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Kenya: Student remembers Garissa attack as second anniversary approaches

30 March 2017

Student remembers Garissa attack as second anniversary approaches

Christian student, Margaret*, narrowly missed being killed by Islamist al-Shabaab militants when they stormed her university campus on 2 April 2015, killing 147 predominantly Christian students. As the second anniversary approaches, Margaret recalls the attack on Garissa University and shares how life has changed since.

The attack

Margaret woke at 4:50 that morning, intending to go to the 5am daily prayer meeting, but she was uncharacteristically delayed. Then she heard shots coming from the prayer room. Unsure of what was going on, she waited. Then the gunfire sounded again and panic set in. Little did she know at the time, but all 22 students who had made it to the meeting had just been killed. These Christians were the first al-Shabaab targeted that day.

Realising the campus was under attack, Margaret ran to her dormitory and hid under her bed alongside her roommates. By 10am, she sent her parents a text, "Pray for us. We are under attack." Her parents tried to call back, but it was too risky to answer. Around her, she heard the sound of increasing gunshots mixed with phones ringing, unanswered.

Margaret heard the attackers call from the concourse: "You are asking who we are. We are al-Shabaab. We have come. Let us see who will win the game. We can see where you are hiding. Come out if you want to save your life!" Margaret and her companions decided to remain in hiding. They knew they made the right choice when they heard those who obeyed being killed.

But then the gunshots became closer. Margaret realised: "They are going door to door!" As each shot brought them nearer, she was unable to pray. She managed four words only: "Under your cover, Lord!"

Rescued

Miraculously, under the Lord's cover Margaret stayed; the attackers never got to her room. After what felt like an eternity, an intensive exchange of gunshots was followed by a deafening silence. Then a female police officer convinced them it was all over and safe to come out.

Margaret emerged from her hiding place after almost 14 hours to be confronted with a horrifying scene. People she knew and loved had been killed, including her closest friend, Aquila, with whom she enjoyed a chat the night before. "When I saw the body of another friend, Beatrice, I went a little mad," she says.

Margaret and the other survivors made their way to the military barracks. There her family came to pick her up and take her home, where friends and well-wishers flooded her with love and care.

Support and healing

Margaret received government-sponsored trauma counselling. Though it was a difficult process, she learned techniques that helped her get past the initial shock and begin healing.

She was also greatly encouraged by spiritual support from her pastor from Garissa and Frederick Gitonga (22), the former chairman of the Fellowship of Christian University Students, both of whom visited her. "I thought, wow, this is the love of Christ, that they came all the way from Garissa to visit me," says Margaret.

"Those who prayed for us, I really thank God for you"

Though Margaret's walk with God since the attack has been a struggle, she shares some of what she has learned on this difficult journey: "For a while I could not pray. But one Sunday I went to church early. No one else was there. I realised, this was the time to thank God. I prayed and prayed and prayed. The service started, but I did not even notice. I poured out what was in my heart. When I was done, I felt totally healed.

"I really thank God for where I am today. God has made it perfect in me. I learned that in every suffering you go through, God is still there. He still looks after you. He still watches over you. Whenever you say that you are down, God is with you... We need to learn. We press on, because life has to continue. It is all that I can see and say for now. I am healed, and I continue to be healed by God.

"Those who prayed for us, I really thank God for you. Really, God has worked! We have seen the fruits of it, for we survived. The terror was horrible, but God, through your prayers, has saved us. We really thank God for you.

"The prayers you pray for others are not in vain. Continue praying. Let it be your theme. Each and every day remember: you are fellow workers through your prayers. May God bless you!"

Persecution in Kenya

Kenya is number 18 on the Open Doors World Watch List 2017. For the third year in a row, violence against Christians increased last year. Though the majority of Kenyans are Christian, in the northeastern border and coastal regions where Islam is dominant, Christians are a target for radical Islamic groups. Somali-based al-Shabaab militants are infamous for crossing into Kenya and raiding towns or attacking buses.

Open Doors has been working in Kenya through local partners and churches since the early 2000s, offering support to churches in the volatile north eastern border and coastal regions. Open Doors assists in cross-cultural evangelism and discipleship training, economic empowerment, leadership training and trauma care training.

Source: Open Doors

Please pray:

  • Thank the Lord for the care and support Margaret and other attack survivors received
  • That He will continue to heal the victims physically and emotionally following the attack
  • That the Lord will continue to build his church in the midst of the pressures they face in this area of Kenya.

*Name changed for security reasons

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Find out more about persecution in Kenya.