08 May A Christian’s Response to Terror, Part 1
Felista Wangui is a gentle, unassuming college freshman at Garissa University in eastern Kenya. On first appearance, she is such a quiet young woman that she seems frail and easily intimidated. But when she speaks, she projects an inner strength that commands respect.
During her life, she’s already faced many challenges. She grew up in a broken, poor community in an impoverished country; her mother died when she was young; her adoptive family required extra assistance to pay for school; and she repeated her senior year in order to qualify for Garissa University. But through all of her difficulties she’s matured in wisdom and spirit.
At 5:47 am on Wednesday, April 1st, Felista awoke in her university dorm room “to a fire” nearby on campus. The fire was gunfire by a group of Muslim extremists (Al-Shabaab) slaughtering a group of Christians who had gathered for their morning devotional. Later reports showed that Al-Shabaab specifically targeted Christians, but as the morning drew on, became less selective in their genocide. Eventually, the brutality became so extensive that they “butchered students with machetes in order to conserve bullets.”
Felista and her roommates climbed out their window and ran, barefoot and in pajamas, across a large open field separating her dorm and a tall fence that enclosed the university. As she ran, “bullets continued to fly into the field.” Several of her friends collapsed dead around her as she ran. Felista made it to the fence but was unable to climb over on her first try. On second attempt, she cleared the barbwire-covered fence but suffering a large laceration to her thigh (that required surgical repair). Before continuing to run away from the university, she turned to witness several fellow students murdered because they were unable to escape over the fence. Felista spent the next 3 days recovering in an army barracks, unable to contact her family or recover any of her personal belongings (due to “security” concerns). During that time, it was unclear to anyone outside of the base whether she was still alive.
Before continuing to run away from the university, she turned to witness several fellow students murdered because they were unable to escape over the fence.
At the end of the day, 147 students died at the hands of Al-Shabaab. Felista lost two of her roommates and her best friend from her field hockey team. The university has been closed indefinitely. Al-Shabaab response to outrage was to announce plans to inflict further, similar attacks.
When Felista told a group of us this story while we were in Kenya for a mission trip, we all cried during her recollection of the horror. It is so devastating and depressing that I considered avoiding sharing it—it is not pleasant to read. But here’s the thing—the severity of her story only strengthens the lesson she wanted to impart.
It is so devastating and depressing that I considered avoiding sharing it—it is not pleasant to read.
When we asked Felista how she was able to deal with such a significant tragedy she responded: “I have had many challenges in my life. When my mother died, I initially asked God ‘why?’ But I was redirected. Instead of asking why, I went to my room and got on my knees. Then I thanked God for the years I had with my mother, for the chance to get to know my cousins better (they would be taking care of her), and for the opportunity to grow stronger. I thanked Him for the chance to live in a new city.”
We were all amazed at the clarity and wisdom of this girl at such a young age. In terms of the Garissa attacks, in the face of a horror unfathomable to us, she was also able to create something positive. She discussed how the attacks on Garissa allowed her to draw closer to and share God’s love with those around her. She spoke of opportunities to strengthen others.
For secular and Christian worlds alike, her message is clear—life offers significant challenges and difficulties, but a wise and strong person can meet those difficulties best by figuring out what opportunities for potential growth that they offer. It’s easy to get lost in self-pity or sadness—a more enlightened person searches for positive maturation.
She wants us to know that even an evil as monumental as the tragedy at Garissa University will not prevail.
While we want to pity Felista, such a response would only sadden her. Rather, she wants us to hear her story so that we can see what true courage and faith looks like. She wants us to know that even an evil as monumental as the tragedy at Garissa University will not prevail.
She concluded our conversation with clear instruction. “Never ask God why. Always thank God for opportunities.”