By Jeff Brumley
It all started Saturday morning when Nashville, Tenn., resident Bethany Benefield, just waking up, spotted an alarming Facebook post by her Kenyan friend and former fellow Passport camper, Muthoni Hunja.
“Gun shots repeatedly being fired at westgate [Sic] mall. I am under the table. please tell my family. I am ok. DO NOT COME TO WESTGATE!!!”
That woke Benefield right up.
“I was, like, what the heck?”
She shot over to the television to learn what the entire world was beginning to know: that a group of Somalia-based Islamic terrorists had entered the upscale mall in Nairobi, guns blazing. Some shoppers were shot, some were taken hostage and yet others were hiding.
Next, she used Facebook to contact Colleen Burroughs, executive vice president of Passport Inc., an international student ministry that partners with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Burroughs said she was sipping coffee at home in Birmingham, Ala., when the instant message arrived.
“Now I’m looking at Facebook thinking, oh my gosh, there is somebody I know in that mall right now,” Burroughs said.
While the situation in Kenya was clearly tragic, she said it brought a small measure of solace to know friendships established through Passport were helping a group of Americans connect and pray for a fellow camper caught up in the chaos.
Benefield, 24, and Hunja attended a two-week Passport camp together just outside of Nairbo seven or eight years ago.
Burroughs said such social media exchanges between American and foreign campers have been common after other terrorist attacks overseas.
“It is comforting to know that these campers, who made friends across the ocean, are staying connected and making us more aware of the family of God around the world,” Burroughs said. “There are bombs going off every day, but there is a different level of caring when you know someone at that location.”
Back in Tennessee, Benefield said the rest of her Saturday was consumed in checking and re-checking Hunja’s Facebook page for updates. All she saw for several hours were posts from family and friends offering prayers for Hunja.
Finally, later that afternoon, Hunja updated her status again.
“Hi, guys thank you for your prayers and messages. I am ok, at home and not hurt. Thanking God for His protection. Let’s continue praying for those still inside, those who lost their loved ones and those in hospital like my friend Kelvin.”
By the time the standoff with security forces ended four days later, around 70 were killed and 175 injured in the attack by the Al-Shabaab terror organization.
Knowing someone caught up in all that carnage showed how close-knit the family of God really is, and was a reminder that such news events involve real people, Benefield said.
“I can picture her hiding under a table,” she said. “That makes it so much more real.”