The church in Africa as a thriving market (Gitau)

Maggie Gitau, new PhD student in World Christianity provides this imageof the church in Africa:

….Some years ago I lived in the backyard of Toi Market, a bustling and sprawling second-hand clothes market annexed to the Kibera slums.  During the 2007/ 2008 political violence it was razed to the ground. After it was reconstructed the market was as alive as ever, but in the reordered version, I found my way much more easily and could direct a stranger on where to find products. Later, I watched a TV feature that showed how suburban residents come to new Toi Market to shop, freely mingling with kibera slum dwellers, all looking for quality deals on clothes and foodstuff. The Church in Africa is quite like that market. It is alive and aflame with all sorts of activity. It has a lot to offer to the continent, but I do not think we have yet realized let, alone appropriated that potential.  For me, there-in is the challenge and the opportunity. I believe we need to understand our own story, in a way, to ‘make sense of this market space’.  If can articulate the common themes around which we as Africans Christians identify, despite our numerous diversities, we will rally together more easily to resolve the immense challenges facing the continent in the 21st century. And that way—if we solve practical bread and water type of problems, then we will be all the more relevant. We will help those who are on the fringes to discover that there is something for them in the church as well. In short, make order of the market to make room for even more efficient and productive business…

Read the rest of Gitau’s interview here. Images of Toi market., which happens to be where we buy many of our clothes.

A friend has brain surgery

A couple of weeks ago, Nelson, a very close friend of mine here, went to the hospital complaining of severe headaches. They ran several test, didn’t find anything, and gave him some pain killers. When the headaches persisted, he went back to the hospital. After a long series of questions, the doctor finally ordered a CT scan. They discovered a very small brain tumor and scheduled surgery. At first, he wanted to get as much of his dissertation done as possible before surgery(what if they touch the part of the brain all my research is stored in, and I lose it?), but an unrelated virus put him in the hospital and put an end to his plans for productivity. Although we were all told that this would be a relatively routine surgery, we were all on pins and needles. Last Wednesday, the tumor was removed, and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief, when despite his drugged and anesthetized state, he still recognized his wife Carol and talked to her a bit.

Yesterday, I went to visit him in the hospital, and apart from the scar on his scalp, you’d never know he’d had brain surgery less than a week ago. All told, about 20 visitors came to see him during the lunch visiting hour. (His wife Carol tells me the number of visitors has significantly dropped during the last few days). After visiting hours were over, Nelson walked us all out to the lobby and kept talking to us for a least 30 more minutes. Nelson with Archaeologist Gabrial Barkai in Jerusalem

Things like brain tumors remind us how fragile our human bodies really are, and how precious our relationships are. We thank God for medical technology that can identify these kinds of problems and skilled surgeons who can resolve them. I shudder to think what would have happened if we didn’t have the technology and expertise here; we would have lost one of the most brilliant minds and leaders I know. Thank God, Kenya has eleven trained neurosurgeons.

Speaking of neurosurgeons . . . several years ago, Nelson’s mother had large brain tumor that left her completely paralyzed; everyone in the village was just waiting for her to die. One of her sons brought in a traditional medicine man; another son came back from out of down and drove the medicine man away. Nelson, managed to get her to a hospital in Eldoret where they could do a CT scan.  They discovered a pretty large brain tumor, but the surgery kept being postponed. Finally, Nelson was told that unless he moved his mother out of the public ward into the private ward, the surgeon was likely to delay her surgery indefinitely (he got a much higher cut for private patients.) So Nelson, then working in student ministry, had to took out a huge salary advance and moved her into the private ward. She was operated on the very next day. Nelson says that one of the most sobering moments in his life came when the neurosurgeon walked out of the operating room, and they realized that he was stone drunk.

Nevertheless, the surgery was successful and Nelson’s mother made a quick recovery; she was walking again within a few days. Her advice to you: “Make sure you have enough kids; you never know which one is going to find a way to save your life!” (Nelson is the fourth.)

On another only somewhat related note: in some rural areas of Kenya, there are traditional surgeons who come from a long line of brain surgeons—long before modern medicine developed neurosurgery. (See recent article in Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper: Where traditional surgeons have kept life going).

When Julius Kimelkut consulted a traditional surgeon in Karel village 27 years ago, he was not sure he would survive the ordeal to mend his battered skull. He knew the surgeon did not use modern equipment. . .

“This knowledge is for communal benefit but is bestowed upon a few individuals. It is sacred and passed on from generation to generation,” said Mzee William arap Longei, an elder, at Kachenyut village.

. . . Charges for a traditional operation depend on the complexity. Mr Kipkeitoi says he charges between Sh3,000 and Sh20,000 ($40-$250).

