Reflection on the Garissa University College attack
By Phyllis Byrd
Holy Thursday morning, the breaking news came on the television that there was a terrorist’s attack on one of Kenya’s Universities. I stayed glued to the television flipping from channel to channel trying to get more information. I was afraid that I would be late for the Holy Thursday ecumenical worship service which I was leading at the All Africa Conference of Churches. Yet, my mind was totally focused on the news reports.
Many of you already have the details of what happened; one hundred and forty-seven students were killed. Among these are twenty-two Christian Union students who made it a practice to pray every morning at 5:00 A.M. We heard the gruesome details of how the gun men did not want to “waste bullets,” so they made the students lay down on top of each other three by three and shot them in the head with one bullet. Many were asked to recite the Koran and if they could not they were executed.
Who will roll away the stone?
Our Good Friday was filled with tears as we cried along with the traumatized students that were rescued as they boarded the bus heading for Nairobi. We all felt the deep, deep, deep agonizing pain as some of the student’s bodies were flown to Chromo campus of the University of Nairobi mortuary. We could not help but feel the grief as we went by the mortuary and saw many of the relatives waiting to see if their loved one’s remains were among the bodies. The St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church of East Africa Woman’s Guild took on the task of serving tea to the families that came to identify the remains of their loved ones. They not only served the families tea, but the guild member of St. Andrew’s also ministered to them in song as they waited to enter in the mortuary. Many of the family members had to painstakingly go through each of the bodies to find their love ones. The woman’s guild provided a much needed ministry since many family members traveled from far areas of the country, others walked long distances, and some used their last shilling to come and had no money to buy food.
Who will roll away the stone?
A student told an amazing story of how he, along with his other colleagues, escaped the massacre. He said they took a chance and went to a house of total strangers who happened to be Muslims. The family took them into their home. The female students were kept in one area and the male students in another. When the coast was clear they moved the students to the local Chief of the area office so that they would be safe.
Last week, as we moved from Holy Thursday to Easter, this first century occurrence became a 21st century reality for us in Kenya. My family and I appreciated and were humbled by the outpouring of love and prayers from many of you. We received the messages via emails, text message and phone. But I found it difficult to respond to the question of “how my family and I were doing.” It was difficult to bring myself to say, “We are well.” We were not harmed nor were we in harm’s way; yet, we were attacked and we lost some of the best minds in the country. Our young people’s lives were cutoff in the most vicious and brutal manner. Many of them were martyrs for their faith. The hopes and anticipations of families who thought that their sons and daughters would be the first to graduate from University and contribute to the family and the greater society died on Holy Thursday.
Who will roll the stone away? This is the question I pondered all day Easter Sunday like the women who went to anoint Jesus. They anticipated a problem as they journeyed to the tomb, they reflected on how they would solve it. These women were not sure how the stone would be removed; yet, the obstacle they anticipated finding did not deter or paralyze them. These women continued on their journey to the tomb. My mind and body felt overwhelmed and hopeless as I sat in church on Easter Sunday morning. At one point in the service we heard a large explosion and saw fire and sparks in the air. The congregation seemed to all freeze, our focus was no longer on the sermon but diverted to the blast. The Preacher assured the congregation it was only a transformer that blew up.
As I participated in the service, my faith was renewed as we joined our voices to sing the great Easter hymns. The crowning point was after the benediction when the St. Andrew’s choir sung the Halleluiah chorus. In the midst of the tragedy we have experienced in Kenya, both present and past, I am reminded when I think all looks bleak of the women that went to the tomb early Easter morning. They went with focus, determination and faith in knowing that there is no obstacle too large for God. The global problem of terrorism is enormous and rolling away the stone is going to take all of our efforts, not because we are “lending a helping hand” but out of a sense of connectivity to all of humanity. The members of the PCEA Woman’s Guild pushed the stone away as they brought hope to the families that lost love ones.
The Muslim family that risks their lives to hide the students also helped roll the stone away. My Easter faith reminds me that it takes the commitment of all of us to rid the world of racism, terrorism, negative ethnicity, poverty and many other societal evils.
Please continue to pray for Kenya: The families of the students that lost their lives and for those that are still waiting to locate their loved ones. Finally, please pray for the church to remain focused and not drawn into bitterness and revenge.
Rev. Phyllis Byrd serves with the Organization of African Instituted Churches as the Director for the Just Communities Program. Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Churches Wider Mission, and your special gifts.