Saturday, April 2, marked the one year anniversary of the Garissa massacre in which 147 mostly Christian students were slain. Remembrance ceremonies were held all across Kenya. . Open Doors staff member, Hadassa* attended the memorial event in Eldoret at Moi University to which the entire student body was moved following the al Shabaab attack.
Many members of the National Council of Churches in Kenya (NCCK), Fellowship of Christian University Students (FOCUS), and other Christian organizations gathered to show their solidarity and support at the Garissa massacre memorial event in Eldoret.
Trees were planted symbolizing the fact that the Garissa victims will always be remembered and that there is hope. One of the survivors, Everlyne, courageously planted a tree, leaning on the crutch she still has to use as she continues to recover from injuries sustained during the attack.
A procession followed with some students carrying photos of their slain friends while others carried placards that read, “The death of a student, any student, is a big loss and detriment to that family’s dream. #147notjustanumber.” Some chanted, “We want peace! 147 is not just a number! Forever in our hearts!” At one point during the processing, the students knelt down to honor their fallen friends and classmates.
One young lady, Purity, told Hadassa, “This time last year I was eight month pregnant and lying under a bed, not daring to move and begging God to save my baby. He did! Though I lay on my belly under the bed for 12 hours, my son survived. I named him Kiama—Miracle.”
Many tears were shed during the he ceremony that followed the procession, in particularly when Garissa survivors did skits and presentations about the events of April 2nd 2015.
Vice Chancellor Prof Richard K Mibei commented, “Today marks one year since we lost our friends, colleagues, children to terror…to all who suffered that day, you are in our hearts, minds and prayers. Let us remember that human life is a gift and our collective responsibility. Today we pay our respects to the innocent victims and make it known that we need both peace and justice in the face of such brutal attacks. We applaud those who undertook acts of heroism, compassion and care to help our children even at personal risk. We thank NCCK and FOCUS for their inestimable support to date. Although we have suffered, we are not defeated or discouraged from forging ahead to fulfil our personal and university vision.”
Former CU vice-chairman, James Kazungu, explained why the lighting of the candles was particularly emotional, “Lighting the candles is our show of love towards our heroes of faith as we reflect back on what happened. We also light the candles to acknowledge the sovereignty of God – He is our light.”
Hadassa shared that the young lady sitting next to her at the ceremony, Margie, broke into deep gut-wrenching sobs during the lighting of the candles. She collapsed and had to be carried outside. She later explained that she had lost two very dear friends in the attack. When they lit the candles, she was overcome with grief as she remembered them. “God showed me that indeed [they] went into eternal safety with Him in heaven…But I am sad because they left me here, alone.’”
Amid the sadness surrounding the remembrance of the April 2 attack, hope was also on display. Students were reminded of the reasons to thank God through the tragedy: They could celebrate the lives of the martyrs and their faith, and praise God for the recovery of the survivors. “We choose to remember and learn and hope,” was the prevailing message throughout the memorial.
Our Heavenly Father, full of mercy and compassion, we are comforted by the knowledge that those who perished on this earth in Garissa last year are whole and rejoicing in their Savior. You have wiped away every tear. Forever. Wipe away the tears now of those who remain, who grieve the loss of friends and family they loved. Give them courage as they celebrate the faith of those whose lives were taken and give thanks for the recovery of those who survived. Give them courage to walk forward each day trusting Jesus. Remind us all daily that our hope does not depend on the things of this earth. Teach us to live our lives with a singular focus on our sure hope in Christ. Sustain those who gathered to remember in the sure knowledge that the 147 who died that day know fully now what it means to truly live. In the name of Jesus, who died that we might live. Forever. Amen.