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Garissa-The Other Face of Kenya

April 10, 2013 by Open Doors in General

Church in Kenya

Arriving at Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta Airport, you will probably hear gospel music played over the PA system. In the airport restroom you could run into a cleaner loudly singing along to proclaim her love for the Lord. Chances are good that the taxi you choose will be tuned to a Christian radio station. Flipping channels in the hotel room you will discover a wide selection of local and international Christian TV shows and perhaps CNN. Christianity permeates life in Nairobi.

When you leave the hustle and bustle of one of the most hectic cities in Africa, however, and head northeast for about 230 miles, you will find Garissa. All too close to the Somali border, Garissa displays the unsettling clash between Kenya and Muslim-dominated Somalia-a place where beliefs collide.

For Christians, Garissa is a difficult place to live, explains an Open Doors (OD) contact. “We have known it to be such since our first contact with the church in the mid-1990s. Its dusty streets seemed filled with people bent on evil toward the small community of Christians. We did not feel safe walking the town center or the narrow streets winding through residential areas. We were on high alert all the time-at home, at church, at school. Constantly our hearts were filled with the unease of knowing most town folk did not welcome our presence.” 

In Garissa and other towns near the Somali border, the very air is thick with the extreme spiritual conflict. Many of Garissa’s Christians originally came there through circumstance, transferred because of work; but there are many who have chosen to live there. Abdi Welli was one of them; and in February, he was murdered.

Welli’s death came less than a year after the July 1, 2012 church shooting in which 17 people were killed and scores of worshippers injured. Still surrounded by insecurity in the region, church members struggle to cope with the fear – with measured success. “I am fine now!’ stated Lydia Ndavi when an OD co-worker inquired how she is doing. “I sometimes experience pain that flashes across my leg that was shot, but otherwise I am ok. I am still holding on to Jesus. However, to be honest, I miss some Sunday church services out of fear. You know, when I hear rumors of a possible attack, I get afraid and stay home that Sunday. I have not gone to church for the last two weeks.”

When asked if she still experiences panic attacks at night, Lydia replied, “I’m sleeping well now and not waking up at the slightest sound like before. The only problem is the worry that keeps me from attending church service as much as I would like to.” Holding on to Jesus, but living with constant fear – this seems to summarize the prevailing condition among Christians who still find themselves in Garissa.

“There has been a mass exodus of Christians and other non-Muslims from here in the last few months,” said a Christian who chose to remain anonymous. “Most churches now see less than 50% of their congregants coming to services. People have left this area out of fear for their lives and for the safety of their families. These are valid concerns and we cannot blame them for making that decision.”

Rev. Kaleli, Senior Pastor of the AIC Garissa Churchtold us, “My wife, Anna, who was injured in the attack, is fine. She was discharged after 35 days in hospital and successful surgery. She still suffers from pain but over-all she is doing fine.” Rev. Kaleli and Anna were initially determined to remain in Garissa, feeling that departure would indicate defeat. However, since then the couple has realized that they need to give their traumatized children, their extended family, and themselves, a break.

“As for me,” Rev. Kaleli added, “I am doing okay and I praise God for that. But it is hard when a church congregation shrinks as radically as ours did. Most Sundays we average about 60 people from the previous 200+ persons that would regularly attend Sunday Service. I realize that I too need a break from this area, to recover and refresh. Kindly keep us in your prayers.”

The level of discouragement in Garissa is deeply concerning. We reassured Rev. Kaleli that thousands of Christians around the globe will keep praying for them and for the rest of the community in Garissa. OD remains closely involved with the church in Garissa and throughout the Northeastern regions through visits of encouragement, various kinds of training, and socio-economic development. 

Father, we bring before Your merciful presence the Christians in Garissa, Kenya. The Open Doors’ team in Kenya and the people of Garissa are in need of Your wisdom which you so freely provide in abundance, without limit. Thank You for the OD team as the walk this journey with the church in Garissa. As the church grieves deeply over the death of Abdi, we pray for Your comfort to embrace them, especially his family. As You continue to build Your church in the midst of these dark circumstances, we pray for wisdom, strength, courage to rest upon the church. As changes in church leadership occur, we pray for Your guidance and presence to provide stability. We pray that You will flood the Kaleli family, and others who are leaving, with Your grace and purpose. For those who remain, church leaders, business people and security agents, we pray for courage and strength and unwavering faith. In the name of Jesus, our All in All. Amen.

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