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Increasing and Spreading
Jim Sayers reports on a field visit he made to Kenya in February, starting in the capital Nairobi, and then travelling over to Kisumu in Western Kenya, to see how God’s word through local churches continues to ‘increase and spread’ (Acts 12:24).
The city of Nairobi is surprising. The vast Kibera slum tumbles down the hill to the new southern bypass, its terraced shacks rusting in the sunshine. But beyond them stand shining skyscrapers in the financial district, and smart apartments are going up across the western suburbs. Nairobi has a successful middle class and thriving universities, an image of Kenya that rarely gets our notice. Kenya’s challenge is to see how the growing middle class can build a society that lifts people out of extreme poverty.
Keeping on in Kawangware
Next to these leafy suburbs is Kawangware, where maybe half a million people live
squeezed in where they can, earning a living by selling goods for cash along the
muddy arteries of the township. The enterprise of the street sellers is impressive,
setting out a stall of food, clothes, furniture, suitcases or handbags over a sheet
on the mud, and bantering with every passer-
From urban to rural
To understand Kenya you have to remember that every urban Kenyan has their roots in a village and a tribe. To reach Kenya with the gospel, it is no good just concentrating on the cities, you have to reach its villages. Each village needs a gospel church, as much as anything else it needs, and, praise God, churches are multiplying fast. I flew across the African Rift Valley to Kisumu, to visit Graham and Sally Jones for a week, and to see their work amongst rural churches.
What is life like in a Kenyan village church? Graham and Sally took me to Maranda, a church west of Bondo, in a neighbourhood of smallholdings, each family farming their own ‘shamba’. Two small churches had come together for a joint service, and thirty adults crowded into the tiny hut, their Luo hymns shaking the tin roof. These Christians have faith that God can work, that he can bring their family and friends to faith in Christ. They are unabashed in their evangelism. If an unsaved person starts coming to church, they take their midweek Bible study to their home, and the newcomer’s family will all pile in to hear the pastor preach an evangelistic message. These churches are growing with only one resource – people who tell others about Jesus! Maranda has a young pastor, John Mark, who hasn’t had great education or training, yet he has an appetite for God’s Word and a hunger to preach it well. Before long, this little church will probably be helping another group nearby to start a work where they are.
Hindering or helping?
How could we spoil such churches? It would be a mistake to pay the pastor’s salary and pour in money for everything: a posh building, a digital projector, air conditioning, and a car for the pastor. That would be culturally damaging, and would build a culture of dependency from which they could never escape. Another way would be to tie the church down under the authority of a foreign missionary, giving the missionary a power of veto over key decisions. You could also convey the idea that the real ‘Promised Land’ is not eternal life in Christ but life in the West. What a tragedy if mission serves only to ruin such churches when they are growing so fast by the power of God in the gospel.
Graham and Sally work to a different model. Graham does not serve as an elder of
any church in Kenya. They see themselves as working alongside many independent Reformed
Baptist churches, providing several things, the most obvious of which is training.
Graham has tutored a cohort of pastors through the Good Book College course, equipping
them to handle Scripture better as preachers, and to grasp the big themes of biblical
theology. Having worked with this group over a number of years, he is now concentrating
on a new cohort of younger pastors, running the new South African Explore course,
while some of the older pastors are running another course in Luo for those whose
English is not good. All of this is reinforced by regular overnight pastors’ fraternals,
and conferences like the one I spoke at. Twenty-
Another key role is mentoring. Many men have become the pastor of a church simply
because they were the Christian who brought the gospel to their village. They need
Graham’s wisdom to help them handle all kinds of pastoral challenges, to visit their
church for a Sunday service to see the church in action, and to be there as a critical
Resourcing the work of these churches is also vital. What the pastors need most are
books to help them teach the Bible, and to help them grow in their doctrinal understanding.
Sunday School materials have now been translated into Luo, but need to get much wider
use. Good literature is hard to come by -