Monday, September 30, 2013


On Saturday, September 21 I rose and began my morning ritual.  I quickly checked email, social media, and newspaper headlines from places that have and are my earthly home before a time of a prayerful run.    I didn’t get to my run that morning.  Something out of the ordinary was happening in Nairobi.   At first it looked like a robbery gone wrong, but with being 8 hours behind Nairobi in Chicago we knew in our early morning hours this was a terrorist attack.

                From then on I’ve been in a daze.    The last time I’ve felt this way was in September 2001.    

                I have walked in two malls that are part of this story.   I have walked in the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya.   I have walked in the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.   I have walked in both during times of sickness and recovery.    I have shared meals with dear friends and family at both.   I have felt my body heal in both.   I have laughed in both when my spirits were drowning in sorrow.     Both are in places of earth that I call, “home.”   One of the reasons the Westgate tragedy has been so consuming is that not only could this have been me there, this could have been my neighbors, family, and friends.

                My deepest fears that I have almost never whispered have come true.    I’ve thought for years both malls could be a terrorist target.   I’ve also thought for years that both may nurture the wounds that make terrorism seem like a reasonable alternative when the ideals of one’s youth are destroyed.

                The moment by moment news is now over.    Our Kenyan flag flew for
three days from our Chicago window.   We join our Kenyan community in mourning.     The funerals are beginning.    The one funeral I was able to watch was performed by pastoral friends, and I noticed old neighbors in attendance.    Though some of us escaped the grief of not losing a close family member or friend there is probably no one in East Africa who does not know some affected.   

Our community is trying to move forward.   Places of worship are seeking healing.    Commentators are beginning analysis.    Those entrusted with our community’s leadership, security, and justice are beginning a long journey of discovery.

                My call is a missionary.   My call is not defined by race or economics.   It is a call to go from one’s home to be a messenger and method of light, truth, and love.     I sense as our diverse community seeks healing it is now time to offer missionary reflections.


                To describe the emotions of the days requires one to return to the classics of humanity.    One quickly came to mind – Kefa Sempangi’s A Distant Grief that details the early years of Idi Amin’s reign in Uganda.   Sempangi tells of men who heinously kill with their hands.   The victims and their community found themselves beyond grief.  After witnessing the murder in the park Sempangi writes:

In that moment I learned a new truth.  I learned that just as there is a boundary beyond which human beings cannot comprehend the glory of God, so there is a boundary beyond which they cannot comprehend the evil in the world.  There is boundary beyond which everything is a senseless chasm.  It is here in the nightmare of utter chaos that human feeling dies.  It is here, where death and terror seem to have full dominion, that even the deepest of human sorrows becomes but a distant grief.”

The Psalms of old repeat our cries:   

Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? (Psalm 2:1. New Revised Standard Version.)”

“My deadly enemies who surround me.  They close their hearts to pity; with their mouths they speak arrogantly.   They track me down; now they surround me; they set their eyes to cast me to the ground.   They are like a lion eager to tear, like a young lion lurking in ambush.  Rise up, O Lord, confront them, overthrow them!   By your sword deliver my life from the wicked (Psalm 17:9-13. New Revised Standard Version.)

We watched for 4 days unable to peal our eyes away from Nairobi.   When would it end?   How would it end?    Were our friends and family ok?

Social news brought some for what we hoped.    In our most base moments we found that no one from our missionary, school, church, or close social network was held hostage or had died.    

Yet then it hit me that I was only consoled by my own forms of tribalism.  “My people” were safe.   Yet not all were safe.   Everyone with a Kenyan root knew someone who knew someone in Westgate.    

Another indicting form of tribalism hit me on Sunday evening, September 22 as Al Shabaab announced the names and earthly homes of the terrorists.   The list included 6 Americans.   Two were from Minnesota.   Had they walked the Mall of America with me?    One was from Illinois.   Had he been raised a few blocks from my current home?   One was from Kansas.   One was from Arizona.   Friends in Kansas and Arizona had provided financial support for my missionary journey.   Had my supporters once for a brief moment interacted with these Diaspora youth?

The acts of terror in Nairobi were likely done by a few Somali and Arab Diaspora who
carried Western nation passports.    When other Diaspora had found places of worship to nurture faith, hope, and love these youth had only found hate.    They had found no place to nurture the ideals of youth.   They had found no success in sports, arts, music, education, or business had called them to a better way.

Their path was one of hate and violence beyond human comprehension.   What was my missionary responsibility in this communal failure?

Yet, our community rose together in spirit and action.   Prayers were said around the world.   We waited and watched.    Our community in Kenya donated blood and supplies.    Our community in both Kenya and Diaspora rose above race, religion, and tribe.

On Tuesday, September 24 as President Uhuru Kenyatta told us it was over we felt the words of old, 

When prosperity comes to those who do right, the whole city celebrates; but when the wicked get their just punishment, there is joyous cheering. A city thrives through the blessing of those living right (Proverbs 11:10-11. The Voice.)"

We agreed with President Kenyatta as he spoke, 

We've been badly hurt and feel great pain and loss, but we have been brave, united and strong…My resolve is strengthened by the certainty that I lead a nation of fine folk who deserve our best work… We will ensure that Kenya always retains its honour among nations…Friends of Kenya, Terrorism is a global problem that requires global solutions."


                Our Lord cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34.)

                Those dark days surely felt as if God had turned His back upon us.

The only way most of us can make sense of the Westgate tragedy today is to hope for another tomorrow.   Again, we return to the words of old.   Our Lord, Jesus Christ rose from the dead.   His words ring true 2,000 years later, 

“Peace be with you! (John 20:19. NIV.)”

