“Every week we wondered ‘What if it’s this week?’ Yet every week we turned up for church,” said Sunday School teacher Sally Gatei, recalling how believers had reacted to standing threats to area churches. Her church, St. Polycarp, of the Anglican Church of Kenya, is on Juja Road in Eastleigh, an area of Nairobi well known for its largely Somali population. Speaking to Open Doors News, after her return last week from the funeral of 9-year-old John Ian Maina who was killed in the September 30 grenade attack on the church, she reflected on the lingering effects of the trauma. “I told the team I didn’t need counselling, but I’d not been back to the building for a few days, since it happened. When I did go back to the church, my heart was pounding. You think ‘You’re alright, you’re strong,’ but I am going to get some counselling now.”
Gatei was in the room full of children where a grenade exploded at about 10:30 a.m. As reported last week, the explosion killed one boy and injured eight other children. Sally’s own son had been in the room only three minutes before. In spite of the devastating events, Gatei shared that the church refuses to be bound by fear. “The most amazing thing, though, is that, although we thought we should cancel Sunday school the next Sunday, most children insisted we should meet as usual, even though the room had not yet been repaired!”
In the aftermath of the attack, John’s parents, Jane and Patrick Maina, Patrick himself recovering from a stroke that left him wheelchair-bound, are struggling to come to terms with their loss. Patrick tearfully shared about the generous heart of their young son, “John had celebrated his birthday only the day before. He’d asked for two cakes, one to share with friends after church on Sunday. That never happened. My son wheeled me to the church service then left for Sunday school.” Neither parent could have expected that to be the last time they saw their son alive.
This senseless assault came shortly after a Somali member of Al Shabaab had been sentenced to 59 years in prison after confessing in court to planning attacks on Parliament. Police reported that at his arrest on Sep 19, he and the man arrested with him confessed their plans to target four Nairobi churches: the PCEA St. Andrews Church, St Paul’s University Chapel, CITAM in Valley Road and the Holy Family Basilica Church. Had they been successful, these attacks would have been devastating since the four churches having approximately 20,000-plus attendees, and thousands of children attending Sunday Schools. Eight accomplices are still being sought by police who seized suicide vests, explosive devices, and large quantities of guns and bullets during the arrest.
Church leaders were quick to appeal for non-retaliation. “This is a cruel provocation, but I appeal to Christians not to feed violence with violence, either in word or deed, because we are called to overcome evil with good,” said Archbishop Wabukala of the Anglican Church of Kenya. He and Bishop Joel Waweru of the Nairobi Diocese visited and prayed with the children admitted to the Children’s Ward.
“The life of an innocent child has been taken and others have been cruelly injured and traumatized in what should be the safest of places,” Wabukala said. “The sanctity of life has been heartlessly breached in a sanctified place. Such acts seem to be designed to spark civil unrest and intimidate the Christian church. In the face of such an outrage we ask, with the prophet Habakkuk, ‘O Lord, how long?’ and let us trust that God in His mercy will bring justice and relief as we cry out to him.”
“Out of situations like this, we get more motivation to serve God better and as a church we will not give up,” said the Rev. Steve Shisia.
Father, thank You for this strong testimony of faith in the midst of trial. We pray for the family of John Maina as they mourn their loss, that they might see Your hope and presence with them and take comfort that their son is whole now and in the glorious presence of his Saviour. We pray for Your church that You will strengthen them to overcome this evil with good, something they can only do as You lavish Your grace upon them. We join them in Habakkuk’s cry, “O Lord, how long?” And with them we rest in our trust that Your justice and relief will come to them. In the name of Jesus, the Savior we share with them as brothers, Amen.