TEMPLE TERRACE – The terrorist attack at the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in late September claimed the lives of at least 72 people and wounded 200 others.
It also created feelings of grief and sorrow in the hearts of millions throughout the world.
The attack also hit home with many in the Kenyan community in and around Tampa.
To help make some sense of the tragedy and to offer prayers, a group of about 50 Tampa Bay area residents with close ties to the east African coastal country gathered on a recent Saturday evening at Café Kili, a coffee, tea and sandwich shop owned and operated by native Kenyans Patrick Gachau and Rose Waruinge.
Gachau kicked off the occasion by introducing the pianist and baritone vocalist duo of retired University of South Florida professors Dr. James Powell and Dr. Samuel Wright, who tugged at the heartstrings of guests with their emotion-evoking Christian hymns during the mainly solemn affair.
But most likely it was the message delivered by the evening’s keynote speaker that had the greatest impact on the men and women in attendance.
The Rev. Dr. Bernice Powell Jackson, pastor of First United Church of Christ in Tampa and outgoing president of the World Council of Churches, noted she was there to offer her support to the Tampa Bay area’s Kenyan community.
“We are one,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where you live, the violence is there.”
Powell Jackson cited that more than 10,000 deaths from gunshot wounds have occurred since the Dec. 14, 2012 fatal shootings of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“We’ve got to find a better way,” she said.
She then paraphrased Bible scripture by Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 1:7.
“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of love and a spirit of self-discipline,” Powell Jackson said.
“That’s God’s gift to us, the spirit of love and it’s the only kind of love that can stop terrorism,” the pastor said. “The answer to end all of this (violence) is just found in those four letters, L-O-V-E.”
She proceeded to light the first candle in the candle-lighting ceremony that followed as a symbol of “hope and healing” in a world where violence is rampant.
Others followed, lighting candles for peace, in appreciation for soldiers and law enforcement officials, and for children so that they would learn to respect and to love their neighbors.
“The greatest commandment of all is love,” said Gachau. “We should always love.”
The observance drew to a close with the entire crowd rising to their feet to sing the Kenyan National Anthem, followed by brief remarks and a prayer from Waruinge.
“We simply need to co-exist and love one another,” she said.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at [email protected]