NAIROBI, Kenya (BP) — Kenya’s coastal communities are reeling from terrorist attacks claimed by members of the Somali-based al-Shabab organization. But in the face of these attacks, many missionaries in Kenya say they are focusing on the people’s need for the Gospel rather than letting fear take over.
The violence “highlights the lostness that still exists here in Kenya,” Chris Suel, an International Mission Board missionary, said.
Two men died while hiding in a church building set on fire July 7 after a Bible study just north of Hindi, near the country’s tourist-drawing coastline, Morning Star News reported.
Al-Shabab is claiming responsibility for the July 5 deaths of nearly 30 men and one teen boy in Hindi and Gamba. Among those was Enos Nambafu Weswah, a former principal of Kenya Baptist Theological College (KBTC).
“His death was a tremendous shock to the college community and the Baptist Convention of Kenya,” IMB missionary and KBTC principal Jack Yates said. “(He) was always the scholar of any meeting he attended.”
Weswah was “loved by his students” and served as a pastor and teacher before taking on the role of the college’s registrar and then principal from 2005 until he retired in 2010. He was a friend both to Jack and his wife Bert, as well as other Baptists around the world. Weswah’s studies in America included pursuing two master’s degrees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta has publicly stated that political opposition carried out the attacks on Hindi, Gamba and Majembeni, although al-Shabab is claiming responsibility.
Al-Shabab stated they will continue to make their presence known in Kenya as long as the country is helping Somalia fight terrorism. Kenya sent troops into Somalia in October 2011.
In September 2013 at least 67 people lost their lives when members of al-Shabab held civilians hostage in Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, just a few blocks from the homes of Jack and Bert Yates and other IMB personnel.
When they arrived in Africa 36 years ago Jack said he didn’t expect life to be like this — including the current reality of bombs going off “at least” once a month — but he and Bert prefer not to think too much on potential fears. The need for the Gospel continues, he said.
“The attacks bring such an awareness of the futility of life,” Pastor Elijah Morris Wanje of Ridgeways Baptist Church in Nairobi, said.
Wanje, who is the president of the Baptist Convention of Kenya, said believers are collectively praying for peace in their country. He has invited churches from around the world to join them both in prayer and by visiting their country to help.
“The presence of friends from afar has a way of building our faith beyond imagination,” he said. “Pray for the intervention of God in our conflicts. Pray that the church will see the wide door of opportunity to touch lives during such conflicts … (and) will be bold to take the necessary steps to reach out to people even in conflict areas.”
The United States and United Kingdom both have issued travel warnings since May, impacting Kenya’s tourism industry, which is currently down by a third, BBC News reported.
Suel said he has answered countless questions from potential volunteers about the situation in his country. Only one group has cancelled its trip and others have decided to postpone until later in the year.
An IMB leader in east Africa said it is a difficult time to be living and working in Kenya. “The stress and pressure can be very high at times and it does make it difficult to have a balance between ministry and just living in the stress.”
IMB personnel asked for continued prayer as they and other followers of Christ in Kenya move forward and look for opportunities to share the Gospel.
Libby Donaldson is a writer for the International Mission Board based in Europe. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).