Indescribable Joy – Reflections from Surviving a Suicide Bomb

In the midst of such horror and hurt, Kate’s overwhelming memory was of the indescribable joy knowing she had saved her son.

On March 18, 2002, a suicide bomber attacked the international church in Islamabad, Pakistan. It felt personal as it was a church we had attended for a year and a half while living in Islamabad; a church my oldest brother had pastored; and it was a church where many of our friends worshiped. I will never forget the letter we received from two friends soon after the attack, written as she was recovering from an injury sustained during the event. This year marks the 10th anniversary of that event, an event that by their own admission changed our friends Jon and Kate Mitchell. They have graciously given permission for me to share this powerful story with hopes that the God who revealed himself to them, and continues to do so, will do the same for those who read the narrative. I urge you to pass this on for in Jon’s words “These things need to be shared!”

Today, March 18, 2012 is a special day for us.  It marks the 10th anniversary of a day that was both horrific and blessed for us.  10 years ago today, a suicide bomber attacked our church in Islamabad, changing our lives forever.

We were about half way through the service, the sermon having just begun.  Our son Daniel was downstairs in children’s church and Iain was in the sanctuary with us, sitting in Kate’s lap.  I remember the bomber bursting in through a rear door, and I can still see his silhouette as he tossed some objects in among the pews.  I instinctively ran to the back of the church, not sure what I was going to do when I got to him, but certain he had to be stopped.  Then the first grenade exploded, and a wave of panic swept over me.  “Kate and Iain are down there.  I’ve got to protect them”.  As I desperately raced back down the aisle towards where they were sitting there was another explosion in front of me.  I remember the heat of the blast, the sand and grit hitting my face and I can still see chairs flying through the air past me.  The explosions continued and when I got to our row of chairs I tried to peer through the smoke and dust to where Kate and Iain had been.  I didn’t know what I would find.

Kate and Iain were on the floor, lying side by side where we had been sitting.  Kate’s clothes were torn and she was bleeding, but the wounds looked superficial to me.  My heart rejoiced, and then I saw it.  There was an unexploded grenade just to Kate’s right.  Thank God for Russian grenades.   I helped her to her feet, grabbed Iain and ushered them out of the church before going in to help others get out of the building.  Each time I came out of the church I stopped to check on Kate and our boys, but I didn’t realize she had a serious lung injury until she told me she could taste blood in her mouth.

As I raced her and another injured family to Shifa hospital, I remember Iain stating “That was a bad bad man.  He did that on purpose”.  Even his three-year old mind was able to grasp what had just happened.

Later that evening, after Kate’s lung had been re-inflated we were recounting the events of the day, giving thanks for God’s hand of protection on us.  Kate had recognized the seriousness of the attack before I did, and she had thrown Iain on the floor and jumped on top of him. As she looked back towards the attacker she could see three grenades rolling across the floor towards her.  “Here I come Lord” she thought as she did her best to cover Iain with her body to shield him from what she knew was coming.  One grenade exploded under the chair in which I had been sitting.  The force of the blast threw her off of Iain, and when she opened her eyes her first thought was for him.  In her words

I wanted to save my boy.  I knew I was hurt badly, but when I looked down and saw that Iain was unhurt, in the midst of the pain and shock of the blast I felt an indescribable joy, knowing that I had taken the violence intended for him.

As Kate said that, it struck us both at the same time.  Wow, in the midst of such horror and hurt, Kate’s overwhelming memory was of the indescribable joy knowing she had saved her son.  Jesus loves us more than we could ever love Iain.  There must have been an element of joy in Christ’s suffering on the cross, knowing that he was taking the punishment intended for us. What a revelation!  We were reminded of Ephesians 1:17-18 where Paul prays that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray also, that eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know the hope to which he has called you . . . ”

We have much to be thankful for and rejoice in.  We were given a Spirit of revelation, and the eyes of our hearts were opened that day.  The next year God gave us our beloved Sarah, new life and hope coming on the heels of death and destruction.  And God brought us to a place of safety and rest and a caring church here in Cary North Carolina.  Now he has privileged us with a call to minister to Christian ministries through Concentric Development.

We invite you to rejoice with us today.  We serve a mighty God who is still revealing himself, and may our blessing be a blessing to you.  These things are not to be kept to ourselves, and you are welcome to share this story with others.


10 thoughts on “Indescribable Joy – Reflections from Surviving a Suicide Bomb

  1. I started to choke up as I read this! I remember when that happened 10 years ago. This is such an amazing picture of Jesus’ deep love for us, and his heart for us as children of God. He wants so desperately to protect us.


  2. When 9-11 happened, my first thought was ,”I pray it wasn’t Muslim terrorists, since that will make life so much more difficult for Christians overseas.” No one else was thinking this and I desperately needed to talk with someone who could relate to me in this national crisis. I had plenty of friends from Pakistan that I could have emailed, but I wanted to talk with this guy who I went to school with and who had been emailing me after graduation. When the Islamabad church attack happened and I found out that two of my dear friends were injured, (including Robynn’s father), I had just become engaged to that same guy the day before. Although he did not know my friends, the fact that I could grieve with a life partner who understood me and shared my passion for people in other countries made all the difference in the world. At our wedding 5 months later, I was reunited with many of my North American friends from Pakistan and this was the first time they had been together since the bombing. A woman in our church gave up her house for a few days so that they could all stay together and this gave them a chance to debrief and heal. Beauty from ashes. God is good, even in the midst of terror. I hope my friends who are now being evacuated from Yemen will be able to grasp this.


    1. Ann – I’m so sorry I didn’t respond to this comment. Thank you for your personal response to this story and for giving the story an epilogue. So powerful. I remember sitting with my daughter on 9-11 (she turned 16 that very day) and both of us looking at each other just praying it wasn’t Muslim terrorists as well. Great story of how you met your husband and the way the whole thing connected. This is what makes blogging so worthwhile – thank you !


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