One of my favorite sessions at MTI last year was one on grief and loss. We discussed 6 areas of guaranteed loss that we would face when living and working in a new culture. As I begin the process of reflecting on my first year here in Kenya, I continue to be drawn back to that session and it has become the filter through which I have been thinking about the last 10 months. I will be sharing about these losses and some related gains in each area over the next couple of months. Today I will talk about the loss of physical safety.
As I write this I am trying to decide whether to take the trip I have planned to the coast for this weekend. A family I love dearly and haven’t seen in a year is taking a much needed break and invited me to join them. It was a spur of the moment decision to go and literally minutes after I booked my ticket, a muslim cleric was killed in Mombasa. The U.S. Embassy sent out an advisory today to avoid unnecessary travel there because 2 other such killings in the last 2 years have lead to violent demonstrations. A few weeks ago in the same town, armed men attacked a church service killing at least 6 people.
Earlier this week, I woke up to a text from a friend asking if I was near the area of Nairobi where grenades were thrown into restaurants and bus stops.
I was a block away from Westgate Mall in September when friends called to warn me to stay away after gunmen stormed the building and began firing on shoppers.
Nairobi is listed among the 10 most dangerous cities in the world.
This country that is becoming my home looks really scary on paper, and it can be a dangerous place to live. But as I have I thought through this loss, I’ve begun to think of it more as a loss of the illusion of safety, not of safety itself. I have known victims of violent crime in my life, even growing up in a small town where we did not lock our doors. Wicked, sinful people exist in every culture. We just feel more comfortable with the danger we know in our own culture. It is a lie to believe that I am safer in the U.S. than I am in Kenya. My life cannot be cut short, even by a moment. Psalm 139:16 says that my days were numbered before I was born. I cannot extend my life by choosing a “safer” place to live. It is not possible.
Some of the things I have seen and heard about here have shaken me. I would be lying if I said differently. There are days I am in the grocery store and have a moment where I take note of hiding places in case I need one. I do not like to walk around the city alone. Even being stopped by the police when driving here can be a very precarious situation – one that I have been in a few times. I am still processing what effect the different safety concerns here will have on me. I may not really know until I am in my home culture again and start to sense some differences. If I am honest, I am far more fearful of emotional harm than physical injury. I did not expect that I would struggle in this area when I was preparing to come and that has mostly been the case, but I can see some wearing around the edges where fear sometimes threatens to pull at frayed threads that could unravel me if I dwell long enough.
There is certainly a way to live wisely and steward well the life God has given me – not drawing unnecessary attention to myself, knowing where it is safe for me to be as a single woman by myself, being careful about how much time I spend out after dark, not carrying valuables openly – and I am vigilant about that, but my hope and safety do not lie there. (As a side note, my grief here has felt more like
irritation grief irritation over the loss of freedom related to some of the precautions I must take.) I want to exercise wisdom, but not out of fear. I do not walk in a foolish faith that says I am invincible, but in removing me from comfortable danger, God has given me the chance to see His protective hand much more clearly and specifically. This is a gift and one that I have grown more grateful for as this year has progressed.
Other posts in this series: