Friday, October 17, 2014

Safety amidst Al-Shabaab

This post of Janel's originally appeared on, and is gratefully reposted with permission.

It was early on a sunny Saturday afternoon, and I was herding my children across a busy street from the craft market we’d just strolled around extensively; for a blessed ten days out of the year, my parents were finally here, in Uganda. Missionaries throughout time haven’t had this luxury, and my family and I reveled in it, slaking our thirst for closeness. Grant it, after keeping track of four kids ducking into various craft stalls and bartering with locals for upwards of two hours, my wallet was not the only thing running on empty.

And that’s when I got the call from another expat friend of mine. Did you get the e-mail from the embassy this morning? She wanted to know. Her tone was urgent, strained. The Marines had called a government-employed friend three times that morning, stressing that the friend stay home. There wasn’t a lot of information, but go home. Go home now. It has never been like this before, my friend said. Do not leave home unless they give you the go ahead.

By this time I was shooing children in the van with barked commands, slamming the door, knocking the vehicle into gear. Already frazzled from an entire morning out, I swallowed as my parents perceived my obvious alarm. Navigating the erratic dangers of Kampala congestion for the—what would it be, 45 minutes home?—seemed now as a gauntlet between myself and safety. From what? Had ebola made it to Uganda? Just pray, I told my parents, unable to say more and already embarrassed by my clear lack of emotional control. Just pray. Maneuvering our way through the city, I attempted to collect myself and disclose what I knew more calmly to my kids, who had been eyeing me with obvious alarm.

When our compound’s gate was at last locked behind us, I started digging for information. An Al-Shabaab terrorist cell targeting Americans had been discovered in Kampala. (Given twin bombings four years ago by Al-Shabaab and the recent Westgate incident in Kenya, these threats were not empty.) We were advised to remain in place until the threat could be eliminated.

In the end, 19 suspected terrorists were in fact arrested in and around our city, in possession of at least two suicide vests and explosives. My family and I saw nothing. The sunlight streamed through our windows as we munched a fresh broccoli salad and leftovers, then popped in a DVD and played some Monopoly.

You see, despite the threats that most would associate with Africa, this threat was actually a first in my three years here. I feel fairly comfortable with my ability to pilot, say, my minivan in the urban crush of motorcycles and oblivious minibuses; I know how to treat malaria, schistosomiasis, amoebas; I jog around our neighborhood. I feel relatively safe in my city, perhaps because I’ve been shielded from common menaces like theft or police encounters. This event was unprecedented, and of course, nestled in that sweet window of time when one might like one’s parents to feel assured that their grandchildren are not imperiled.

But here’s the reality. In the Gospels, we see Jesus Christ striding calmly through a mob with stones curled in their hands and murder in their hearts. And we see Him handing himself over to a torch lit mob, a kiss from a friend evaporating on his cheek. In the fullness of time, Jesus’ death was part of His life, God’s written story for Him.

Truthfully, I could have been in the path of one of the tornadoes that trundled its twisted path through our U.S. state of origin last April, slaying fourteen. Perhaps it sounds trite or overused—but I am unquestionably safest in the center of my God’s will. My security is not dependent on my zip code or even the terrorist group bent on my countrymen’s demise. I could be ducking in a hail of gunfire in Afghanistan or sitting around my in-laws’ dining room table, and my story and safety are still cradled in the Life-Giver and -Taker’s hands, for His glory. And in this, I find deep comfort. For each of us calling Jesus Lord, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). I relish my renewed safety and the efforts of officials to keep my family safe—and if someday that is no longer true, something tells me that when I set foot in Heaven, my mind won’t be fixated on that for too long.

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