With all the coverage given to ISIS in the news these days, it can be easy to forget that they are simply one of several jihadist terrorist groups plaguing the Middle East and Africa. The Al-Shabaab extremists, for example, have largely staked their claim to the terror market along the war-ravaged border between Kenya and Somalia. And, as CNN‘s AnniRose Ramos describes, “Their M.O. is a tried and terrifying one: Launch a raid, single out Christians, and then spray them with bullets.”
That is the tactic they’ve used over the last several years in attacks on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, on a bus full of teachers in Mandera County, and, most recently, in April when they massacred 148 people at Garissa University College in north-east Kenya. In each case, Christians or those who could not recite certain passages from the Qur’an were singled out and murdered by the group.
However, Al-Shabaab has made headlines in recent days for a slightly different reason. On Monday morning, a group of the terrorists received quite a surprise when they ambushed a bus headed towards the city of Mandera. At first, everything was going according to plan and they even had the good fortune of finding the travelers without their police escort as the bus had been forced to leave their protectors behind when the police car broke down. Yet, what first seemed like a defenseless group soon showed that they were not willing to be party to the next mass execution.
There were more than 100 passengers on board when the terrorists demanded that the travelers exit the bus and separate themselves according to Muslims and non-Muslims. However, the Muslim passengers refused with some even lending hijabs (the traditional head covering worn by Muslim women) to several of the Christians. Upon exiting the bus, they then proceeded to tell their attackers “If you want to kill us, then kill us. There are no Christians here.” The show of solidarity was enough to convince the terrorists to flee, though before doing so, they killed a Christian man that tried to run and the driver of a truck following the bus who could not recite the Islamic shahada (There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger) in Arabic.
While those Muslim passengers that refused to abandon the Christians to certain death demonstrated tremendous courage, the BBC notes that “there was another quality revealed by their surprising decision to stand up to the gunmen: Frustration.” You see, the Al-Shabaab attacks may primarily target Christians, but the Muslims in Northeast Kenya have been hurt indirectly as well. Recent executions have caused more than 2,000 teachers and a great number of health workers to flee, leaving a void that cannot be filled. As a result, it seems likely that the desire to prevent yet another incident from causing more to depart the area was also part of the group’s motivations for standing up to the Al-Shabaab fighters. It was not only the right thing to do for their fellow Africans but the right thing to do for themselves as well.
It’s interesting how, often times, in helping others we help ourselves as well. While the risks and potential costs in doing so can seem to outweigh those other benefits, at least initially, it is rare when sacrificing for others does not also carry some benefit for us. The reason is that, contrary to how we so often act, we do not live in isolation from those around us. Rather, we exist in a community that is larger than ourselves. What happens to one person or group of people in that community invariably impacts us in some way, even if we can’t fully understand or see it at the moment.
Ultimately, that is by God’s design. Throughout the Bible we find examples of the way that God intended for us to not only live in community with others but to be a blessing in that context as well. That purpose is made clear in God’s call to Abraham where he states that the reason he will make a people from Abraham’s line is so that they can be a blessing to the world (Genesis 12:2-3, 22:15-18). We see that purpose played out in the ministry of Christ as he demonstrates time and again, often to the irritation of the religious leaders, that he has come for all people rather than just the Jews. And now we are called to be a continuation of that blessing by sharing God’s love and his message of salvation in Christ to those we meet (Matthew 28:18-20).
To be a blessing to those around us is an amazing privilege but also a heavy calling and one that we do not always embrace as we should. But perhaps living out that calling would be easier if we could remember that when we bless others, we are blessed as well. While God in no way promises that such a blessing will be material in nature, there is joy and peace in living according to his will and Scripture is clear that his will for our lives is to be his agents of blessing to those we meet.
So as you go through your day, be mindful of the opportunities God presents to be a blessing to those around you. While in this life we may never understand fully the implications of living out that calling, God does and he has given us the chance to be the avenue by which he can bless those we meet. That is an awesome responsibility but a great privilege as well. Will you treat it accordingly?