October 29, 2013


A loud banging sound woke us shortly before 4:00 one morning. Apprehension filled my heart as I raced downstairs. What I saw confirmed my worst fears. Someone was hard at work, trying to smash, break, or saw through the metal bars that protected our windows.

Peeking outside, I saw in the glare of the lights, two or three dark figures busying themselves. I turned all the lights on, ran upstairs to our bedroom, and flipped the switch of the siren on the roof. It began to wail in the darkness, building to a crescendo, alerting the whole neighborhood that we were victims of a break-in.

Frantically I grabbed my cell phone and called 9-1-1 and our security agency, which, according to their ads and our contract, was supposed to be only minutes away in the case of an incident. Their car was usually parked a couple miles away from the gates of our residential neighborhood, a discreet presence to reassure us that all was well in our suburb of Nairobi, Kenya.

But where were they? Worse yet, why did their emergency center not take my call? I dialed and dialed, but my call went unanswered.

The banging on our security bars continued, and the thugs began working on our doors. Thankfully, our solid metal doors resisted their assault for a while.

So Much to Protect

Our two girls hid under the blankets in our bed. Young and small, their tiny bodies hardly made a bump where they lay huddled.

I headed back downstairs with my wife, Beate, behind me, shouting and yelling in the hope of perhaps scaring them away. I had no weapon in the house—nothing. I reached for my toolbox and grabbed a rubber mallet. Now I stood, fearing the worst, feeling naked and completely vulnerable in my pajamas.

If only I had a weapon, I thought, things might be different.

Nobody came to our rescue; least of all the police, notorious for showing up well after the fact, if at all.

Finally the door gave, and in rushed the first individual. Whack! I hit the man’s head with the mallet, and he reeled and crashed to the floor. Six other men erupted into our living room, shouting and yelling for money and valuables. One of the intruders went straight to our pantry and stuffed his mouth with raw pasta shells. They seemed to be high on drugs; perhaps they had sniffed too much glue.

Why don’t I have a gun?

The next thing I knew, one of the men lifted a crowbar over my head and brought it down savagely. Instinctively, I raised my arm to deflect the blow, but it still glanced my head. My arm felt funny; something warm trickled down my head and formed a large, crimson stain on my blue pajamas. My wife was also assaulted. A blow landed on her shoulder, grazing her ear, but leaving her standing and comparatively unscathed.

Stunned, I threw one or two hundred dollars in cash, and my wristwatch (a wedding present from my wife) at the men. I shouted, “You’re being watched by holy angels, who are recording your every move.”

Hearing these words, my attacker stopped, looked around slowly, and then made his way to the door. The others followed. They quickly disappeared into the night, leaving behind the one I had knocked out with my rubber mallet.

What If?

The man roused, stood slowly, and looked at me, pained. Then came my second shock of the night: it was James, our gardener, who lived in a small house behind ours. He explained that when the intruders had broken into the property, which was protected by a high fence, he had tried to intervene, but they had quickly immobilized him. When the door had finally given way, they had thrust him forward as a human shield, in case I was armed. Subsequently he had received the blow on the head.

Instantly I knew why I didn’t have a gun. I would have killed him, even while he was trying to protect me and my family! In fact, as I reached for my toolbox 15 minutes earlier for something to protect us, I had hesitated for a moment: should I take my heavy, carpenter’s hammer or the silly rubber mallet? I chose the latter.

I couldn’t have been happier: the carpenter’s hammer would have broken his skull.

It was a traumatic night for our family. Thankfully, the girls were unhurt and hadn’t seen any of the violence. Beate was left with a bruise on her shoulder and deafness in one ear for a week or two.

Within 48 hours we were able to move into a vacant house on the campus of Maxwell Adventist Academy, just a few miles away, leaving the worst of the bad memories behind. This gave us the safety we needed to serve another three years in Kenya.

My recovery was the most difficult. It wasn’t just that I had to sport a strange haircut because of the two-inch-long gash on the side of my head, and it wasn’t because of the cast on my arm. It was the terrible sense of having let my family down.

The dreadful scene played again and again in my mind, feeding my sense of guilt: if only I had been better prepared, at least with a can of pepper spray. I could have easily sprayed the choking substance into the assailants’ faces while they were working on the window bars, taking care of the situation before it became worse. I wondered if I should have prayed instead of running around shouting like a madman.

One thing I never regretted, however, was not having a gun that night. Had I had one, I may now have someone’s life on my conscience, the life of someone dear to us, someone who showed the utmost loyalty and courage.

The Violence Around Us

A few years later we woke up again in the middle of the night, this time because of gunshots that seemed so close as to be on the compound of the East-Central Africa Division, where we served. We were terrified at the thought that our colleagues may have lost their lives to violence.

The next morning all seemed to be normal, and none of our friends or coworkers were missing. Reports came back that a couple bodies lay on a side street, not far from our gates. The police left them there as a deterrent to criminals. Following this incident we decided that after four years in Africa, it was time to move on.

As if to seal the decision in my mind, the national newspaper screamed in its next Sunday edition, in bold letters covering almost the entire page: “100,000 reasons to be afraid in Kenya!” The story described the escalation of violence because of the estimated 100,000 guns circulating in the country.

A few months later the country descended into violence following presidential elections.

My family and I now live in the United States, a country with more than 300 million guns in circulation. Considering the mass shootings that have taken place at public events, in schools, at shopping malls, etc., we may well have 3,000 times more reasons to be afraid than in Kenya, and 3,000 times more reasons to have a gun at home (or in our purse or under the arm) and to leave the country.

Although we don’t always feel safe in the United States, and even though I may decide one day to replace the pepper sprays I eventually acquired but gave away when we left Kenya, I am convinced there are no good reasons I should have a gun. The unintended consequences of that sort of ownership frighten me even more than the possible consequences of not owning a gun.

The words of Jesus to Peter resonate in my mind: “Put your sword back in its place,” “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matt. 26:52). The 300 million guns, and the more than 30,000 lives lost to gunshot deaths every year in this country,* still fail to convince me to join the ranks of citizens who are armed and ready. Maybe one day, but that day hasn’t come yet. n

* See Georgina Olson, “More Than 30,000 People Die From Gunshot Wounds Each Year in the United States” (Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 2010), www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/Olson_21.pdf.