by Robert Gitau
Robert is chairman of The Kenya Brethren Mission Fund (TKBMF) and has worked for many years planting churches in East Africa.
My parents did not know the true God. My mother used to pray facing Mount Kenya – our Kenyan pride and the namesake of our country. It has been suggested that Kenya’s name derives from the Kikuyu, Embu and Kamba words, Kirinyaga, Kirenyaa and Kiinyaa, all of which mean ‘God’s resting place’. That aside, we did not have a personal relationship with the ‘god’ we prayed to, but maintained that he lived on the mountain. Our entire village held the same belief.
One night I had a dream: I saw a vision of Hell that terrified me. The vision appeared again during the day while I was carrying out my ordinary tasks. This depiction of hell was much clearer, with people burning and crying – the pain they were undergoing was so real. I visited my brother’s mother-in-law, who is a Christian. She read Scripture with me and tried to explain the vision’s meaning, but I did not understand. On another occasion she took me to her church where the preacher spoke from John 8:31-36, “…everyone who sins is a slave to sin…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” His message touched my heart, but I did not respond to God’s call. Instead, I sat by the river, cried and asked questions of God. I heard a voice like many waters, saying, ‘You are saved’ and I accepted Christ. I felt at peace, knelt to pray and committed to becoming a preacher. I started to share the gospel with my friends; they thought I was crazy, but this did not deter me in my task, and I persevered, telling them about Christ.
Shortly afterwards, I remembered the ministry of a gospel worker called John Roberts, who used to visit my high school. I met with him, told him my story and shared that I was now saved. Mr Roberts trained me in God’s Word and provided me with articles, books and correspondence courses that guided me in my new journey of faith.
He took me to his church, which I learnt was a Brethren fellowship. I enjoyed the experience and came to appreciate the simplicity of their meetings, where all people are equal. Progressing in my Christian walk, I later attained a scholarship to study Theology and Discipleship in the USA. God led me back to Kenya, where I have served among His people and those in need of Christ’s salvation ever since.
Having had one of the strongest economies in the region, it is now in free-fall due to corruption, leadership wrangles, political instability and tribalism
Kenya – God’s Resting Place
Kenya has a diverse culture, comprising 42 different tribes, including the Embu, Kikuyuand the Maasai. Although every tribe has their own language, Kenya’s national languages are Swahili and English, inherited from its history under colonial rule. Tribal culture is Kenya’s greatest heritage and one of the most significant tourist attractions. Beaches, deserts, plateaus, mountains, rainforests and wildlife, all contribute to the beauty and diversity of Kenya.
Kenya gained independence from Britain in 1963, becoming a republic in 1964. Under moderate leadership, the country transitioned to a stable democracy with its governance guided by the Kenyan constitution.
Like other nations, Kenya has various struggles. Having had one of the strongest economies in the region, it is now in free-fall due to corruption, leadership wrangles, political instability and tribalism. Consequently, the value of the Kenyan shilling is deteriorating fast.
Approximately 80% of Kenya’s population live in rural areas, depending on a good harvest for their livelihood and survival. Environmental problems compound issues of poverty, which are not restricted to rural areas. The largest urban slum, Kibera, lies within the capital, Nairobi. Kenyan unemployment is high and there is little access to basic amenities or education. Moreover, 1.5 million of Kenya’s 50.5 million population are infected with HIV/AIDS. Following the aftermath of a contested presidential election in 2017, the political situation is fragile. Where the needs are so tangible, the country needs your prayers.
The Brethren in Kenya
The Brethren church in Kenya was started in 1961 by missionaries who fled the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire. These workers commenced their mission activities in the Dr Livingstone Primary School in Nairobi. When they left, John Roberts took on responsibility for the church.
Today there are about 50 Brethren churches throughout Kenya, some of which are in very remote areas. Many churches are doing well, engaging in church planting and sending out gospel workers to other countries. However, others need strong leadership. Sadly, the church does not always enjoy unity, due to different beliefs that infiltrate from Kenyan culture and traditional religious practice. The desire for power and consequent tensions are not limited to the realm of politics. As disagreements arise, church leaders prefer to start their own churches.
Fellowship of Believers (FOB) is a registered society formed by the Kenyan government. The FOB was founded due to the legal requirement for the registration of any regular gatherings of more than ten people. All the FOB members are encouraged to read the organisation’s constitution and statement of faith, and to remember that they do not belong to FOB but to Jesus Christ. There are other registered Brethren churches under different group names.
In tribal culture, some tribes are considered superior to others. This attitude can affect our churches, where believers perceive FOB churches as belonging to certain communities.
Challenges to be Faced
In urban environments, Brethren churches face an increasing threat from Islam and other religious groups. That said, it is encouraging that two or more churches are founded daily in urban contexts. Freedom of worship still exists in Kenya and half of the population consider themselves to be evangelical Christians.
The churches in slum areas face many challenges. Aside from significant poverty, believers are tempted to interpret and change the Bible’s teaching to fit their own understanding, values and material needs. When leaders preach the truth of the Word of God, some move to another church in search of their preferred message. There are many ‘churches’, particularly in slum areas, that preach what people want to hear: ‘…they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths’ (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
Dreams to be Achieved
The picture is far from bleak. God is at work in and through His Church, challenging nominalism, ethnic cultural practices and the rise of Islam. We encourage people to come to Kenya and hold seminars to teach and train believers in church leadership. We would also value refresher courses for church leaders, to bolster and encourage them in biblical truth, and equip them to continue faithfully in their work. There is a need for more church buildings in hard-to-reach areas. Short-term workers are needed to translate, produce and distribute reading materials, such as Bibles, brochures and hymn books, to facilitate gospel work.
Aside from significant poverty, believers are tempted to interpret and change the Bible’s teaching…
The Kenya Brethren Mission Fund
TKBMF desires to see Brethren churches united in the Lord. Activities include receiving funds for Brethren missions, and organising discipleship conferences and meetings. Part of my role as chairman involves overseeing and facilitating meetings, and having responsibility for the organisation’s finances. I have been encouraged by growth in the mission fund, enabling some of the members to attend the International Brethren Mission Conference in Ethiopia. There they met other leaders and were inspired to maintain spiritual momentum in the churches, despite the challenges faced. TKBMF oversees the finance given, ensuring that it is used for the purpose sent; for example, aid for the Turkana community in Kenya, providing food and medication.
We are keen to encourage, train and equip people to take God’s gospel to adjoining countries and beyond. We would like to advance our ministries in children’s homes, hospitals and schools, and to plant more churches. We have successfully founded clinics that are working tirelessly to save people’s lives and have also set up schools, that are helping to improve prospects within the wider community. One of our dreams is to build recreational centres to reach young people with the gospel through camping activities, games and sports, and youth conferences.
Let God’s Word be known in this country – God’s Resting Place. We are living at a time when we urgently need to spread His Word and to make disciples of all nations. Pray we would do so without hesitation until Christ’s triumphant return – Amen!