NAIROBI, Kenya As sporadic gunfire echoed through sections of Nairobi and smoke hovered over Westgate Shopping Mall, a missionary family of seven was trapped in the mall and separated as gunfire raged around them and bodies fell.
The family, missionaries with the International Mission Board, managed to escape within the first few hours of the siege. Another family lives a block away, and for four days they heard gunfire and explosions and the sounds of helicopters, ambulances and military vehicles moving in and out of the area. From their windows they saw smoke billowing from the mall.
"All of our folks, including spouses and children, are now safe," IMB spokesperson Wendy Norvelle said. "Please pray for them, though, since some were caught up in the tragic events of these past four days."
Militants of the Somali-based al-Shabaab organization seized the mall on Saturday (Sept. 21) in retaliation for what they called Kenya's interference in internal Somali affairs. They used automatic weapons and hand grenades to seize hostages and take control of the modern upscale mall. The militants also set fires inside the mall to distract Kenyan security forces.
"Non-Muslims were lined up and shot even children," one IMB missionary said.
The death toll now approaches 70, including six Kenyan security forces, with over 150 wounded. Kenya's president, Uhuru Kenyatta, declared three days of national mourning.
Peace and calm are yet to come as security forces seek to flush out the last remaining militants holed up in the mall. For now it is a standoff. So far five militants have been killed and 11 captured.
For many who experienced the horrors of the last four days, a personal peace and calm may be some time off. "After a few weeks we might be able to better evaluate how this tragedy has impacted individual lives and ministry," a missionary said.
Another added, "Thank you so much for continuing to lift Kenya up to the Father as people heal from this ordeal. Pray that even as people's thoughts ran to God during the crisis, they would continue to run to God as daily life resumes."