Three (other) reasons why the recent terrorist attack saddens me

Posted on September 23, 2013


The recent horror (see here for explanation) that took place in a shopping mall here in Nairobi left me stumbling around in a bit of haze for the past few days. Even as I write this, my phone vibrates and I look over to see I’ve received another text alert, “Reports of increased gunfire…please continue to avoid general area” . Reading Kenya Red Cross twitter updates and scanning online articles every few hours, really I am getting the news the same way as you all across the pond. And yet, just knowing that we could have been there, the atrocity of it seems all the more real. I think of the families who are still trying to make sense of the fact that their wife, or son, or mother, went to the mall on Saturday to go shopping and is never coming home. My heart hurts for them.

Beyond the ache I feel for the loss of life over the past few days, here are three more reasons why this terrorist attack saddens me.

Racial Reconciliation

The church we have become a part of here, New City Fellowship has a distinct mission to bring racial reconciliation through the gospel of Jesus. We really are growing to love that focus. Living in mostly homogenous Spokane, we didn’t think about it much, but the diversity here is vast.

Nairobi is home to Kenyans from 42 different tribes, each with their own language and customs. And there are loads of stereotypes they all have about one another not to mention some pretty yucky history of tribal wars over land. Then there is the Indian population—many of whom have lived here for generations— with a lot of not-so-nice preconceptions that pass between Africans and Indians, as well. And there is a significant community of westerners here—for business, aid development, plus the constant flood of safari tourists. (And I am learning that I too am not as color blind as I would like to think I am)  And then there is a huge refugee population. People fleeing from less-stable neighboring countries into Kenya…many of whom are from Somalia.

As our hearts grow in a desire to see racial reconciliation and unity across these ethnicities, we are saddened to think about how this act of terrorism will unfortunately fuel the fire of hate between different groups, particularly Kenyans and Somalis…which also leads to widespread distrust between Christians and Muslims. We believe that the gospel brings peace, and we long to see that shalom take root here. We pray that instead of more anger at and fear of one another, there will be a miraculous humility and desire for peace that characterizes cross-cultural relationships here.

Temptation to live in fear

The mall where this attack took place is not a mall we go to often. However, it is very similar to a mall that we do frequent for groceries and an occasional meal out. We are aware that this attack could just as easily have been at that mall. It’s easy to say things like, “We can’t live in fear, because that is giving power to the terrorists.” And yet, when I put my baby in the the car and go out to buy groceries, I know it will be on my mind. I am sad that this fear is a monster that I, and many other Nairobi residents will now be battling against.

(I hate to open this uncomfortable topic, but) What if this had happened in the slum?

Generally, I am sheltered from the reality of life (or death) in one of the many Nairobi slums. I don’t go in there often. Most of my days are spent in our comfortable home with flushing toilets.

But I do have friends who live in the slum.

In Kibera every night, how many people die? 5?15? 50? I don’t really know, and chances are no one does. These places are filled with people who often live unnoticed lives and die with just as much anonymity. Poor, uneducated, often stricken with AIDs, sometimes cast out from family. Who notices when their lives are taken from them through violence, sickness, or starvation? I am saddened that there is no outrage for their deaths.

But why? Why is there no outrage?

Maybe because there is not a clear enemy?

Or because we don’t identifying with the poor. It is not so easy to say, “that could have been me.”

Or maybe because it is just too unspeakably overwhelming to even begin to take in the vastness of suffering in places of such extreme poverty.

Or perhaps it has just become normal to us. It’s normal for the poor to suffer; nothing about it is shocking anymore.

Probably all of these. All of these contribute to us mourning the deaths of the rich more than the poor. And it makes me sad. And I think it makes the heart of God sad, too. I don’t even pretend to have insight or answers as to what or how things should be different. Right now, my heart just feels heavy, and I think that’s ok. Because we live in a broken world, full of broken people.

And I yearn for the day when there will be no night.