As the president of Kenya declared three days of mourning, leaders of the United Church of Christ have joined the international community and ecumenical and interfaith partners in prayer for the African nation, following the murder of more than 60 people gunned down by terrorists who seized control of a shopping mall.
The UCC's national officers called for prayer in a statement condemning the attacks on shoppers in Kenya and worshippers in Pakistan, where an attack on a Christian Church by suicide bombers resulted in more than 80 deaths. In both attacks, the victims were targeted because of their religious beliefs.
"These two incidents remind us of the ways in which religion can be manipulated to justify violence. The United Church of Christ strongly condemns all violence, and especially that in the name of religion," the officers said in their statement.
Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta declared three days of national mourning, beginning Wednesday, Sept. 25, after he announced that the terrorists had been defeated at the Westgate shopping mall. The attack, claimed by Somali militant group al-Shabab, killed at least 61 civilians, six security officers and five extremists, Kenyatta said. The terrorist group is claiming that as many as 140 people died, buried as the terrorists demolished part of the mall and trapped more civilians in the rubble. So far there are 175 people reporting injuries.
Phyllis Byrd, a UCC member and a missionary in Kenya, was in the United States during the takeover while her husband was in the capital city of Nairobi. Byrd is a member of Hollis Avenue Congregational in Queens Village, N.Y. She is appointed by the Presbyterian Church (USA) and Global Ministries – the joint ministry between the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
In a letter she shared with her family, friends and faith community, Byrd writes about her weekly visits to the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya and what went through her mind as she watched the news unfold.
"Every time the news flashes the faces of the people rushing out of the mall, I find myself looking to see if I can identify the waiters that were my friends, the security guards that we laugh when they say to me 'Rev., next Sunday you will see me in church,'" Byrd wrote. "With a heavy heart and tears in my eyes, I keep asking myself, 'Are they OK?'"
"I sent a message through my sister-in-law in Kenya to see how my husband was doing," Byrd continues. "It was difficult to get a line in or out of Kenya at the time. I shared with many of you that she spoke to him and he was well and at the time of the event he was home."
Byrd also shared that Kenyans have joined together in the relief effort to donate blood to the Red Cross, bring food and supplies to the police and journalists working around the clock, and volunteer however they can at area hospitals.
"The message of peace and the value of human life need to be spoken more frequently, way more loudly and without ceasing. Punctuated whispers are not enough," Byrd wrote. "Thank you for your love that felt like arms wrapped around me every time I hear from you. Thank you for your prayers for Kenya."