Calvin’s community gathered Monday evening on commons lawn for a vigil held in honor of victims of the terrorist attacks in Kenya. More than 150 students, faculty, alumni and community members united for a time of prayer, sharing and singing.
Students and faculty shared poems, thoughts, encouragement and hopes for the future of Kenya. Many prayed for healing for those affected.
The vigil for Kenya was organized by students who are native Kenyans and missionary kids who have lived in Kenya. The African Student Association also helped organize the event.
Organizers wanted to use the vigil to educate attendees about world events and their significance.
“Through this vigil, we want to raise awareness at Calvin, to show that Calvin’s American and international community are affected by this event,” said Jieun Lee, who helped organize the event. Lee is a Korean missionary kid from Kenya.
On Sept. 21, gunmen from the Islamist militant group al-Shabaab stormed the Westgate Mall, an upscale shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya. The attack turned into a hostage crisis that lasted until Sept. 24. The death toll has risen to 67 with many others still missing.
For Calvin’s students from Kenya, the death toll hits close to home as their former schools mourn the loss of schoolmates’ parents and friends.
Calvin students who grew up in Kenya remember Westgate Mall as a popular weekend hangout location.
“My family would go there for every birthday and anytime we needed groceries. I can’t believe the place we frequented is now in rubble,” said Kimberly Kinzer, a senior missionary kid from Kenya who helped organize the vigil.
The terrorist attacks were a reality check for students whose families live around the world.
“Life is precious — any of us could have lost a sibling, a parent, a family member or a loved one,” said Kinzer. “My first thought after the news broke out was, ‘was my family there, did my relatives go to the mall this weekend?’ The attacks are a reminder that it could happen anywhere and at anytime.”
A common theme at the vigil was that more students than we know were impacted by the attacks.
“Look around you,”said Joella Ranaivoson, a 2013 Calvin alumna. “Many of us don’t look Kenyan but we have lived in Kenya and that is where we call home. So many of us are impacted directly and indirectly by these attacks.”
With Calvin’s international student enrollment now making up 13 percent of the student body, Linda Bosch, assistant dean of international student development, emphasized the importance for Calvin to be aware of news that affects students.
Organizers of the vigil voiced concern about Calvin’s silence regarding the attacks in Kenya.
“I went to all my classes the following Monday and nobody made any mention of the attacks in Kenya,” Lee said. “There were no comments, prayers or anything about Kenya. I think that there is a lack of awareness of what goes on outside of Calvin.”
Kinzer added the importance for Calvin to be intentional about being a community that cares.
“We are encouraged as students to support and encourage the community through StreetFest,” Kinzer said. “But every day should be StreetFest. We need to be intentional about building our community in Grand Rapids and around the world.”
Organizers hope that this vigil will be the start of many similar prayer events.
“At Calvin, God has given us the gift of a community that can pray together, share together and heal together,” Lee said. “So we hope that through this vigil, and many other similar events, we can do just that and together depend on God to restore our world.”