“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?   And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:2, 3.  NIV.)”

Those early followers of our Lord proclaimed,

According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left
until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
   After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17. NIV.)”

 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Revelation 21:4.  NIV.)”

“Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:55. NIV.)”

They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. (Revelation 21:3. NIV.)”


                During those four dreadful days it was this hope of God with us that sustained us through the darkness.    

                We all asked in the chaos, “Where is God?”

                We remembered one of the oldest names for our Lord, Emmanuel, God with us.  

                We remembered our Lord’s brutal suffering in death upon a cross.    We remembered that in our darkest hour He was suffering with us.     His early followers summarized His presence with us in suffering by writing, 

“Because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone….So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters….Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of deathFor this reason he had to be made like them (Hebrews 2:9-17.  NIV.)"

                Yet in those dark days our Lord’s presence was with us in another way.   He was with us as His Spirit brought out our God created dignity to overcome the darkest of human depravity (Genesis 1:26, 27; Romans 3:9-20.)

                We rose as a community around the world.    Through His grace we excelled in love, courage, grace, unity, and generosity.     We lived out the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), and proclaimed in word and deed, “All men are made in the image of God.   They all are my neighbors and worthy of infinite dignity.”


                Now as we heal and move forward, what is next?    

Authentic reflection follows grief.   From this reflection comes enduring change.   None of us can be the same after the Westgate tragedy.    

How will we be different?

                Our bzee (wise elders) have counseled us that our choices make choices for us.    

                What will we choose to be?

                What will we choose to do?


                Grief has many stages.   One is anger.   From the grief of anger we seek to find someone or some group to blame.   The dictionary defines blame asto find fault with (,) censure; condemnation; blast; and damn; (    It is true that our quest for community healing will lead to a guilty verdict for the perpetrators and the leaders of the murders at Westgate.

                Yet in our anger and assigning of blame we may miss our individual and community responsibility for the Westgate tragedy.    The dictionary defines responsibility as "a duty, obligation, or burden (,) a task that you are required or expected to do, and something that you should do because it is morally right, ("

                I have walked in two malls.   I have friends in many locations.    I was graced to be a missionary for 19 years in East Africa.   I live in Illinois.  My missionary support has come from Minnesota, Kansas, and Arizona.    Many in my community believe I have a gift from the Lord to make friends.    My pastoral and missionary mentors taught me that authentic ministry always starts with authentic friendship.

     I have had Somali people be kind to me.   In fact, I reserved my parking spot in Chicago a few days before the Westgate tragedy with a sign, “Parking Reserved for Kenyans Only” that was sold to me by a Somali woman in the Mall of America.

                I have a few friends with a mixed Somali background.    I have many diverse friends. 

                Yet, I cannot think of a single person I know who defines themselves as Somali that I call a friend.    

                My most basic missionary responsibility is to be a friend.   I have failed the Somali community.

                I am responsible for fueling the hatred that caused the Westgate tragedy.

                I am going to refrain from judging others.   I do ask that those who share my journey as ones who have provided measures of leadership in East Africa consider what measure of responsibility they carry in the Westgate tragedy.    


                Our regions’ government leaders are now on a path seeking justice.   They are in our prayers.    

                The dictionary defines justice as “conformity to moral rightness in action or attitude; righteousness, in accordance with honor, standards, or law (” 

           They will need some of us to disclose our failings.   Did we see something that we should have reported?    Did something out of the ordinary just fall into a category of “probably no big deal”?    

                Or have we been a participate in creating systems and social expectations that led others to rationalize terrorism?    

                The only ethnic jokes I can remember giggling about in the last few years are ones that were made at the expense of the Somali community.    I cannot continue turning blind eyes to my neighbors as our community chooses justice.    I must change.

                Some are already fearful that we may choose revenge.    The dictionary defines revenge as "To inflict punishment in return for (injury or insult), retaliation, and vindictiveness ("

                Today as we choose justice over revenge we must choose to bless all humanity.   We must resist the temptations to blame.    We must bless.   In fact, we must go out of our way to bless those communities that are the easiest to blame for the Westgate tragedy.


                In this seeking to bless we remember the words of our bzee (wise elders.)   One of my missionary mentors, Meg  Guillebaud  was a child in Kenya during the Mau Mau crisis.   She has repeated the story of Kenya’s founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta bringing a sense of peace upon his release from an unjust prison sentence.

                My wife, Jana’s family (Gaston and Jan Tarbet) had the grace to live in
those years of Harambee.    Mzee Jomo Kenyatta said, "There is no society of angels, black, brown or white. We are human beings and as such we are bound to make mistakes. If I have done a mistake to you, it is for you to forgive me. If you have done a mistake to me, it is for me to forgive you. (For more reading on Kenyatta’s Harambee check out,9171,875094,00.html.)

                We will find a future of blessing by repeating the discipline and wisdom of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s Harambee.


                While we seek healing through the oldest of words, Kenya’s current President Uhuru Kenyatta reminded us that our world is now a place where the global and local intersect.    Terrorism is the worst form of our human depravity.    Yet, our human dignity can also rise to this challenge. 

For me it is the experience of walking in two malls.    Some call this phenomena “glocal.”  It is “reflecting or characterized by both local and global considerations (    

The Diaspora experience is creating a rapidly changing social climate.   Social media reports the news faster than the organized press.     Economies of nations far apart intersect.     We debate these developments as they happen simultaneously on different continents.

In the walking in two malls I will still pray.   I will make diverse friends.   I will listen.   From the listening we’ll repeat the wisdom of old as we create a new.     May our creations heal the wounds of past and present.    May these creations inspired by the grandeur of God bless coming generations.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us now and forever more.   Amen.