|(Photos courtesy of Christian Aid Mission)|
Kenya (MNN) ― Garissa has long had a perilous reputation in Kenya. A small outpost down near the Somalia border, the area has been filled with dangerous people for over a decade.
Africa Director for Christian Aid Mission Rae Burnett notes that was even before the Islamic terrorist group al-Shabaab came into prominence.
Al-Shabaab is the Somalia-based cell of al-Qaeda hunting down Christians in both Somalia and now, in Kenya. The group has been getting bolder and more organized. Burnett explains, "There's been a huge, huge influx of Somalis that have overrun the country, I mean even into Nairobi. They stick together, and they are told by their government that now that there's so many of them there, they really need to take over the country and establish Sharia."
It seems that the Kenyan town of Garissa, right on the border with Somalia, was getting less and less friendly to non-Muslims. "This is a town, that when I hear the name, I know there's danger there," says Burnett. She adds that in the 15 years she's been aware of the changing conditions there, Gospel inroads have been made. "Missionaries have been putting churches there, trying to bring people to Christ for years. They have now become a target of the Muslim extremists."
However, that didn't always sit well with the local population. "When doing any kind of evangelical work, the Muslims have sent their children to stone them." An indigenous ministry leader helped by Christian Aid told Burnett that the most recent attack was more evidence of the hostilities in the region toward Christians. "He said that plans to burn the churches were executed inside the mosque. Their thinking is that this is just totally for the outside world to hear."
Seventeen people were killed July 1 in Garissa as terrorists threw grenades into two churches and opened fire. It appears to be an effort to deepen rifts between Muslims and Christians in Kenya. These same people are also blamed for attacks on secular entertainment venues as well as the kidnapping and murder of aid workers.
Communication with indigenous ministries (supported by Christian Aid Mission) indicates increasing alarm among believers and disruption to Gospel work.
In the wake of the latest incident, one leader wrote:
This is big blow to our ministry vision, and our outreaches among the Muslims in the northern frontiers of Kenya. We are so much concerned at the trend of constant attacks on the churches in Kenya by al Shabaab terror group. I was planning another outreach in that area. So many of them have never been reached with the Gospel.
We are praying and planning to evacuate the wife and her children for some time till the situation improves. Please pray for our security. Any help extended to this family will be appreciated as we move in to assist.
Another sent this message:
Most of our churches in Northern Kenya have closed down due to attacks by the al Shabaab terrorists. The most affected areas are Wajir, Modogashe, Liboi, Garbatulla, Merti, Turbi, parts of Marsabit and some parts of Isiolo where you have spent so much time with the Samburu believers. Most Christians had to evacuate to safer areas. Missionaries and pastors who have been serving there had to relocate.
Now, there's word that Muslim leaders are offering to protect Christians following the attacks. But, says Burnett, Christians are incredulous. "Even if Muslims did offer something like that, no one would accept it because they would believe it to be a threat based on their experience with them in the past, particularly in an area like that where everyone (the Muslim community) is so close knit."
Burnett notes that Christian workers explained why they're so distrustful. "As these churches were being attacked, the Garissa women...(I'm reading directly here) 'after the attacks in Garissa, young men and women were celebrating in the streets.'"
Additionally, reprisal violence could be the spark that sets the tinder box aflame. "The nominal Christians are often the ones that cause so much of the problem. Those who really know the Lord, they understand the risk, and they're willing to bring people to Christ and to risk their lives for that."
Gospel work continues, but believers are going to have to tread carefully. Burnett says prayer is the best defense. "Everyone, as a believer, needs wisdom and protection. We're always in such danger, whether we know it or not. These men and women and children who are on the forefront of this violence really need to know the Lord's will and that Christ will be seen."
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