As I sit here in Houston, Texas on a beautiful Sunday morning watching the sun rise, my thoughts are far away in Nairobi, where the sun is setting on the day – a day of prayer, mourning and reflection. The attacks on the Westgate Mall have cast a shadow once again over the nation of Kenya and over a people all too familiar with pain.
When I first read the reports yesterday, I, like many others around the world, prayed for the victims, for the police force, for the survivors and even for the attackers. I prayed that God would intervene in this situation, end the standoff and spare the lives of the remaining hostages. But there was something much more personal about this attack.
You see, Westgate is not just some mall in a far away land, it is a place I have been to on multiple occasions. It is a place my friends visit on a regular basis. Even as I write this, I’m not sure if all of my friends in Nairobi are safe. I don’t know if any of them were in the mall on Friday. What I am sure of is that even if none of them were there, they have been touched by this tragic event.
I don’t really know how to explain it, but the community of people who frequent Westgate is a very connected group. It is very difficult to visit the mall without running into someone you know. And so, the people I know who live in that area almost certainly knew one or more people who either died or lived through the terror on Friday.
As the reports continue to come in regarding the attack, the hostage situation, the death toll and the possible motives behind the act, I am left with a startling realization: For many people, this is just another attack in a land far away and far removed from our “safe” life. The New York Times is running pictures of dead victims on their website (something they certainly wouldn’t do if this attack was in New York City), Twitter is ablaze with talk of “those people” and how this stuff always seems to happen “over there”, and while the Boston Marathon bombings caused our hearts to pound in our chest and made us rise up in action and prayer, the Westgate attack has barely been a blip on the radar for most Americans.
And I get it. The closer an attack is to home, the more it affects us. If not for my ties to Nairobi, I probably wouldn’t be nearly as affected as I am by this event either. But that doesn’t make it right. The fact that our value of people is largely based on how closely we identify with them – how much we have in common – is a troubling reality. Does it really matter if the attack happens 800 miles away or 8000? People are dead, families are affected and lives are forever changed through this act of violence.
As I sit and watch the sun rise in Houston, I know it’s the same sun that is setting over Nairobi. It is the same sun that has passed over all of the joy and pain of every person in every corner of the world in just 24 hours. And, to me, that sun serves as a reminder of the one God who is with us through it all.
The God that will be worshiped in churches across the U.S. this morning is the same God who was worshiped in thousands of Kenyan churches just hours ago. We pray to the same God. We seek direction from the same God. We place our collective hope in him. And, today, as the people of Kenya continue to process their loss, we need to join them in remembering that this is our loss too. Let us pray that God will intervene and bring this standoff to a peaceful end with no more loss of life. And let us remember that in this world, we are one.