Kenya (MNN) — A security sweep followed at least a half dozen attacks in Kenya.
Authorities made more than 650 arrests following a 31 March bomb attack. The government is worried that the wave of small-scale bomb and gunfire attacks indicates a large-scale terrorist assault may be imminent. Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs, agrees. “It seems like radical Islam is definitely targeting Kenya. They’re definitely trying to make a stand there, make a statement about what they can do, what they can accomplish there. So it really does seem like it’s consistently getting worse.”
A deadly church shooting in Mombasa two weeks ago on top of a couple of other foiled plots in and around churches scattered throughout the country has Christians ill at ease. “Here’s another church that found a bomb on their property. All of that leads Christians, churches, and church leaders to be on high alert as we come into this Easter season.” Nettleton is referencing the unexploded device found on the property of the African Independent Pentecostal Church of East Africa (AIPCEA) in Mpekitoni, Lamu West.
The recent string of violent attacks targeting Christians in Kenya has increased concerns regarding the apparent radicalization of Muslims, particularly among youths in coastal regions. As far as al-Shabaab being behind the violence, Nettleton demurs on that point. “We don’t have a direct connection to say, ‘Yes, absolutely. It’s al-Shabaab.’ We have seen al-Shabaab involved in attacks like this in Kenya previously. So, if it does turn out that it WAS al-Shabaab, I don’t think anyone will be surprised by that.”
Although there’s not specific threat of attack on Easter Sunday, churches are increasing security and wariness. It’s quite a change from the freedom Kenya used to be known for, comments Nettleton. “If you think back to five years ago, we didn’t really think about Christians being attacked in Kenya. It wasn’t really on our ‘list of places where Christians are being persecuted.’ As Kenya has been involved in Somalia, that has resulted in al-Shabaab saying, ‘We’re going to make Kenya a target because the Kenyan military is involved in Somalia. We want them out.’”
Pressure is increasing on Kenya’s believers, as have the threats. Last fall, a local pastor shared with Open Doors, “Church leaders have all received threatening text messages in the past, but they have increased since the sheikh was killed. The text messages from an unknown number say, ‘Be prepared, we are coming for you.’ We reported them to the police, but no arrests have been made. Two weeks ago, there was a very bad open air debate near here where the Muslim leaders openly incited local youth against Christians.”
In the wake of the Mombasa attack, Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto encouraged Christians not to fear going to church and declared, “No amount of terror attacks will deter Kenyans from attending church because there is constitutional freedom of worship guaranteed for every citizen.”
When fear meets tenacity, something unusual happens. Nettleton explains, “The other side of the coin is that it can be a time of Gospel harvest because when there’s upheaval in the country, people are thinking about things of eternity. It can be a time when the seeds of the Gospel are planted.”
The first line of defense, he adds, is prayer. “Pray that the Lord will work in this upheaval and will work even amidst the violence and the attacks that are happening, and will grow His Church.”