By Gailyn Van Rheenen
It was a transformative trip – for churches among the Kipsigis of southwest Kenya, for national leaders meeting at the Nairobi Great Commission School – and for me personally. We all felt God’s presence!
The purpose of my trip was to give encouragement; greet families (especially those of loved ones who are ill or have spouses who have passed away); visit as many churches (or clusters of churches) as I was able; and to teach 3-day courses at two Bible schools. I returned from this 2½ week trip tired but empowered.
When we left the Kipsigis area of Kenya, where we ministered for thirteen years, there were 100 churches. Today there are 450! This growth has not simply been numerical. These churches have also grown spiritually – using disciple-making and mission to form new communities and growing existing ones.
High points of the trip were visiting elders who helped start the churches, praying over leaders who were seriously ill, and greeting and giving condolences and memories to the families of leaders who had passed away. A special joy was sharing time with Matayo Matwek, a leader now 101 years of age, weak in body, but strong in spirit and testimony. Once upon a time he cast vision and encouraged Christians in his home area. He partnered with other leaders to build a mighty movement of God in his home area. We shared time with Mary, the widow of David Sambu, who was Chairman of the “Committee” (Board) of Siriat Bible School and prayed for her extended family. I miss David, my African mentor and confidant! Another good friend, Daniel, once worked for me tending my yard and garden and later became the sub-chief in his area. He now is very sick with cancer. I joined with others praying over him and giving finances to pay medical expenses and help his family.
I thoroughly enjoyed teaching two 3-day seminars, one in the Kipsigis language at the Siriat Bible School in what I call my “home area” of Kenya, and another in English at the Nairobi Great Commission School for major Kenyan leaders in the capital city. In each seminar I applied sections of the 2nd edition of Missions: Biblical Foundations and Contemporary Strategies to their contexts. I began each section with a teaching time, a time of discussion as a group, followed by discussion and/or prayer in small groups and pairs. The favorite teaching was a parable on “spiritual awakening”—how crawling caterpillars are transformed to become flying butterflies able to both draw nectar and spread pollen. The most important teaching was “how do people of the kingdom of God make decisions.” Attentive listening! Laughter! Confession! Dialogue! Prayers! Worship! Transformation!
I visited as many of the churches as I could in the short time that I had. The churches in Konoin are vibrant for the Lord, focused on evangelism, highly respected by the local community, and are growing locally and in other areas where they send evangelists. They give generously to build facilities for their church gatherings and other events but also meet from house to house. A local Christian named Jonathan builds these facilities.
Throughout the trip I experienced African hospitality. I stayed in a small two-room house with an outside latrine and shower area on the homestead of my good friends Philip and Irene Chebose. Irene cooked most of my meals, indigenously African and deliciously prepared. They took care of my every need, even warming up the water for my morning sponge bath. It was a joy sharing life with this family! Their son Wycliffe is growing as a preacher and another son Nicholas is learning African sign language so that the Kipgsigis-speaking congregation can connect with the deaf congregation, which also meets in their building—much like the deaf ministry at the Willis Church in Abilene, where I was once served as an elder.
Throughout the trip I walked and ministered with David Tonui, Principal of the Nairobi Great Commission School, my son in the faith who once lived with us while completing his Masters in Christian Ministry at ACU. I praise God for how David and I worked synergistically during joint presentations, knowing instinctively how and when to speak and when to remain quiet. It was also a joy to share many meals and trips with both David and his wife Eunice. They illustrate both great hospitality and partnership in the mission of God. They are a rural/urban family—one home in the big city of Nairobi close to the Nairobi Great Commission School where two of their children work and study and another in a village near Siriat Bible School in southwestern Kenya, where the two younger children have been in school.
In many ways I became part of both the Chebose and Tonui families during my stay in Africa—eating, living, and sharing in close proximity.
I was called many years ago to be a missionary in Africa and served there for 14 years. I am energized by being there for a short time! My goal is return every two years to visit the churches and in the process both learn and teach. After each trip I feel that I have received more than I have given.
Our prayer and goal is to continue to grow and develop a similar (though culturally different) church planting and renewal movement in North America through Mission Alive.
Reflections on September 4, 2014