THE BLOG

Garissa's Christians Deserve Respect, Not Just Sympathy

21/12/2015 12:51 GMT | Updated 21/12/2016 10:12 GMT

Today I stood in the 8 x 12m quad in Garissa University College where 120 young people were lined up and shot earlier this year. The Dean of Students spoke in a quiet voice as he explained how the students were forced from the surrounding bedrooms and made to lie down in rows before being killed. One girl never got to leave her room, and on the floor - despite much scrubbing and cleaning - remains the uncannily clear outline of her body, the porous tiles refusing to release the last of the blood. In some parts of the University the walls are covered in bullet holes, elsewhere there are grey concrete patches, holes hastily filled in - and in the quad the walls have had to be completely concreted over. The wall calendar in reception is still on the month of March - life here stopped the day extremists came.

Much has been made about the amount of coverage and sympathy that the Paris attacks garnered compared with what happened in Garissa. And it's easy to see why something so unexpected - and so much closer to home - should catch the attention. Of course the attack in Garissa was a terrible shock too - but sadly it wasn't as unexpected. At the Africa Inland Church people gathered on Sunday afternoon to tell us their stories. I'd expected the talk to be about the University massacre, but there was much more to hear. The church itself had seen 17 of its congregation mown down by extremists during a regular Sunday morning service - two grenades thrown in, and then the bullets. The church leader survived a serious gunshot wound. Our translator - a lovely young man with impeccable English looked sad explaining that he'd planned to meet his friend here on the morning of the attack, but he'd decided to go to another church at the last minute. His friend had come here, and been killed. "He was such a promising young man", our translator told me, with a dignity beyond his 23 years.

On Sunday morning I had the privilege of speaking at a church in the centre of town, just a few hundred metres from where another pastor was shot. With tears in her eyes, the pastor's wife explained how many people are too afraid to come to church any more. She said, "Many people say we should leave and go to a safer area - but this is our home, and this is our church. We're staying." That small congregation sang their hearts out with the volume up and the windows open, resolute that they too had a place in Garissa. The atmosphere in the city is tense, and a big part of me wanted to close the windows, turn down the music, to become invisible - just in case. But they were the ones who had it right, not me.

Garissa University College will re-open in a few days' time. The staff don't know if any students will come, but they will re-open anyway. Mr Hama, Dean of Students, was as affected as anyone by the massacre - he had to identify the students, help move the bodies, oversee getting the bodies to the mortuary and then come back and scrub away the blood as best he could. And yet as he talks, there is no sense of bitterness. Just sadness and a determination for this not to define his staff or the surviving students. "There is no use in pointing blame" he says. "We need to join hands together and work towards a good future for the children of Kenya."

The Christians of Garissa warrant our sympathy, absolutely. And they deserve our respect too.

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