And despite their unconventional procedures, Mr Kipkeitoi said, their skills are held in such high regard that some mainstream medical facilities engage them as consultants or refer patients to them, though such arrangements are informal.

[It’s a short, interesting article.]

In the valley of the shadow of death, a baby crawls near the precipice

Last week, dear friends of ours from college (Fred & Kerri) flew in to spend a few days with us on their way back from adopting an eight month old baby from Ethiopia. They arrived with their now four kids (9, 7, 4, and 8 moths), totally exhausted.  It’s one thing to travel with three young children from Phoenix to Addis Ababa – fear of flying, jet lag, completely new experiences, etc. Throw on top of that the dynamics of suddenly adding a new member to your family, and you’ve got major stress. Not only do they add a new baby to their family, but he immediately got some kind of bug going around and was vomiting with diarrhea, unable to sleep at night, totally lethargic, clingy, etc. We’d been following their saga a bit on-line, and we knew that when they got here, they were going to need some serious rest and recuperation. When they arrived, they were as tired as we imagined and had fatigue and worry written all over their faces. Since Amsalu (meaning “in the image of” with a middle name for God) had been sick since they picked him up they didn’t really know what his personality was or what was normal. All they saw was a sick, clingy child. Was he always like this, or was he just reacting to a stressful readjustment coupled with the flu? He had just seen a doctor a few days ago and was already on an antibiotic (gastrointestinal), but we assured them if he did get any worse, we could take him to a clinic any time of day or night if he got any worse.

That night,

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Every parent’s greatest fear. Goodnight little Nathan

A week ago Saturday when I came home from the library, Nathan, our little one-and-a-half-year-old-neighbor was sitting in his doorway facing ours (just two meters between us – our very closest neighbors.) I said a few words to him and waved. He smiled, waved, and watched me walk into the apartment . . . and kept watching me. I waved a little more then started to close the door. It felt strange to close the door with his cute little face still staring at me, but I couldn’t sit there waving at him forever. It was the last time I would ever see him.

His mom took him to church the next morning (his father goes back to pastor his home church every weekend – about three hours away.) Everything seemed like a normal Sunday, but when they went to visit friends after church, he suddenly started throwing up. She took him to a clinic right away. (He had intestinal surgery  several months ago, but has been totally fine for a long time.) The clinic put him on an IV drip and sent him to Nairobi Hospital. Later that night, he started having some trouble breathing. At 12:30 midnight he took three quick breaths and his heart stopped beating. They quickly resuscitated him and rushed him into the ICU, but at 3am, the doctor told the parents that Nathan’s senses were not responsive and that he only had a 5% chance of surviving. The official time of death is 5:30 am, but as far as his parents are concerned, he left them at 12:30 [almost exactly a week ago as I write this]. One of his uncles is a medical doctor and after going over all the records assured the family the hospital had done everything they possibly could for him. (This hospital has all the latest state-of-the-art equipment, so he was in the best possible place for any contingencies.)

That same night, Mrs. Njuguna, the kids head teacher, kept having a dream of a cold, dark wind that came and snatched away one of the kids. She asked all the school teachers to pray for protection for the kids the following morning then heard the sad news.

We’ve stumbled around in shock and shed a lot of tears this week. Yesterday (Saturday), a large group of friends, classmates, and professors went to the family home to share the funeral with his amazing community and bury the little boy. It was a really sad occasion as you can imagine.

His father Michael said a few touching words that I will never forget. I can’t recall them as eloquently here as he read them but it was something to the effect that: “We really enjoyed you while you were here; you were like an angel. You brought us so much joy [so many touching memories of his first words, his first steps, singing and dancing with him, all the unique and fun memories.] We know that you are in a better place now and that we will see you again, but we will really miss you. You can never be replaced. [And then the really hard part . . . ]

Now, we commit you into God’s hands . . . Good night Nathan.


Cinderella and her missionary prince, a personal story

Back in August, while I was in Western Kenya at the pastor’s conference, I realized that I was only about an hour away from where Patrick and Violet Nabwera’s rural home near Kakamega. [I’ve written about Patrick and Violet before. They were our next door neighbors last year – and their daughter Joy (Kiara’s best friend last year) was part of our family for a few months. This past week they moved to Mozambique to begin language study.]

Patrick at homeWhen I realized I was this close, I called them and when I was done with my portion of the conference and caught a matatu to Kakamega. There’s something about visiting the place where a friend spent his childhood; suddenly all the family details take on a new concreteness. Here, meet my mother and my brother. These are the two cows he owns.

