By David Donaldson
“That was pretty good, Dad,” my son said. He had just finished “After the Massacre in Kenya” in the Jul/Aug issue of Faith Today. From him, that’s a glowing review. “But…” he said.
I knew it was too good to be true.
I had tried to ignore the question. Why should the western world take notice of an Al Shabaab attack on a Kenyan college? We all are genuinely moved at the reports of 148 people killed in a day-long siege of the university. We pray for their families during our “pastoral prayer” moment at our church. We acknowledge the tragedy, but do we care?
If not, why should we?
My son didn’t ask in a flippant way; he really wanted me to probe the issue. He wanted more than, “Because we should care.”
But it is true that we should care! As Christians, our Bible commands us to care for those less fortunate than us. It commands that our community be one of justice, compassion, remembrance and love. When God, through Moses, established the rules of his chosen nation, they were characterized by compassion for the widow, the orphan and the foreigner. Jesus, as he re-cast and re-interpreted Moses’ laws, made compassion more urgent: “What you do for the least of these, you do for me!” It remains to be said that our God tells us that we SHOULD care about the plight of children forced into prostitution in Cambodia, forced into labour in Bangladesh or slain in northern Kenya.
All too often western people (and Christians are not exempt from this) need something more than, “because God said so!”
As I travel around Kenya, study its culture and history, learn to understand its people and deepen my friendships with Kenyans, it strikes me that if this country is significantly destabilized (as is Al Shabaab’s goal, I surmise) our world will suffer; our here-and-now, social, political, economic whole world will suffer.
Kenya is predominately a “Christian” country: 83 per cent Christian, 11 per cent Muslim and six per cent other. This statistic is significant. Not just because I am a Christian and applaud the efforts of generations of missionaries to East Africa; not just because that statistic is evidence missionaries taking the Great Commission seriously. It is significant because I believe that the problem plaguing Africa are best addressed by Christian witness and God-centred living. I am not the only one who thinks so:
A year ago I was introduced to two articles. The first is “As an Atheist, I truly believe Africa Needs God” (Matthew Parris. First published in London, England’s The Times, December 27, 2008). The summary sentence reads: “Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa’s biggest problem.”
As painful as it is for Parris to admit it (and he expresses his angst) he states that it is not just moral living, not just a re-alignment of social ethics, but God who can change the hearts of Africans. Only God can change their here-and-now, social, political, economic world. This was echoed by a Muslim civic leader from Garissa shortly after the April 2 massacre. I read in Nairobi’s daily newspaper while waiting for the plane on April 28 his plea to Christians not to leave Garissa-town, “since it is Christians who bring education and infrastructure development.” If, then, the Christian majority is threatened, so is much of the fabric of Kenya’s society.
The second article brings this point home in a dramatic (and peer-reviewed, academic) way: Robert D. Woodberry of National Singapore University’s “The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy” in American Political Science Review, May, 2012 (well summarized in Christianity Today, January 8, 2014).
After providing overwhelming evidence, Woodberry states that it was Protestant and evangelistic missionaries that not only introduced Christianity to the “majority” world, but brought the fundamental tenets of “liberal democracy.” Those tenets are justice, human worth and dignity, freedoms (of religion, of speech, of assembly).
In Africa (and, arguably in the whole “majority world”) stable, democratic nations are relatively rare. They should, therefore, be supported, encouraged and defended. While I admit to glossing over some serious governmental and social problems in Kenya, it is, at its current core, a liberal democracy that supports and defends basic human rights.
The first reason, then, we should care about the attack on Garissa University is that threatens to break the foundation of a country that is an example of democracy and human rights in Africa.
Further, Kenya provides economic stability and growth to, not only Africa, but much of the developing world. Africa will play an increasingly important role in world economics over the next half century, and Kenya is leading the way. Economic forecasters all rank Kenya in the top ten quickest growing economies in the world. It is an exporter of celluar-based technology (its cell-phone based money exchange system, M-Pesa has been exported to South Africa, Eastern Europe, India and Afghanistan). Time magazine has dubbed Nairobi “Silicon Savannah” (June 30, 2011) with mobile phone based solutions to common problems. (Kenya is a country that skipped the 20th century development of infrastructure, but jumped to the 21st century development of digitally-dependent economics.)
So, my son, we should care because Al Shabaab is doing its best to destroy a country that protects human beings, protects human freedoms, that celebrates and leads the world in 21st century technology. It is a contributor to the betterment of our world, and should be celebrated, protected, encouraged and fostered. And God told us to!
David Donaldson of Guelph, Ont., travelled to Kenya after the massacre to report on this story for Faith Today. He is a writer and teacher who leads short-term mission groups to Kenya twice a year.