On April 2, 2015 148 people were killed in the al Shabaab attack on the Garissa University in north-eastern Kenya. Frederick Gitonga, the former chairman of the Fellowship of Christian University Students (FOCUS), miraculously survived the attack. Looking back, he tells Open Doors workers he remained standing thanks only to the grace of God and the prayers of supporters and for the purpose of preaching the gospel.
In the lead up to the April 2nd Garissa University massacre, rumors of an imminent attack circulated. “Sometimes we would hear people saying: ‘You guys will be attacked, terrorists are planning to come and bomb you’.” As a result some students left the university.
The night before the attack, Fred stayed up until 2 AM counselling a Christian friend. The next morning he was so tired he slept in. It was very unusual for him to miss the 5AM prayer session.
That meeting was the attackers’ first target. They killed all 22 people present.
Fred woke to the sound of gunfire in the prayer room. He immediately got up and wanted to investigate, but on his way there he turned back to grab a shirt and shoes. By then the attackers had already entered the dormitory and shot someone a mere 20 meters away from him. Fred had no way out, so he hid under his bed.
Fred shares disturbing details of everything that transpired that day. It is clear that the sights, sounds and smells of that horrible day are etched vividly into his mind. “In the end it was an exam. If you wanted to pass, you would say you are a Muslim. If you failed, you [were] shot dead. If you [were] a Muslim your life was safe.”
Some of their Muslim fellow students tried to protect the Christians by saying they were Muslims. But if you could not recite parts of the Quran, you were killed on the spot.
Interpreting a tragedy
“Some are saying that I’m very strong, but I tell you were it not for prayers I could not have come this far. I would have collapsed on the very day but for the grace of God which is sufficient and (because) you are still continuing to support us. So I want to thank the many of you who took your time and even today are still praying for us. It is your prayers that have made us strong.”
Fred sees the attack is a reminder that we should not be surprised by persecution. “Under the sun, life is controlled by God. Christ Himself is very clear (in the Bible) that there is no reason as to why you will not be persecuted, since I myself as the Son of God was persecuted. You as Christians must go through this. He says be glad, be exceedingly glad, when you go through persecution because by so doing you are going through the path that Jesus Himself went through.
“We (still) need a lot of prayer. Pray for the Church in Kenya because they are becoming one of the main targets… Pray for the survivors, for a speedy recovery. Pray that they will hold onto the faith and keep the fire of the gospel burning. Pray for those who are still dealing with the trauma. Remember the families who lost their children. Pray for me. I feel there is need to even take this gospel outside of this country.”
“God bless you, God bless your children, God bless your ministries, and God bless everything that you lay your hands on. Whatever you are doing is not just a simple task. You are playing a very big role for the kingdom of God.”