On a typical Sunday morning, four-year-old Melissa and her mother, Sandra, woke up early, got dressed, and headed to Africa Inland Church in Garissa, Kenya for worship and fellowship. Sandra took Melissa to her Sunday School class before joining the adults in the sanctuary. However, that morning’s worship was far from typical. In the middle of the service, attackers threw grenades into the sanctuary, causing chaos and explosions. The panicked congregation tried to escape, but the attackers met them with automatic gunfire. Melissa and the other Sunday School students huddled quietly in their classroom, waiting for the attack to end.
When the violence finally stopped, fifteen people were dead, and over fifty others were wounded. Members of the militant Islamic group al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack, one of the worst Kenya had suffered in years. Sadly, Kenya’s Christian population has been an al-Shabaab target ever since the group began its ‘holy war’ against the enemies of Islam in 2006. The group, whose Arabic name means ‘the Youth’, was founded in Somalia before extending its reach into Kenya. Tensions in Kenya intensified after Kenyan military forces invaded Somalia, leading al-Shabaab to vow revenge on the people of Kenya.
Sandra did not pick Melissa up from Sunday School that morning. Instead, a family friend arrived to take Melissa home and told her that her mother had been shot and was in the hospital. Sadly, Sandra passed away the next day, leaving Melissa and eleven other children orphaned in the attack. On the same day, attackers also targeted Christians attending a Catholic church across town. Kenyan security forces believe the attacks were coordinated.
Despite the grief and pain caused by the attacks, the churches affected continued to hold on to the eternal truths of God’s Word. One widow had John 3:16 engraved on her husband’s headstone because she knows God’s love extends even to the men responsible for the attacks. Kenyan Christians continue to face persecution by al-Shabaab, but they hold on to the promise that the Lord will not leave them nor forsake them in their time of distress. This tragic event serves as a reminder that religious persecution is still a reality in many parts of the world and that we must continue to pray for those who are facing persecution and violence because of their faith.