The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


The cross that fire & death could not destroy

While Kenya’s most recent presidential election was mostly peaceful and orderly, the previous one in 2007 was chaotic and deadly. The disputed election between the incumbent president and his opponent was followed by many days of riots and ethnic clashes that left more than 1,000 people dead. It seemed anything and everything could be targeted in the riots. Stores were looted. People were hacked to death for walking down the wrong street.

In Kibera, Africa’s largest slum in a section of Nairobi, rioters set fire to the Lutheran church. They started it in the church’s medical clinic, which was attached to the building behind the sanctuary. The fire crept along the walls until it reached behind the altar. Fortunately, the fire was discovered and extinguished. The medical clinic was rendered useless. But the nave remained intact and, once peace was restored, worship at the church resumed.

Burnt cross
Burnt cross at Spring of Life Lutheran Church in Kenya

Rather than begin repairs right away, the pastor decided to leave for a while the blackened wall behind the altar and not touch the powerful symbol left by the fire: a completely charred cross, which, like in many churches, had served as the centerpiece on the wall behind the communion table.

The new year had begun with the violence after the election, and a few months went by until Easter had passed. My family and I lived in Kenya at the time and were members of a downtown Lutheran congregation several miles away. After our Sunday worship one day, our pastor took us to the Lutheran church in Kibera, where I saw the charred cross.

During worship we didn’t understand the words, which were in KiSwahili, one of Kenya’s official languages. And as white American visitors we didn’t look like anybody else there. But we felt like we had a place that day at Spring of Life Lutheran Church because we had all been brought out of the ashes by God. We were still able to worship amid destruction, and we had been delivered from the destruction of death.

Together we faced the charred cross and worshiped the risen Lord. The cross had remained on the wall during the fire and, despite being thoroughly burned, didn’t crumble. Its continued presence there months after the violence was a sign of triumph, the very message of Easter: amid death and destruction, the cross stood as a symbol, a beacon, of life. From a dry, fragile and burned cross at the church named Spring of Life, the water of life flowed. Alleluia!


Linda Worden

Linda Worden

Posted at 11:23 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/7/2013

Thanks for sharing these thoughts.  The charred cross must have been a powerful symbol for the worshippers during Easter.  This story gives me another perspective on what a sanctuary is supposed to look like at Easter.  Lilies are beautiful, but not always what we most need to see to understand the meaning of Easter.

Karin Johnson

Karin Johnson

Posted at 8:34 am (U.S. Eastern) 5/9/2013

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