U.S. Embassy warns of terror threat against Christians in Uganda

(Photo courtesy Open Doors)

(Photo courtesy Open Doors)

Uganda (MNN) — Sunday’s worship gatherings may have looked a little different for some Christians in Uganda.

Anti-terrorist police turned out to provide security to churches in Uganda after the U.S. embassy there warned of possible attacks. The warning notes that churches may face “specific threats” from al-Shabaab, a Somalia-based militant Islamist terrorist group. The threats against the two East African countries are said to be due to each having peacekeeping troops in Somalia.

World Watch Monitor first broke the story after speaking with Rev. Mead Birungi of World Shine Ministries the International Convention on Healing of the Nation.

A credible threat? 13 days ago, someone lobbed a grenade near a mosque in Garissa, Kenya. The explosion killed one and injured 11. On May 16, an explosion in Gikomba, Nairobi, killed 10 people and wounded more than 70 people. close to the Kenyan border with Somalia, is believed to have killed one and injured 11. A few days before that, three people died and 86 were injured during a twin blast May 5 along Kenya’s busy Thika highway. While these attacks haven’t been claimed, they bear the hallmark of al-Shabaab, which has been slowly creeping from Somalia into Kenya.

Meanwhile in Uganda, reports of al-Shabaab threats bring back memories of twin attacks in Kampala in July 2010 that killed more than 80 people. Given the pattern of attacks in Somalia and Kenya, the level of anxiety has risen dramatically.

Worldwide Christian Schools has partner schools in Uganda, and president Scott Vander Kooy says the Ugandan staff are constantly looking over their shoulders. “I think the best way to describe their feeling is: there’s just an increased awareness and sensitivity to anything that might be perceived as ‘unusual,'”

Their colleagues are feeling the strain because they’re the entities being targeted by Muslim extremists: they’re Christians AND they’re educators. Vander Kooy explains, “A lot of these attacks, when they do happen, they happened during church services, during the school day. That’s something that’s hard to prepare for and guard against.” A high state of alert wears people down, too. “I think that just makes people quite nervous even though their community maybe has not had any ‘event’ that they’ve had to deal with yet. They’re still aware that it could happen at any time, and I think that just makes people very anxious.”

(Photo courtesy World Watch Monitor)

(Photo courtesy World Watch Monitor)

Even though WWCS partners are in remote areas, it’s because they’re isolated that there is concern; and that, in itself, is a kind of strain. “Sometimes the emotional effect is much greater even than the physical harm.” The sense of the unknown creates its own terror.

Vander Kooy says they’re encouraging the staff to look for Gospel moments in this situation. “It gives them something to talk about. It’s hard to talk about terrorism without talking about it in the context that this is a broken world and needs Jesus Christ.”

Vander Kooy says you have to ask the question, “How does that affect teachers?” Many have families. At some point, they may have to choose between doing their job and protecting their loved ones, and that’s a hard place to be. “Without teachers, we don’t have a school. So we’re really praying for them and urge other Christians to pray for teachers around the world that are may be working in environments that are not as stable as what we are used to here in North America.”