Attack sparks memories, concerns

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Having just returned from Kenya last week, I was riveted by the attack by Somali Islamic terrorists at an upscale shopping center in Nairobi.

At first, I thought it was the same mall at which our church mission group had lunch one pleasant sunny day. How many upscale malls can there be in Nairobi?

Apparently, quite a few. We were at The Junction Mall, a couple miles away from Nairobi’s Westgate Mall where the attack took place.

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One week and two miles doesn’t seem like such a great distance to dodge a bullet that big. We were having lunch at the entrance to the mall. Our skin color would have marked us as sitting ducks.

We had to go through a security checkpoint to enter the shopping mall. The guard was armed, but he just eyeballed us and waved us through. No doubt such a guard was simply shot and pushed out of the way to start the Westgate raid.

The raiders asked their victims if they were Muslims. If they answered yes, they were released. If not, they were shot.

Being on a mission trip, answering that question would have been a classic test of faith, which I would have failed miserably. Al Akbar Emmerich at your service, praise be to Allah! Not that it would have mattered, given my skin color.

Before I departed for Kenya I would joke with friends about the potential of such horrors. “If they cut my head off, you have to promise not to watch the video, because I will be whimpering the whole way through.”

There was truth in jest. Somali, on Kenya’s northern border, has been the site of a resurgent Al-Qaeda. Several years ago, 200 people were killed when terrorists blew up the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.

The week before we departed for Nairobi, a fire of unknown origin destroyed half the airport.

Missionary Stu Ross has seen it firsthand. He lives in Nairobi half the year and has planted churches on the coast near Mombasa where 85 percent of the population is Muslim. One church there was recently blown up by Muslims, killing 20. They simply rebuilt.

“You can’t show them that you are scared,” Ross told me as we navigated his car through the crowded streets of Nairobi.

Islam can be a violent religion. It was founded by the sword, not by turning the other cheek. In this respect, it is the polar opposite of Christianity.

There is another crucial difference: Islam seeks to implement a theocracy and punish non-believers. The goal is takeover of the entire government. As a result, Islam is incompatible with our form of government – a democratic republic with individual freedoms. In contrast, Christ said render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s. Big difference.

In Malawi, to the south of Kenya, a group I’m involved with is drilling water wells. We do it as a gift to the destitute villagers. In contrast, the Muslims will only drill a well if the entire village agrees to convert.

East Africa is a battleground between the two competing faiths, but Christianity is winning by a long shot. Perhaps this sense of defeat is propelling the Muslim fanatics to desperation.

Around Nairobi, 90 percent of the people are Christians. The Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) is amazingly strong. In many respects, Kenya is more fervently Christian than the United States. Sunday church lasts four hours. People pray hard because they need God more than we cozy, affluent Americans.

Unlike Malawi, I never saw a malnourished Kenyan. In fact, most of them could lose a few pounds. Food is plentiful: corn, mangoes, bananas, sweet potatoes, cassava, kale, tomatoes, avocados, carrots, beets, goat, lamb, chicken and beef.

To eat, you must work. There is no welfare. No free medical care. If you become sick or disabled, you better have family to take care of you. Otherwise, you die.

In Kenya, few people get treated for cancer. Instead, “they just say goodbye” as one local explained to me. Life expectancy is 57 years.

United Nations stats reveal that Kenyan per capita income is $1,800 a year — one-thirtieth of America’s. There are vast areas of urban slums with trash everywhere.

But the gap doesn’t seem that big to me. Little is wasted. Americans seem five times more affluent, not 30.

Half the country is under 20 and schools are everywhere, many founded by the PCEA. Huge numbers of youth are in boarding schools.

As I write, the president and vice president of Kenya are standing trial at The Hague’s International Criminal Court for encouraging genocidal ethnic violence during the 2007 election. One thousand people were killed and 600,000 people were displaced.

Most African people are very gentle and trusting. Unfortunately, this innocence is easily manipulated by corrupt leaders. Graft is rampant.