Cloquet family is safe and sound in NairobiA family in Kenya with ties to Cloquet is counting its blessings after this week’s deadly attack at a Nairobi shopping mall.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
A family in Kenya with ties to Cloquet is counting its blessings after this week’s deadly attack at a Nairobi shopping mall.
Here’s what Steve Rasmussen posted on Facebook Saturday:
“Please continue to pray for Kenya and Nairobi and Somalia. A mall a half hour from here between our house and our kids’ school has been attacked and still have not cleared out terrorists. Glad that many were gone to a high school retreat including our kids. A few families from their school were there with one child shot and her father killed. We are safe. Not what we are used to in peaceful Kenya.”
Steve and Janice Rasmussen have mostly raised their four children in Africa, which Steve first visited 27 years ago. They moved to Africa as a family 19 years ago, and work training ministers there. Steve’s brother, Nathan, has been involved in similar work in Tanzania for the past 30 years.
They call what they do TEAM: Training East African Ministers.
“We are only a part of a very large team that includes people in Minnesota and people from Kenya, Tanzania, and around Africa and the world,” Steve said. “In fact our students in just our department have been from every continent and minister and serve across Africa.”
On Tuesday, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta declared an end to the siege of the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi after a final day of shootings and explosions between terrorists and government security forces. Kenyatta said at least 72 people were dead after the four-day siege which began when terrorists reportedly linked to al-Shabab — the armed Islamic group linked with al-Qaeda that has claimed responsibility for the attack — opened fire with machine guns and took hostages in the upscale shopping mall.
Steve was working at Africa International University, about a half hour’s drive from the mall, when he heard about the attack. He and Janice heard about the attack from SMS messages from the children’s school (an American-system school called Rosslyn Academy with a large number of international students). Steve said their 15-year-old twins were on a high school retreat and parents were informed they would all come home an hour early due to the situation. Their two oldest, Hannah and Justin, are a sophomore and senior at Macalester College in St Paul.
“This retreat was a great blessing since Westgate Mall is a place that many frequent (evidenced by three of their younger middle-school-aged classmates being injured and one girl’s father — her only parent — dying),” Steve wrote in an email to the Pine Journal Monday, explaining that Justin was maybe the most concerned family member on Saturday.
“[Justin] could picture the mall and going to movies there with friends just a couple years ago, but was not in Nairobi to experience the normalcy and peace that we had on our side of town,” Steve emailed.
Christian outreach could be called a family occupation for the Rasmussens. Parents Ruth and Virgil Rasmussen moved to Cloquet when their six children were ages 18 months to 14 years. Virgil was the pastor at Cloquet Gospel Tabernacle for 24 years, from 1964 to 1989.
Ruth said she did not panic when she heard news of the attack, but they did wonder how close the mall was to their son’s home there.
“Virgil talked to him yesterday on Skype,” Ruth said, noting they also email back and forth to their kids, and have visited them on numerous occasions. “We just trust them to the Lord’s call.”
Although Kenya has been one of the more peaceful and prosperous countries in Africa — like its even more peaceful neighbor, Tanzania, where the Rasmussen family has also lived — Steve Rasmussen said there was already increased security because of Al Shabab’s threats.
“You needed to have your car checked and your person scanned before going into malls or even into our church,” he explained. “However these security personnel were not usually armed.”
According to a story in the New York Times, American security officials said the massacre plot was hatched “weeks or months ago” in Somalia. Security officials described a carefully planned attack that utilized blueprints of the building and rehearsals of the attack as well as English-speaking foreign fighters. According to the New York Times story, officials believe that powerful, belt-fed machine guns were secretly stashed in a shop in the mall with the help of a colluding employee a day or two before the attack.
A Facebook post from Steve the day after the attack began showed a circle of people of different cultures and ethnicities meeting the previous week. He called it “a picture of HOPE for our world, including Muslims and their relationship with others. Understanding. Reconciliation. Even Love.”
In his Facebook post, Rasmussen wrote the following about the violence there.
“After terrorist attacks like (what) happened yesterday at a mall in our city, we usually react with anger — not only at the 10-15 who shot people, but at a billion Muslims who they claim to represent. But anger and more violence mostly produces more anger and violence. Understanding, service, and hope in Jesus can produce true love. Better to make someone you consider an enemy into a friend, or better yet a brother. That hope is worth investing time, talent, treasure and touch.”
He wrote about a discussion in his research methods class and some of the studies some PhD candidates are doing on Muslims and violence in Nigeria and other places.
“I believe this kind of careful research, understanding, serving and loving in Jesus name can accomplish a great deal,” Steve wrote. “There is a tendency to want to ignore or attack. This is understandable in the grief and horror of the moment as 170 recover in the hospital and 62-plus are grieved by their families and friends.
“One of our new students told us of the progress of a Muslim Background Believer (in Jesus) who has planted with him and others 130-plus churches of former Muslims in Ethiopia. So people need to know that Muslims as a whole are not our enemy. There is hope. Also there are many issues which religion gets pulled into, but Kenya’s war with Al Shabab in Somalia and their response here are not primarily about religion, but reactions from suffering people.”
Steve Rasmussen said the work he, his family and his brother’s family do in Africa happens in part because of prayer and giving from the Cloquet Gospel Tabernacle, Duluth Gospel Tabernacle, family members and other individuals and churches.