The Nairobi Attack and "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness"

September 25, 2013 • Kenya

A staff member in Liberia reflects on the sovereignty of God despite difficulties in Africa, including a recent attack on a mall in Kenya

by Joni Byker, international projects and communications staff in Liberia

It was raining quite heavily on Saturday morning here in Monrovia, Liberia, so instead of being outside enjoying the weekend, I was inside, catching up on Facebook, Twitter, and the world news.  It was then that the breaking news came up about the attack at the Westgate mall in Nairobi.  Shocked at what I was reading, my heart instantly broke for those involved–for those Christian brothers and sisters just innocently enjoying their Saturday morning, which quickly turned into an incredibly terrifying situation.

Checking for updates every few hours, I just couldn’t get my mind off of the cruel, cowardly attack that was happening.  It wasn’t even the fact that I have been to that mall or that I could picture the layout clearly in my mind.  It angers me knowing it was a calculated attack on Christians from a religion that states it is not about violence.  My heart breaks for the families affected and for those who lost their lives so innocently.  With the rain continuing to fall, my mind continued to wander … “What if?  What if I had been in that mall? What if something similar happened here in Liberia? How would I react?”

Joni snapped this photo while traveling in rural Kenya earlier this year. The violence took place several hours from here in the capital city of Nairobi.

One of the most popular questions I get asked when I am at home speaking to people is, “Aren’t you afraid? Don’t you fear for your life when you are over there?”  To which my answer, with bewilderment in my eyes, “No–not at all.”  It has never really crossed my mind until now. Yes I have had some crazy experiences–experiences where God has shown up, been with me, brought unlikely persons to help me, has protected me. But until a location I am familiar with (albeit is an 8 hour plane ride away) is attacked, it becomes more personal than just a headline on the news.

Growing up, my parents loved and supported me in where God was leading me, even if it meant moving 7,000 miles away from them.  They have never, ever said, “Joni, maybe you should just stay here–I mean there are people who need Jesus in Iowa too,” or, “Joni we don’t want you to go. We are afraid of what might happen …”   I am sure these thoughts have crossed their minds at some point in time, but they have never voiced them to me.  I was taught at a very early age about the sovereignty of God, that He is in control of everything, and even when things do not make sense around you, if you are attentive to His call and His voice, and are obedient, you are in the safest place you could be.
A friend of mine was having a conversation with my mom one day when someone asked her how she could let her daughter live so far away in AFRICA of all places.  Her response was, “God has called her to work there, and God has called me to let her go.”  Knowing my parents and family are a part of this calling makes all the difference to me.  There isn’t a fear of living somewhere strange, somewhere so drastically different from where I grew up.  I know God has called me here, and as long as I am sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s direction, and obedient to it, I am not afraid. I miss my parents and my family terribly, and there are days where I just wish there were a way I could transport myself into their living room for a day or two over the weekend and then come back to work in Liberia. (I mean, how awesome would that be?)
Saturday night, as the rain continued to pour onto our tin roof, my roommates and I settled in for a movie.  “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness” was the movie of choice, and I was incredibly intrigued by the title alone.  It is an older movie, probably from the 50s or 60s, about a missionary woman to China.  In the movie, China was being invaded by Japan, and the missionary had about 100 children with her and needed to travel a very long distance on foot to get to safety. Her atheist friend turns to her and says, “Can’t you ask your God for protection? Isn’t that what your religion is for?”  Her response stopped my ever-growing fearful mind in my tracks: “My God guarantees the protection of my soul, not of my body.”
God reminded me so very clearly through this movie that I do not need to be afraid, no matter how crazy thing are around me. For what can man do to me?  They may hurt, or even kill my body. But my God, my God protects my soul.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
John 10:10 (ESV)