Mourning, Fear, and Faith: Christians Bury Family Members Killed by Al-Shabaab

By Nathan Johnson

09/26/2017 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)On Wednesday, September 6, 2017, suspected al-Shabaab militants invaded Silini and Bobo villages in southeastern Kenya. They executed four Christian men, Gerald Wagunyi, Hillary Kihara, Joseph Kimani, and Samuel Ngushu. On September 12, the four families laid their loved ones to rest forever.

After the funeral, Ruth Wagunyi told International Christian Concern (ICC) about the night she lost her husband, Gerald, “The knock at the door confirmed our fears that what happened in nearby Malamande village in 2014 [was] happening again.

We were reluctant to open [the door] and that is when the gang of about 20 broke in and dragged my husband out. I climbed and hid in a space up the roof and I heard everything that was going on.  My husband was struggling and screaming for help but the gang overpowered him, slit his throat and chopped off his head.”

Hillary Kihara was kidnapped around 6:00 p.m. and later beheaded. His lifeless body was found only meters away from his home in Silini village.  Hillary’s wife and four children watched as he was buried next to Samuel Ngushu, a father of six. Finally, Joseph Kimani, a teacher at Bobo Primary School, was dragged from his house and beheaded by the militants around 1:30 a.m.

With the loss of these husbands and fathers, families worry how they will survive without their providers and communities are afraid of the next attack. Ruth Wagunyi continued, “I am very bitter and worried about how I will live without [Gerald]. I treasured him because he loved me and provided everything that I needed. I am still in shock from what I saw that night; blood all over, his body lying lifeless and the head a few meters away. Why did they kill my husband?”

To learn about the community’s growing fear, ICC spoke to Salim Abushiri, the village elder of Bobo village. He told us, “I am saddened by the attack and we are still hopeful that more residents will not be killed. There have been claims that some villagers are working with the al-Shabaab to carry out attacks but I can assure you that that is not correct and it will not happen under my watch. We have asked the government to intensify police patrols even to the interior parts of the nearby villages.

But the government’s response has not been adequate to protect these villagers. In response, “some villagers of Silini and Bobo have fled their homes and are living in Hindi town. Nobody wants to be found by the al-Shabaab at night or during the day in the farms.” James Marete, pastor and teacher, continued, “We have also opened our school to shelter villagers where they sleep and wake to go to the farms in company of a few police officers.”

The Somali-based al-Shabaab group has become infamous for crossing into Kenya through the porous Somali-Kenya border and attacking towns, buses, villages, schools, police stations, and churches, often separating Christians from Muslims, and executing the Christians.

Over the past five months, al-Shabaab has continuously attacked Lamu County in southeastern Kenya, killing 59 people. Reports note that just over 100 people have been killed in Kenya between May and September. During this period, the government has intensified its efforts to flush out al-Shabaab agents from the Boni Forest, but to no avail.

In the midst of these continued attacks, the Church is suffering. Pastor Moses Nzayi of the Methodist Church in Hindi expressed his concern that the number of Christians attending church has decreased drastically because they have been forced to relocate to safer towns.

Hindi alone has about 30 churches, but you will notice that the number of members has gone down to half compared to the time before the Hindi and Mpeketoni massacres in 2014. This trend is worrying. Some pastors are almost giving up. We have persistently asked the authorities to give sufficient security to the people of Lamu west whose main occupation is farming and small-scale entrepreneurs,” lamented Pastor Nzayi.

Despite the fear surrounding Lamu county and local villages, the families of the four murdered Christian men still remember their family members as remarkable and inspirational heroes. In remembrance of her son, Joseph Kimani, Agnes Kimani said he was “a dedicated young man who had given up a lot to take up a teaching job at Bobo primary school. He always wanted to see the pupils excel and proceed to good secondary schools.”

Her final statement is our prayer for all those affected by this persecution, “He is now rest[ing] in the Lord, and we [pray] for God’s justice to prevail.