A widow and her children’s wonderful testimony to the grace of God.
Kenyan Widow, Children Stand in Hope After Losing Father to Persecution
By James Kake and Troy Augustine, Regional Manager for Africa
03/31/2016 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – When he left his home in Nakuru County, Kenya for Mandera near the Somali border on December 19, Meshack Otieno had no idea that his journey would mark the start of untold agony and heartbreak for his family.
Otieno, 43, was an experienced welder and had been called to Mandera for a job, right into the heart of a region rife with Kenya’s most notorious persecutor of the Church: al-Shabaab. The Somalia-based Islamist terror group has gained a reputation for brutal attacks in which they are notorious for targeting Christians.
On April 2, 2015, they assaulted Garissa University, separating Christians and Muslims, murdering believers and letting others go free. By the end of the day, 148 had been killed, most of them Christians.
However Otieno’s story rings similarly across East Africa where the economic pressures of poverty force countless Christians directly into the pathway of persecution. Otieno assumed the risk of traveling to northeastern Kenya simply because he wanted to provide better for his family.
“He left for Nairobi on the 19th [of] December in a lot of hurry so as to book the Mandera bound bus. As usual I prayed for him and we wished him well,” his wife Shillah recalled.
The journey was cut short when al-Shabaab gunmen ambushed the bus near the northeastern village of El-Wak.
Like in Garissa, the militants began to separate Christians from the Muslims. However, Kenyan Muslim riders protected many of their Christian countrymen. According to reports, Muslim women gave their head coverings to Christian women and helped others hide under the seats.
During the attack, one Muslim man courageously defied the militants, challenging them to “kill us together, or leave us alone.” The heroic act saved lives.
A Family’s Agony
One of the most gut-wrenching aspects of persecution is the dreadful anticipation families of victims worry through, waiting, hoping, and praying for the safety of their loved ones when an attack happens.
“Meshack usually called after reaching some towns during the journey. This time he did not call. That night I could not sleep,” Shillah told International Christian Concern (ICC). “It was confirmed to us that the bus that was attacked is the same bus that Meshack boarded from Nairobi, and he was among the two people that were killed,” she said.
In the course of the assault, Otieno was one of the people forced off the bus. When he tried to escape the attackers, al-Shabaab gunmen met him in the surrounding bush and tragically shot him dead.
The attack was just the latest in a string of al-Shabaab bus hijackings across eastern Kenya in the past year. Altogether, the terror group has murdered at least 30 people during that span.
Remembering a Loving Father, Faithful Christian
Meshack Otieno’s family remembers him as a loving father, a devoted follower of Christ, a committed church elder, and a faithful family man.
“He was a loving, caring and understanding father. He was always ready to listen to us and sacrificed a lot for us. He always told me to be a man. We did not lack food and clothes,” Otieno’s son Nicholas said at his father’s funeral December 30, 2015.
“He was a hardworking man and he was killed by ruthless men while out there looking for something for the family,” he added.
Otieno’s family tells a tragic story that’s all too common across Africa in the persecuted Church. It represents one unforgettable example in a larger reality that has been more the norm in Christian history than the exception; sometimes Jesus calls his followers to die for their faith.
When Christ’s disciples truly experience the persecution He promised they would face, God’s glory shines brightly when the Church responds in love.
“Our church and friends helped us in organizing the burial of Meshack,” Shillah said. “Due to the prayers from the church members, we were very strong during the burial service, but shocked that we will not be able to see him again,” she lamented.
Grief renders raw emotions and searing scars that help us to feel the immediacy of persecution’s pain. This is what it means for Christians to weep with those who weep.
“I have never imagined being a widow but now I am. It’s a hard situation to be in and we can only depend on God because our help comes from Him.” Shillah recounted tearfully.
Sadly, mourning Meshack’s death represents only the beginning of persecution’s effects. Moving forward, yet another family is left without a husband, a father, and a breadwinner.
Picking Up the Pieces
“Life has changed drastically but we are hopeful that the Lord will not leave us,” Shillah told ICC.
Al-Shabaab left Otieno’s widow and children struggling to cope emotionally, and to make enough money to eat.
“We think about him daily and ask God why he allowed this happen. I have been strong for the sake of the children, knowing that the Lord has never forsaken the righteous, and those who trust in him are like Mount Zion that cannot be shaken,” Shillah said.
“My children have suffered from trauma, sickness, and shock and by God’s grace, I have been encouraging them to love God and trust in him completely,” she said.
ICC traveled to the Otieno family home in March 2016, seeking to care for the family with Christ’s love. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we provided food and basic sanitation supplies to the family for three months. Still, the family needs your prayers for strength and God’s provision.
Through intense suffering, the Otieno family clings to hope in their Savior, just as Job did.
“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26 ESV).
Nicholas Otieno’s final farewell to his father echoes Job’s great confidence.
“Dad, we will always miss you. Rest in eternal peace and we shall see you soon in the last day