Here in rural Banga, we are fairly out of touch with international news. But Saturday, when news trickled in about a shooting in a Nairobi shopping mall, we had to find out more.
As it currently stands, it would seem that a group of armed gunmen from Al-Shabbab in Somalia, walked into Westgate Mall in Nairobi, killed more than 30 people, and are currently still in a stand-off with police. Expatriates are among those dead. Reports include a story of letting all of the self-identified Muslims among the captives go free, before starting to shoot the others.
We spent eight hours on a marathon shopping trip at Westgate Mall our first day in Kenya in 2009. We've been there dozens of time. We were there seven weeks ago, on a Saturday afternoon, eating an omelette in the upstairs Java House restaurant, before enjoying some frozen yogurt. We would buy groceries there. Baby clothes. Phones. They have an awesome indian restaurant. It's quite a luxurious place, always quite a surreal feeling being there after months in rural Kenya.
The pictures of evacuated victims are deeply troubling. It's hard to be much closer to home. That storefront, that entrance, that book section in the Nakumatt store. That bronze elephant statue that the victim is hiding behind.
This morning, sitting on a wooden stool outside our front door, I'm reading Psalm 46.
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." It's an amazing description, to choose to highlight the "very present-ness" of the help of God.
"Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam." I wonder what made the first ancient Jewish writer of these lines say such a thing. I look out at the mountains across the valley. I picture them being torn into the sky, and launched into a roaring sea. I feel the trembling that would be my heart, my body. Nothing is sure. The mountain under my feet? What could happen there?
"…we will not fear…" Really?
Then the image switches from a roaring chaotic sea to a life-giving river and its streams. "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God…God is in the midst of her…God will help her…he utters his voice, the earth melts…The Lord of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress… Be still and know that I am God."
My first reaction to this is to try and reassure everyone (and myself) that we are fine and that these crazy events could happen anywhere and have no relevance to our security. I want to point out that, though everyone was more concerned about Burundi's security, Kenya has had two major events since our arrival here (the other being the airport fire in August).
But these small and false hopes only give an illusion of help. They don't bring me a speck closer to the heart of the psalmist, which is quite far from my own heart indeed.
Am I safe because of where I am, because of my own spin on the machinations of international political groups of which I am largely ignorant? No. So should I fear because one truly never knows when something like this could happen?
Or is there a God in the midst of us who lifts his voice and the earth melts? One who makes wars cease to the ends of the earth? And if he is with us, then he is a fortress, and the roaring oceans, consuming the mountains, can even become a life-giving stream, making glad the people of the city.
Pray for Nairobi. Pray for us. Pray for us all, that our faith would reflect what we proclaim. Come, Lord Jesus, that our faith would be sight.