LIFE at Wheaton Bible Church

Home of Wheaton Bible Church's Quarterly Magazine

Aftershocks: In the Aftermath of the Kenya Mall Attacks

By WBC Missionary Judy Frey

A psychologist who instructs medical staff in the psychological components of illness and who provides counseling for AIDS caregivers and missionaries, Judy Frey recently shared with us how God was able to use her training and contacts in a way she never imagined.

Nairobi, Kenya—In September of 2013, terrorists attacked the upscale Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. The siege lasted for four days and resulted in at least sixty-seven deaths. Hundreds of people were wounded in the explosions and mass shootings.

This mall was the kind of place foreigners could go to get a little reminder of Western life. In fact, I was going to be at the mall that day for a meeting at the exact time and at the exact coffee shop where they started shooting. I had been trying to orchestrate this meeting for several months. However, after I’d gotten in my car, the man I was to meet called me and said, “I’m not even sure why, but I just don’t feel I can meet you today.”

Interior of Nairobi’s bustling Westgate Mall before the September 2013 attack

Interior of Nairobi’s bustling Westgate Mall before the September 2013 attack

Knowing how heavy the traffic is on Saturday mornings in Nairobi, I was actually glad to turn around and go home. But by the time I arrived back at my apartment, I was already receiving texts on my phone. “Don’t go near Westgate.” “Police are shooting at some thugs.” Soon it was revealed that these were terrorists and many hostages were being held. What had been a beautiful place became a site of terror and horror for those inside.

I immediately started receiving calls from the church that I work with. “Judy, my wife is in there. Please pray with me.” “My daughter’s in there.” “My son. We can’t get a hold of him.” Frantic phone calls. So I started praying with them, started making times to be able to talk to people.

Following Westgate, I debriefed more than 250 people. And the stories that came out of there are beyond anything that most of us can imagine. Unfortunately, many of the accounts I heard included both torture and killings. I would come home and literally just fall onto my bed, praying, “God, how many more? And how do I get these images out of my head?” But God protected me in a way only God could have done. He answered my prayers and removed those images from my mind. I have talked with many other professionals who were debriefing people, and almost a year later many are still not through the secondary trauma of hearing all this. But I have peace.

The mall following the attack.

The mall following the attack.

As time went on, I continued to get phone calls from groups I wasn’t even acquainted with. One woman frantically insisted I needed to meet with her people. I asked her, “How did you get my number?” She told me, “Well, the UN gave it to us.” I thought to myself, The UN? How do they even know I’m here?

So I was able to sit with these groups, mostly young people who were in Africa thinking they could save the world. They had good hearts, but they were not believers, and some were turning to street drugs and alcohol to try to dull their memories and keep them from the emotional pain. Since all the groups referred to me from the UN were from secular organizations, only God could have arranged for me to debrief them.

Some would say, “You live here all the time. Why? How are you so calm? We just sense total peace with you, not just quiet, but peace.” What a great opportunity I had to share how big my God is and that this is not the end of my story, not the end of theirs, and that Jesus came for all of them and wants to be able to give that peace to them as well, a peace that goes far beyond our circumstances.

In the months leading up to the attack, I had been praying, “God, take me beyond my own circumstances so it’s only You who are seen.” And He’s done that. Out of destruction, God brings redemption.

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This entry was posted on December 4, 2014 by in Winter 2014/2015.

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