- JULIUS MBALUTO
“Widows often suffer great loneliness. After I lost Elias I feared that loneliness very much”.
Three years on from husband Elias’ death, Mary Lunyamila Meshack recalls how her life changed forever the night he stood guard during an overnight service at their church in Mwanza, on the shores of Lake Victoria.
Mary Lunyamila Meshack. PICTURE: World Watch Monitor
“It was hard work, but today my relationship with God is strong – even though sometimes when I start to pray, I suddenly have a memory and can’t pray any more."
Elias was 35, a youth worker in northern Tanzania, when, October, 2013, he was killed by assailants who attacked congregants with machetes while the Gilgal Christian Worship Centre was holding an overnight service in what was believed to be an attack targeting Christians.
“I met him at church, he was chairman of the youth group. We fell in love and married in 2009. Our life was good. I became pregnant very soon and had Prosper in 2010, and, when he was three, I gave birth to our daughter, Prisca.
“Eight months later, Elias was killed. It happened on the night of October 21st. He came home from work, took a bath, had his dinner and then went to church around 9pm. He went to guard it because there had been a spate of attacks on churches in the area. (The day before, two other church leaders had been killed in neighbouring Kenya.)
“The next morning (22nd October) around 6am, a crowd from church knocked on my door; I knew something terrible had happened. Our pastor told me that the church had been attacked and Elias had been beaten to death [by machete]. Two others were injured, but survived.
“When I heard the news I cried so loudly that neighbours came to see what was going on.
“For a long time afterwards I was very angry with the attackers.
“Many churches have been burnt. Some church leaders have been killed, others burnt with acid. I wondered why we Christians had to suffer to the point that the persecution reached my own family. Honestly, if I had met one of his attackers, I don’t know what I would have done.
‘They killed my dreams’
“I was devastated at my children losing their father at such a young age. They needed him. Single parenting is difficult. I do my best but am very sad when I remember that we used to be two. Now I am alone. They killed my dreams.
“I had many questions for God: ‘Why has this happened to me? Why am I a widow, so young? Why me?’
“But as time went by, I accepted that my husband was gone.
“It was hard work, but today my relationship with God is strong – even though sometimes when I start to pray, I suddenly have a memory and can’t pray any more.
“But I thank God: He gives me strength and I have never gone to bed hungry. He is with my children and gives us strength to move on and do well. When I feel pain and get low, I switch on the radio and sing along to Gospel music.
“My church has been good to me. They continue to visit and take care of me and the children.”
Shortly after Elias’ death, Mary was visited by Hadassa*, who worked for Open Doors, a global charity that works with persecuted Christians.
“She brought a big box of letters, so many. I was deeply comforted because they proved that the whole world had heard about my misfortune. My English is not so good, but even so I kept seeing the words, ‘Don’t worry, Mary!’ and ‘God bless you, Mary!’ which I could understand.
“The large box caught the attention of visitors. When they asked about it, I told them to take a look inside. Many liked the cards so much, they asked if they could take a few home. I now have only a few left!
“My dream for the future is to live well and stand strong with my children, to run a business and ensure my children don’t lack for anything. It is hard, but I am confident that I will make it and not lose hope.
Since the murder of Meshack, churches in northern Tanzania have faced repeated attacks. Tanzania is 33rd on the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List of countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.
*Name changed for security reasons