Today the world – yes the world – began to grieve the loss of a good & godly man.
Yesterday chaos broke out on twitter, in the press & in more specifically in a shopping mall in Nairobi when Somalian Muslim extremists whose motive was revenge- based decided to open fire and make sure that the world knew that they were present.
Yesterday, in a shopping mall in Kenya, people were gunned down – unless Muslim (according to reports) – and terrorized and are still being held hostage as I type this. Images of injured children being wheeled out in shopping trolleys made the sight of innocent children sleeping in trolleys today bittersweet to see.
Last night at our connect group (Christian community group) we interceded for James Thomas who was last seen just before the chaos broke out. Early this morning there was a weird sense of hope & possibility that he was a hostage when there still hadn’t been news. This afternoon when we heard he had been identified among those killed it bought the Kenyan tragedy very close to home.
This is the second person in my broader community, whose life I have had a connection to via my immediate community, has been taken by extremist actions.
James was a larger than life figure in my mind. Someone who looked at life from different angles, who loved God and people deeply and whose sense of enterprise and justice radically changed lives as he put this into action. James was one of the first “old” faces I saw at church when I returned to Cape Town after 9 years of being away. His hug and welcome reminded me of this big man with a heart that was warm and a chuckle that was deep. James wasn’t a tourist in Kenya, he was working in Kenya – seeing things he had envisioned being made real.
In the midst of scrolling through facebook statuses, tributes & comments to James and his family, I had an encounter that left me feeling like actually, this was a James moment. James was relational. I remember that well. I experienced it.
My fiance was trying on shirts for our wedding. A conservative Muslim woman, covered from head to hands to feet was sitting on a chair waiting next to me. Her chubby cheeked baby was fast asleep in a pram – I commented that this was the way to survive shopping trips. She lifted her veil and smiled at me, putting out her hand and introducing herself. We smiled at each other and recognizing she wasn’t local, I asked where she was from. Somalia. Her husband was a doctor, furthering his studies here. As her husband and my fiance emerged from their cubicles, almost simultaneously, both asking our opinions, she quickly dropped her veil and we shared a chuckle. We were more the same in that surreal moment than we were different.
It was poignant reminder that in the midst of trying to make sense of the “Somalian” attack in Nairobi, we had life happening. Relationships between people of different faiths – people who matter much – don’t always have to be characterized by fear, prejudice or conflict . It was a reminder that it’s easy to label, to judge and to assume the worst. Underneath that veil was a strikingly beautiful, warm woman who sought to know my name.
To God Be the Glory: a well-known hymn we sang to close off the church service this morning. As the chorus sounded up, I had a deep sense of knowing that James was no longer with us; of reassurance that he was “home”. That he had arrived with “well done for a race well run. Well done.”
There are no words enough to comfort a family who has lost their life partner, their father & a community who lost someone who made an impact in meeting him & through his actions. Yet, in the midst of praying and seeking hope and trusting, all that is resounding in my mind is To God Be The Glory.