When something happens a world away, it’s easy to remain unmoved. We can lose the urgency of a situation when we aren’t in the muck of it.
On Sept. 21, armed gunmen stormed the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, terrorizing civilians, taking hostages and killing more than 60 people.
Many of the gunmen escaped in plain clothes with the rest of the shoppers, going unnoticed amid the crowds of terrified people.
The 10 to 15 men involved were from the Shabab militant Islamist group, which had been attempting to take over Somalia before moving on to Nairobi when these plans failed.
Two years ago, I stayed and worked in the Great Rift Valley area of Kenya, about an hour outside of Nairobi.
On days off, our group would make trips into the capital city for a movie, shopping or a good “cup of joe” and some poorly attempted American food.
For two months, I met wonderful, soulful Kenyans who opened up to us about the struggles they’ve faced and the obstacles they’ve overcome in the face of poverty, civil strife, political turmoil and drought.
Through everything, they praised God and counted their blessings. There was positivity in the atmosphere.
It seemed as if Kenya was on its way, finally breaking ranks with the developing world and finding stability within itself.
There was hope. Now this.
I learned of the attack from a former teammate’s Facebook post. At the time, I didn’t think it was that urgent.
After all, I’m in the U.S. now and none of my dearest friends are there anymore. I figured it could wait. What could I do?
A couple of days later, I viewed photos taken during the crisis and it became more real to me. Not just because a picture is worth a thousand words, but also because I’ve been there.
While I never went to the Westgate Mall, I’ve walked in circles through almost every Nairobi mall. Also, I went several times to Java House, a local coffee shop just eight kilometers from the Westgate Mall. I know the area well.
The images were disturbing not because it could have been me. That possible reality is far too startling and unnecessary to deal with. It’s also not that my Kenyan friends could have been there and gotten seriously injured or killed.
Rather, it’s the unsettling feeling that if I had been there, I would care a lot more than I do now in Atlanta drinking coffee from Trader Joe’s and not Java House.
Maybe I’m debilitated by compassion fatigue. Every time you turn on the news, it’s one more depressing story. Sometimes just reading the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, can be too heavy and woeful to bear.
I imagine I’m not alone. Perhaps we need an emotional vacation where we can go to our “happy place” and not have to face one more injustice, but I suspect we need to mind the gap.
What if our best recourse is to pull our head out of the sand and stand in the space between the Kingdom of darkness and the Kingdom of God and ask for God’s Kingdom to move in, like Jesus did.
The writer of Hebrews urged: “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). So why don’t we approach the throne of grace in prayer?
I know it seems like too simplistic an answer. If we just talked about everything and didn’t do anything, we’d be like Congress. But praying isn’t talking. It’s intercession. It’s minding the gap.
Prayer is closing the gap between what is and what should be. What will be. Praying is coming to the most Merciful One and begging that the Kingdom of God would be revealed amid the heartbreak and disaster.
Praying is doing something and it changes things, even from oceans away. So why do we hesitate to ask God for healing and peace? Why do we act as if there’s nothing good that can come from prayer – no remedy, only despair?
There are a lot of people grieving in Kenya right now, and we can grieve with them.
But even if we cannot grieve and all we feel is immune, the Spirit can move in us, and God can be moved by us to bandage the brokenhearted and heal the land.
I may not be in Kenya anymore, but I am no nearer or farther from God than ever before.
I know that God longs to hear us cry aloud for the nations and longs to say back, “Comfort, O comfort my people” (see Isaiah 40:1).
Kate Riney is a second-year student at McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta. She is the managing editor of Tableaux, an online publication of McAfee, where a longer version of this article first appeared. You can follow her on Twitter @KateMRiney.