The atmosphere in the eastern Kenyan city of Garissa remains tense after an attacker hurled a hand grenade into a kiosk in the Bula Punda area around 7:30pm on Wednesday, October 22, injuring eight people. Four of the victims have been released, but four remain hospitalized, receiving treatment for shrapnel wounds.
The government said they arrested one suspect in nearby Mwingi on the Wednesday evening following the attack.
Located about 235 miles northeast of Nairobi and just 50 miles from the Somali border, the town of Garissa has been nearly overrun by Somali Muslims. Christians in the town have faced several recent attacks and increasing pressure. Most Christians in Garissa are migrants from other parts of Kenya, referred to as ‘down-Kenyans’, who have come here for work. They are regarded as outsiders and an unwelcome Christian presence in the Muslim-dominated area.
A local pastor told Open Doors he believes this most recent attack targeted the non-Somali owner and customers who are from “down-country” because they are perceived as Christian. A pastor, who cannot be named for security purposes, told Open Doors over the phone, “As Christians, we are asking, when will this end? Will it ever end?”
He says the continued atmosphere of insecurity has had a negative impact on local churches. Christians have become fearful of attacks and are staying away from church services. “Our Christian fellowship, spiritual growth and even our economy are being affected. Please pray for security, strength for the church and that God will watch over His people.”
For many years, Kenya was not even on the World Watch List of the 50 countries where the persecution of Christians is the worst. It is now ranked 43. Garissa and other towns near the Somali border have experienced the brunt of the persecution. However, across Kenya, the future of the church has become increasingly precarious. While the church faces intensifying levels of persecution, the government’s stance concerning religious institutions is becoming steadily less promising. Moreover, Muslim attitudes and targeted violence against Christians are also a major issue (especially after the attack on a shopping center in Nairobi by the Muslim extremist group al-Shabaab). Additionally, the relationship between the leaders of the Christian and Muslim communities remains highly complicated. However, the willingness to cooperate amongst the churches is high. Therefore, it remains to be seen how the church will engage constructively with the pressure it faces.
Father, we lift up fellow Christians in Garissa, as they struggle to live and worship as followers of Christ in a hostile environment. Protect them, Father, and meet them in their place of trouble. Encourage them, strengthen their faith, protect them from bitterness and fear, and grant them wisdom as they attempt to merge godly courage and longsuffering in their community relationships. Teach the broader church in Kenya how to engage the Muslim community in peace-seeking, wise and discerning ways, even while standing firmly in the truth of Scripture. In the name of Jesus, the rock of our salvation, Amen.