On April 2nd at least 148 people died in an Al-Shabaab attack at a Garissa University campus. The attackers demanded that each student state their faith, shooting Christians and allowing to Muslims leave. Shortly after the attack took place, Open Doors field workers visited Garissa to encourage the Christians and assess their needs. In Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, Open Doors staff also visited a local morgue to encourage and strengthen the families of those still searching for their loved ones among the victims. Open Doors has since caught up with a number of survivors to encourage them and offer them the support they so desperately need at a time such as this.
Frederick (Fred) Gitonga, 21-year-old Chairman of the Moi University Christian Students Union, miraculously survived the attack. He spoke to Open Doors about his experience.
Fred told us he went to bed after midnight the night before the attack, having counselled a fellow student who was having difficulties forgiving someone who had wronged her. “We talked long and prayed much. She would not let it go, insisting on continuing until she felt in her heart that she had truly and unconditionally forgiven the person. Only then did she leave to go to bed.”
He did not realize at the time this would be the last time he would see his sister in the faith again. “As she said goodnight, she told me that she would see me the following morning at prayer. But she was the first to die the next morning.”
Fred woke up in time for the Morning Prayer meeting, but felt too tired after the late night to join in. He decided to go back to sleep, only to wake to the sound of gunshots. “My roommates ran out, leaving the door wide open. I felt a strong urge not to run, but to stay put. As I hid under the bed, I could hear the gunshots and screams of fellow students. After some time things went quiet, but I did not move.”
The next thing Fred remembers is hearing two attackers enter the room. “They sat on the beds, changed their rifle magazines, and then shot at the walls to test them before going out to resume the killings. I stayed there for (a) long (time) – I do not know how long – but (I) was eventually rescued by a Kenya Defense Force officer.”
Initial reporting indicated that at least 70 Christian Union students died, however, that information was based on the presumption that the usual number of between 60 and 70 students attended the Morning Prayer meeting. “Yet on that day, for reasons that can only be regarded as God’s intervention, about 50 members gave it a miss. Sadly, all 22 who went to pray died there.”
Fred and the Christian Student’s Union soon learnt that most of those who died were either outgoing or incoming committee officials of the Christian Union. “We had just elected new officials on February 15th and the handing over process was not yet over.”
“I praise God that some survived, many in truly miraculous ways. However, we are deeply traumatized, broken, and in need of much prayer. At the same time, we are trying to help fellow students who seek comfort and support from us.”
Fred has attended almost every funeral for his friends since the attack, it has taken an emotional toll and Fred told us he has been struggling with this. “I have not been to my home area since the incident, because I felt I could not rest until my friends are laid to rest. This weekend, I and two other Fellowship of Christian University Student officials will travel to Bungoma, Western Kenya, to lay our friends Edward, Evans, Emily, and Tobias to rest. Then I will attend Sammy and Philomena’s burials in Kitui before I finally go home to rest. It is much, but these were not just fellow students and fellow Christian Union officials, they were also my close friends and prayer partners. I have to say goodbye.”
Fred has asked Open Doors field workers to pray for himself and wished us to communicate his prayer requests to Open Doors supporters as well.
“Please pray for us. Pray for the surviving students to heal not just in body, but in mind too. Many saw sights too horrible to describe and those memories can harm if not attended to. I pray that they each get adequate psychological help.”
“Pray also for the surviving committee members. We need God’s wisdom as all surviving Garissa University students are to relocate to Moi University’s main campus in Eldoret on May 20th. We pray for smooth integration and acceptance within the Christian Union and student body as a whole.”
“Pray for me too. I need peace of mind, strength, and wisdom. I am struggling with dreams that cause me to snap awake and then I cannot get back to sleep. I find myself remembering the horror of that day. The sounds and smells came back clearly. I need God to help me forget. May He also help me to serve in this trying time and to know the way forward when we get to the new campus.”
Please be praying for all the affected students and families. Pray for peace, comfort, love, forgiveness and healing.