Standing in the Gap

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By Kate Riney

When something happens a world away, across oceans, its easy to remain unmoved. Even us “bleeding-heart liberals” can lose the urgency of a situation when we aren't in the muck of it. Our grass is green until it isn't and then we want on the other side.

Just over a week ago, on September 21 at 11:30am, armed gunmen stormed the Westgate Mall in Nairobi Kenya, terrorizing civillians. The group took hostages for three days and killed over sixty people. Many of the gunmen escaped in plain-clothes with the rest of the shoppers, going unnoticed amidst the crowds of terrified people. The group, comprised of 10-15 men were from the Shabab militant Islamist group and while the group's former occupation has been taking over Somalia (the country North of Kenya), the Shabab moved on to Nairobi when all other plans failed.

Two years ago I stayed and worked in the Great Rift Valley area of Kenya, about an hour outside of Nairobi. On our days off we 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, my team and I met wonderful, soulful Kenyans who opened up to us about the struggles they've faced and the obstables 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 a 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 on Westgate when a former teammate posted on our team Facebook page. At the time I saw the link to the news article I didn't think it was that urgent. After all, I'm in the U.S. and none of my dearest friends are there anymore so I figured it could wait. What could I do?

Then a couple days later, I clicked through some photos from a New York Times photographer 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. I've walked in circles through almost every Nairobi mall. I've ridden the escalators, shopped for souvenirs, watched a movie at the theater, and know where all the ATMs are. I've bought Cadbury and shampoo at a grocery just like where a man lay in a pool of his own blood, and eaten at a courtyard cafe just like the one where a woman hid with her two children. The picture above, is of me and some of my teammates at Java House, a famous Nairobi attraction that sits inside the Yaya Centre just like the one 8 kilometers away inside Westgate Mall.

 It's not that it could have been me. That possible reality is far too startling and unnecessary to deal with! It's not that my Kenyan friends could have been there and gotten seriously injured or killed. Rather, its the unsettling feeling that if I had been there, I would care. And I would care a lot more than I do now, sitting in my bed in Atlanta, drinking coffee from Trader Joe's and not Java House.
Maybe we're debilitated by compassion fatigue. Every time you turn on the news its one more depressing story. Sometimes just reading the Bible, particularly the Old Testament (sorry Dr. Garber) can be too heavy and woeful to bear. Perhaps we need an emotional vacation where we can go to our “happy place” and not have to face one more injustice. Or what if we need to mind the gap? What if our best recourse is to pull our head out of the sand and, instead, stand in the space like Jesus did, between the Kingdom of darkness and the Kingdom of God and ask for God's Kingdom to move in.

“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

Why don't we approach the throne of grace? 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. Its intercession. Its standing in the gap. 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 in the midst of heartbreak and disaster. Praying is doing something and it does change things, even from oceans away. Why do we hesitate to ask God for healing and peace? It isn't too big for God to handle, certainly, but yet we act as if there's nothing good that can come from it, no remedy, only despair. To be sure, there are a lot of people grieving in Kenya right now, as they should be, 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 intervene, too 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 and I know that God longs to hear the saints, and sinners, prophets, and ministers cry aloud for the nations and longs to say back, “Comfort, O comfort my people…” (Isaiah 40:1)

So now that I've written a blog about it, I have to do it. Pray, that is. Its not just preaching that we ought to do with a Bible and newspaper in hand; I think the same goes for praying. Will you, too, start to read the words between headlines like Psalms, prayers to our Deliverer.

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You can read more about the events talked about here.