Kenya (MNN) — The jihad in Somalia seems to have spilled into Kenya now where tensions between the Christian majority and the Muslim minority are building.
Even as the Muslim hardliners connected to al-Shabaab (subsequently al-Qaeda) gain influence, the economic plight in Kenya seems only to add fuel to the fires they're stirring.
As a result, attacks on churches, specifically designed to provoke communal anxiety, have been on the rise in Kenya. Last October, Kenyan military forces entered Somalia to engage the al-Shabaab.
At first deemed a successful operation, it's now thought that the militia responded with a recruitment drive of Kenyan youth, offering cash incentives for the families of would-be martyrs. Jihadists are also thought to be targeting nominal Christians.
Todd Nettleton is a spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs USA. First, he says, take this issue: "The unemployment rate in Kenya is said to be about 40%. Among out -of-school youth, it is thought to be as high as 75%. A lot of young people are out of school; they can't find a job."
Then, inject disillusionment: "Into that situation comes a radical Muslim recruiter who says, ‘Come and work for us. It's a regular paycheck. We'll take care of your family if anything happens to you. Why don't you come and join the fight?' That becomes an enticing offer when there are no jobs to be found."
What you wind up with is an escalation in tensions in Kenya, swelling numbers of Kenyan Muslims currently in al-Shabaab's ranks in Somalia, and even some nominal Christians. Nettleton explains, "In Kenya, there is a tribal identity that most people have. If your tribe is a majority Christian tribe, then somebody who meets you on the street just sort of assumes that you are a Christian."
Those young people make the perfect recruit because the Kenyan government isn't looking at the Christian tribes as a threat, notes Nettleton. "That gives them an opportunity to have more freedom of movement. It gives them an opportunity to conduct surprise attacks. Really, al-Shabaab is going for these people who can fly under the radar from a security standpoint, because people who see them assume that they are Christians."
Recruiting "Christians" to attack churches reveals the insidious nature of the jihad in Kenya, he adds. Churches are now putting in security measures similar to those used in Nigerian churches. Nettleton says, "When we think about church, we think of it as a refuge, a place of peace, a place where everyone is welcome. When you put armed guards and when you start frisking people when they come in the door, it's hard to maintain that openness."
Kenyan pastors are on high alert, but keep praying. Nettleton says there is a vibrant Church body in Kenya. "When you are nervous about having new people in your church because they could be bombers, that affects how you reach out; that affects how you welcome visitors; that affects everything about how you conduct the service and how you do things. I think the other side of that coin, really, is a reckoning of your faith."
Still, the strain on Christians is wearing, Nettleton adds. First, "We want to pray for their protection because there is a growing risk. There are more and more of these attacks that we see, so we need to pray that the Lord protects them."
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