An Open Doors staff member recently visited Kenyan widow Sarah Ibrahim Kithaka and her family in Kilifi town, near Mombasa. She invited Gladys Juma to join her in this visit to encourage Sarah.
Sarah’s husband, Pastor Ibrahim of the East Africa Pentecostal Churches, was killed on October 20, 2013 in what police later labelled an Al Shabaab revenge attack for the murder of a radical Muslim cleric Sheikh Ibrahim Ismail a few days before.
It was clear from their joyous greeting that the family is slowly but surely recovering from their trauma and grief. Gladys was able to share her testimony and offer encouragement to the Kithakas out of her shared experience, having personally suffered great loss after her husband was brutally murdered because of his faith in Christ.
Gladys’ husband, Benjamin Juma of the Nyali Baptist Church, was falsely accused of theft along with Pastor Kioko of the Melchizedek Church. The two were lynched by a Muslim mob in the Jomvu area of Mombasa on May 7, 2012.
Gladys spoke candidly about her grief, and her story clearly touched their hearts. Sarah listened, nodded and echoed Gladys’ sentiments as her fellow widow shared about the challenges and triumphs she experienced on her journey through indescribable pain.
“My family and I survived that agonized, dark season purely by the grace of God and the sustaining prayers of the saints. I testify to that, and I guarantee that the same people have been, and continue to uphold you all in prayers.”
Then reading from Psalm 133, Gladys exhorted the family to remain unified, reiterating God’s desire to bless the unified family. She encouraged the children to support their mother in her times of deep loneliness and in making big decisions. “Be tender with her,” she said, “and she in turn will not just bless your life now, but your generations to come.”
Then the visitors surprised the family with letters of encouragement from supporters around the world. They eagerly opened the letters and were moved to see so many messages addressed to them by name. The letters came from the United States, Spain, England, Holland, Germany, Italy, South Africa, Brazil; people all over the world praying for them!
“We have no words. This is love! This is the love Christ spoke about. We have seen it today. Please tell these people we will never forget what they have done. And may God truly bless each one, more than they even imagine. May God bless you all!” said Sarah, Gladys’ daughter.
Elsewhere in Mombasa, the Majengo Salvation Army Church is also recovering from recent attacks. Riots by Muslims a year ago left four dead, about eight injured and the church razed. This most recent assault came on the heels of a similar attack suffered in 2012. Following the attack, an Open Doors writing campaign was established to collect letters of encouragement for this congregation that desires to continue showing love to their Muslim neighbors despite the violence against them.
In contrast to the formerly tense mood in the city, on the most recent visit, the Open Doors representative found the church’s pedestrian gate open and children playing as they waited for the service to begin. Church members also milled around visiting, the atmosphere relaxed, with no sign of the previous heaviness.
Before the service, a large package of letters was given to the pastor, Major Robert Nzioka, who gave an encouraging report. “We are doing fine,” he said. “I thank God! We are continuing with the work of Christ. As you can see, the people are recovered from that dark time. We’re happy to be at church—not discouraged or scared. That is only because of Christ and His sustaining power.”
“We used to receive regular threats, especially on Sundays as congregants walked to church. It is easy to identify us because of the church uniforms we wear. But these threats have stopped almost completely. The few members who still hear comments are now bold enough to respectfully assert their right to worship. Before, they used to be very fearful and weak, and they were not aware of their rights. But the support we have received after attacks has served to strengthen us. We now know that we are not a small church struggling to stay alive here, but that we are part of the wider Body of Christ who genuinely cares about us. Also, the government has shown us that they acknowledge and protect our right to be here.”
After the worship service, Major Nzioka presented the congregation with the package of letters and cards. After he and his wife prayed over the letters, the ushers distributed them to the congregation, ensuring that each person received a few.
The church fell silent as people received and read their cards “Thank you! Tell them thank you!” was the sentiment throughout the sanctuary. Words of gratitude poured forth from adults and children alike.
Jeremiah captured the tenor of the responses in the note he wrote:
We sincerely send our gratitude for the wonderful and amazing grace you have shown us and for the support you have given us. We are very thankful. You have made us proud to be one in Christ with you, and we wish to extend our great love and prayers to all who have touched our hearts. God bless you all.
Major Nzioka later penned his personal note of appreciation:
I thank the Almighty God because of His power over my family and the entire church. God is good all the time; we have peace in Mombasa, the area is now cool, and Jesus [has things] under control. We appreciate your gifts through our lovely sister C. We thank you for your special word of encouragement. Thank you- God bless you all for that tender love. We know we have friends who stand with us in times of persecution through prayers. “Together in Christ, in prayers we stand.”
Father, thank You that You have joined us together with Christ and with Christians around the world as fellow heirs of the promise as we suffer with them in the sufferings of Christ. Thank You for the encouragement that You have brought through fellow servants of Christ around the world. We pray for Your protection from further attack the Mombasa area and Your protection from fear that is intended by Satan to paralyze the work of Your church. Thank You for the courage of these precious servants, and we pray that Your rich blessing would be poured out upon them as they continue to reach out with the gospel to their Muslim neighbors. In the name of Jesus, whose sufferings we share in the hope of the glory to come, Amen.