On April 2, 2015, four members of a terrorist group called al-Shabab entered Garissa University in Kenya, separated the Christians from the Muslims, and shot the followers of Jesus. By the time the police arrived and killed the attackers, 148 students were dead and 79 were injured.
Joseph Kamau Muthua, the missions and evangelism coordinator for the Fellowship of Christian Unions (FOCUS Kenya)—an IFES movement that works with more than 145 institutions across Kenya—lost many students that day, and one woman was still in the hospital as we gathered for Urbana 15.
The atmosphere in Kenya since that attack is fearful, especially among university students, Joseph says. When a transformer exploded once, students feared it was a terrorist attack and jumped from the fifth floor of a building to their death.
However, students are also becoming bolder and going into remote countries to preach the gospel. “So we do know that it’s working for good,” Joseph said. “We are doing all we can to support the students, to walk with them, to pray with them, and to help them see God’s faithfulness in the midst of this.”
Joseph is a devoted family man, but he has never been one to shy away from risk. In 2002 he was a missionary in southern Sudan, which didn’t even have a government at the time, and the office he walked into had nothing but a map of how to evacuate. He said, “I remember my dad told me, ‘Why do you go? You could die in southern Sudan!’ And I think I was so bold I told him, ‘Dad, people die everywhere. They die in Nairobi, which is the capital city, and they also die in the remote areas. So when death comes, it comes….’ I think this issue of fear—we have to tackle it so that we may know who we are in Christ, and know that dying is not a loss, but dying is a gain.”
I remember my dad told me, “Why do you go? You could die in southern Sudan!” And I think I was so bold I told him, “Dad, people die everywhere. They die in Nairobi, which is the capital city, and they also die in the remote areas. So when death comes, it comes….” I think this issue of fear—we have to tackle it so that we may know who we are in Christ, and know that dying is not a loss, but dying is a gain.
Joseph has also seen evidence of God’s provision. FOCUS Kenya received part of the Urbana 12 offering, and they put that money toward their own missions conference, named Commission, which is also held every three years. Their ninth conference took place in 2014, and people came from over 14 countries to attend. When asked about the offering, Joseph said, “I think one of the greatest things is that we gave most of our students scholarships, because we know they [could] not have afforded to be in our missions conference.”
Commission had 11 plenary sessions, 90 seminars, and 21 exhibitors. More than 1,946 students made commitments to missions, and Joseph couldn’t stop expressing his gratitude to Urbana for their role in making that possible.
At Commission, they also took up an offering to give to missions work in a classified African country. “As part of being blessed by Urbana, we are also blessing other people because we believe in partnership in this work,” Joseph said. “And so we are really grateful to Urbana, and we are hopeful even more will come in the next Commission, Commission 2017.”
Joseph’s advice to his students applies to those in any country. “One of the great encouragements is for them to do evangelism on campus. The whole world has been gathered on campus. People from all walks of life, from all ethnic groups, from all religions—they have all been gathered, not by the Christian Union but through their courses and academics…. This is their Jerusalem. They should begin reaching out to their fellow students, because if you do that, you will reach out to the whole nation, and to the whole world.”
He added, “I think the biggest challenge has not been the challenges from without; it’s from within. [The students] fear to make the first step. They even fear that the Muslims will ask them hard questions, and they have never even gone to them…. But we are helping the students even before the training: ‘Why don’t you go to them? Why don’t you love them? Why don’t you talk to them?’”
Joseph asks that you keep the African countries in your prayers. To learn more, visit focuskenya.org, and listen to Joseph’s Urbana 15 seminar, A Christian Response to Violence: Lessons to Learn from Students in Africa.