything separately,” she told Open Doors workers who visited shortly after her loss.
Marrying young as unbelievers, Charles and Claris’ love for each other soon grew to include the Lord Jesus when first Charles, and then Claris, accepted Him as Savior. They joined their church worship team where they served until Charles was asked to become Assistant Pastor and then in 2008 to become Pastor. He was given the responsibility of planting his own church, while Claris continued on as Worship and Intercessory Prayer Leader.
They met with violent opposition from hostile Muslim locals from the beginning. Church members were beaten, threatened and verbally abused; church equipment was repeatedly stolen or destroyed at night, and stones were thrown onto the church roof during worship.
Despite the persecution, the congregation grew steadily to over two hundred members, with many Sunday school children. The fledgling body experienced a devastating blow the night of Saturday October 19, 2013, when their faithful leader was shot in the head while reading his Bible at the church.
Charles and Claris had returned home late that night from a crusade. Having been too busy to spend time alone with the Lord, Charles sought the solitude of their church. Claris’ misgivings turned to alarm when she was awakened by a call from a church member asking whether the pastor was at home. Charles’ failure to answer her repeated phone calls only increased her concern. Soon another pastor and his wife along with two church members arrived at her home to break the news that her husband was bleeding heavily at the church…that he was, in fact, tragically already dead.
“When we got to the church”, she recalls, wiping away tears, “I saw him seated, his Bible open in his lap and from a distance it looked like he had just bowed his head in prayer. It was only when I got close that I saw the shattered skull on the top side of his head.”
Despite seeing Charles for herself, Claris at first struggled to accept the reality of her loss. “I was sure it was a very bad dream from which I would awake…”
Since the funeral, however, numbing shock and disbelief have given way to the sad and painful realization of the enormous responsibility she now faces in shepherding a grieving congregation.
“How do I encourage them? Help me God,” she prays, “I cannot do this without You, Jesus…”
Claris is particularly grieved that despite their desire for children, she was unable to conceive, and has been left alone with no close family to share in her grief. However, she praises God for the church family that has surrounded her with love, prayer and companionship. “We are still hurting and I still cry a lot, but I know that God is carrying and will continue to carry us. We will continue doing God’s work.”
In Mombasa’s current social and political climate, continuing God’s work is an increasingly difficult and dangerous undertaking. The senseless murder of Claris’ husband came just days after Mombasa witnessed its worst rioting in years following the drive-by shooting of radical Muslim Imam Ibriham Rogo. These events followed in the wake of the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi during which the terrorists forced many of their captors to recite the Islamic prayer or to be deemed ‘Kafirs’ (unbelievers) and killed.
Kenyan police strongly suspect that al-Shabaab is responsible for the murder of Pastor Mathole and are continuing their investigation. Several Mombasa pastors have been receiving threatening text messages and there are rumors that five specific churches are being targeted for destruction.
Though Claris Mathole takes consolation in the courage and fearlessness shown by her husband’s colleagues, they cannot give back to her what has been so violently torn away. She is now struggling, depending upon the mercy and grace of our Lord and the faithful church family around the world to uphold and bless her as she works through trauma and grief, and continues her faithful commitment to her husband’s vision and God’s work in Mombasa.
Claris would be greatly heartened by a message from you. Please add prayers and words of encouragement; an Open Doors team will personally deliver them next month.
Father, we turn to You on behalf of Claris Mathole who continues to mourn the loss of her husband and struggles to shepherd their congregation. Thank You for the church that has encouraged and supported her, but in the long hours of night we pray that Your peace would rest gently upon her. Help her, Father, to come to terms with his death as she looks to the future. We pray for emotional strength and guidance as she makes decisions about the church leadership. May the attackers be brought to justice and we pray Your protection over Claris and the pastors in the area. In this troubled time, may Your Spirit stir up in countless hearts a turning to Christ that Your Name might be lifted high. In the name of Jesus the Bridegroom who is raising up His bride, the church. Amen.