“The Sights and Sounds Haunt My Memory”
At least 148 people were killed in the al-Shabaab attack on the satellite campus of the Moi University in Garissa, Kenya on April 2nd. The attackers singled out Christians and freed Muslims.
Shortly after the attack, Open Doors workers visited Garissa to encourage Christians and assess their needs. In Nairobi, where family members searched frantically for loved ones among the victims, Open Doors staff visited a local morgue to provide whatever support and strength they could under the horrible circumstances. Open Doors workers have also met with survivors from the attack to encourage them and show them solidarity in the Body.
Frederick Gitonga, the 21-year-old Chairman of the Christian Students’ Union on the Garissa campus, is among those who miraculously survived the attack. Fred told us he went to bed after midnight the night before the attack, having stayed awake to counsel a fellow student who was having difficulties forgiving someone who had wronged her. “We talked long and prayed much. She would not let it go, insisting on continuing until she felt in her heart that she had truly and unconditionally forgiven the person. Only then did she leave to go to bed.”
He had no way of knowing that it was the last time he would ever see his sister in the faith. “As she said goodnight, she told me that she would see me the following morning at prayer. But she was the first to die the next morning.”
Fred woke up in time for the morning prayers, but was exhausted after the late night. He decided to go back to sleep, but was quickly wakened by the sound of gunshots. “My roommates ran out, leaving the door wide open. As I hid under the bed, I could hear the gunshots and screams of fellow students. After some time things went quiet.”
As Fred lay concealed under the bed, two attackers entered the room. “They sat on the beds, changed their rifle magazines and then shot at the walls to test them before going out to resume the killings. I stayed there for a long time—I do not know how long—but was eventually rescued by a Kenya Defense Force officer.
“I praise God that some survived, many in truly miraculous ways. However, we are deeply traumatized, broken and in need of much prayer. At the same time, we are trying to help fellow students who seek comfort and support from us.”
Open Doors also visited 21-year-old Esther Kinyua at the hospital where she was recovering from injuries. “I was just getting up when the attack started. I ran out with my roommates, but I quickly doubled back when I looked around and realized people were falling all around me—they were being shot! A group of us, I don’t remember how many, fled back into the dormitory. Everyone looked for a place to hide. Many went under the beds. For some reason, I did not think of that. Instead, I don’t know how, I found something to step on and climbed into the ceiling opening. I quickly pulled it back, but it did not close fully.”
Pain washed across Esther’s face as agonizing memories flood back. “I was terrified. I lay on my side, crunched up because it was a very small, dark space. I dared not make the smallest sound and did not move a muscle for over 12 hours. It is not naturally possible to be that still. I know that God hid me in that ceiling. I was even afraid to breathe as I watched and heard how my friends being killed. The sights and sounds haunt my thoughts and memories.”
Esther’s mother, Ellyjoy Njadi, sat beside her daughter’s hospital bed and described the sheer agony of the day of the attack. “We heard the news and immediately tried calling Esther, but she did not answer her phone. We tried over and over as the day progressed, but we got no response. Not knowing where my child was or even if she was alive was torture beyond words! My heart felt like it was being shredded. I cannot describe what I felt when we heard that she had been rescued and was being evacuated to Nairobi. I went there immediately. When I saw the bus, I simply burst into tears!”
For Esther, even allowing herself to think about that traumatic day is too much to handle. She is clearly still in shock but continues to remind herself that she is safe now and courageously holds on to the hope that this darkness will pass. “I know I will be okay. Actually, last night I was able to sleep without medication.”
As Open Doors’ workers hugged them and said goodbye, Ellyjoy expressed her gratitude for their support of her and her daughter: “I am comforted and encouraged by your love. I have seen the love of Christ here. Thank you for your visit and God bless you!
Heavenly Father, God of comfort and strength, heal the injuries of those who have survived, and replace the terrifying memories and fear with the strength of Your presence. Let Your hand of comfort embrace those who mourn the loss of children and friends who perished on the brink of adulthood and a life of service to You, their Savior and Lord. We take comfort that You have welcomed into Your presence those who have passed from this life into glory. In the name of Jesus, our only comfort in life and in death, Amen.