Word and World: Crisis in Africa ends study abroad trips

by Mikhail Filatov staff writer

At least 147 people were counted dead after al-Shabaab, an Islamic terrorist group, attacked Garissa University College in Kenya on April 2.

According to Christianity Today, the al-Shabaab specifically targeted Christians. After taking mostly students as hostages, they forced the hostages to recite verses from the Quran. Anyone who opposed was shot and killed.

Kenyan authorities responded and ended the tragedy by rescuing the remaining 663 students.

Al-Shabaab is based in Somalia, but this is not the first time they have made terrorist attacks in Kenya. In 2013 they were responsible for an attack in a Nairobi’s Westgate Mall, leaving 67 dead.

A recent increase of threats has caused study abroad trips of U.S. students to be cut short. Jen Schmitz, a psychology major at Judson University, was with her class in Mukono, Uganda when the attack in Kenya took place. Two weeks earlier, the U.S. Embassy had informed all expats that there were terrorist threats in Kampala, the major city in Uganda.

“The teachers talked to us and said we weren’t allowed to go visit Kampala until further word,” Schmitz said. “They explained how this is super common.”

But after the tragedy that took place in Kenya, the Al-Shabaab once again made threats against schools on the Kampala/Jinja Highway road.

“Our school, Uganda Christian University, was on this road,” Schmitz said.

Back in the States, parents learned of the news and were outraged that the study abroad trip was not shut down. After several meetings with the teachers and students, the study abroad director cancelled the remainder of the trip.

“They told us that we needed to find flights home ASAP,” Schmitz said. “Everyone was crying; we were unable to say goodbye to our practicum site friends and many other people.”

Schmitz and the other students were upset because they were supposed to leave to Rwanda and felt they would be safe. “By the time we all left for the States, none of us girls felt like we were actually in any danger … Everyone who lived in Uganda was going about their normal life,” she said.

Schmitz explained that the entire semester they were learning to trust God and it felt unsettling to leave so abruptly. “It just hurt that in a matter of hours people lost their sight of God’s faithfulness and quickly turned to their own knowledge and worldly protection instead of trusting God.”

Gregg Quiggle, professor of theology and the dean of study abroad programs, understands the decision of evacuating students. “The overwhelming issue has to be safety,” he said. “Right now it seems the government is not capable of managing security with these rogue Islamic radical groups, so it would be completely unacceptable to take students in harm’s way.”

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This piece is considered a “standard” article in our print edition.
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