This is the field of sugar cane that provides a little income, and here is how the sugar company collects it. There is the little primary school school I went to as a kid. Here is Continue reading

Simon reflects on three years in Kenya

My friend Simon arrived at NEGST at the same time we did in 2005; he graduated with his MDiv last July. Recently, I sent him a few questions challenging him to write down his reflection on his three years here and the transition back to the US. Here is what he had to say:

For starters, give us a little basic background: Where are you from? What are you doing now?
I am a 6’4″ Dutch male born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, grew up in a town north of there called Cadillac, and did a Bachelor of Social Work stint at Calvin College because it was the only social science degree that was actually hireable. During my social work internship at Lawndale Christian Health Center in Chicago, I felt the need to go to seminary and explore who God is and what it meant for the world to follow him.

Since I graduated from seminary, I’ve been in the ordination process for the Christian Reformed Church, currently fulfilling an internship at Madison Avenue CRC in Paterson, New Jersey.

How did you wind up at a seminary in Africa?
simon-gradI always wondered what salvation might look like beyond my own need for peace of mind when I die. I was reading the prayer of Jesus when he tells us to ask God for daily bread, and I realized that I had never really done this my whole life long. In this regard, I felt like I should probably learn what that means, that we are dependent up Providence for daily calories as well as eternal assurance. Secondly, I was excited to learn theology developed by Africans born outside the global West. Finally, there was that exotic image in my mind of strange exciting foods and colorful clothing, of distant undiscovered mountains and verdant Savannah, and the sole possibility of learning about God in such a place kept me awake for nights on end.

What were the best things you took away from your three years here?
Jesus would answer this with a story involving milk or wind, but I’ll try to Westernly itemize the biggies: (1) that human relationships are the bedrock of our lives (2) that living lives of sacrifice and hospitality, with Jesus as our messiah, are how we foster health and stability (shalom) in this world (3) that God is big enough to enable us in this task (4) that any religious institution or theological framework that is not actually helping this world should be ignored and left to die, wheezing.

What were the hardest parts of your experience here?
Arriving I was a total extrovert. Soon after arriving in Kenya, I found that I was spending weeks upon weeks without any excursion at all, rarely having people invite me anywhere. I began to blame my classmates for being so exclusive. But soon I found that people were willing to be friends if I stopped by their houses rather than waited for formal invitations, which helped because I began to deliberately visit people more often. But the cultural divide still made my American practice of friendship rare, and so I spent at least 5-10 hours alone each day (including most major holidays), and left Kenya quite an introvert.

If you had to do it over, what would you do differently?
I’m not sure how I could have, considering the process. For instance, I wish I would have been more able to socialize within primarily African friendships, but this only came after at least two years had passed. I wish I would have had more to do outside of class (independent studies or humanitarian work) but these sort of activities are not setup from Michigan because you don’t know your free hours until you arrive. I wish I would have had $2500 for a car, because I could have had more of a social life with mobility beyond the minibuses (which are too dangerous past 7 or 8pm).

In light of your experiences, what do you have to say to your American friends?
Don’t go to abroad in the name of salvation. Go there to learn from it (or have a nice vacation that helps its economy). Once you know the place, the only help it needs is the enabling kind. I met many teams of missionaries there, one I remember which spent $200,000 for twenty-five punky kids to feel like they had helped ‘Save Africa’, but Kenya actually has the same percent professing Christians as the US (CIA World Factbook), and the punks only poured a foundation to a kitchen (true story). Meanwhile many of my close friends were eating on $15/month, unable to afford text books let alone any healthcare. It was awful to live between this dichotomy.

. . . to your African friends?
To those who could handle my Americana: thanks for being my friend and fellow believer. Thanks for introducing me to ugali and sekuma, Ethiopian food and dance, for bringing me to your distant homes and cooking me your foods. Ben, I don’t think you’ve gotten to the downtown Habesha during the weekend (talk to Mesfin), but they have free live Ethiopian music and dance, and its the best indoor entertainment in Nairobi.

What were the best things about coming home?
I have no idea. Its nice to drink out of the tap (though this is changing). Its good to call my family at any moment without paying Skype. I would say safety, but I went from Nairobi to Paterson, New Jersey, which is just as violent.

What were the hardest things about coming back?
Ben knows this, but for those who don’t, once you move around enough you stop belonging anywhere. So basically right now I feel nearly as alienated as when I lived in Kenya, though Ben showed me how to laugh about this and live with it. Also, I deeply miss roasted maize; the withdrawal has been near clinical.

How do you think your three years here will impact your future?
Good huge question. I suspect my understanding of God and this world, of people and community, of the power of faith, it will all be enriched and matured. I used to joke that seminary in Kenya was my Dagobah (where Luke got trained by Yoda in Star Wars), but now I realize how truly changed I am by that stretching time. God is truly the world’s greatest hope, and this fact has been confirmed time and time again. We prayed for food during hunger, and it came; for rain during drought, and it came. We prayed against disease and handed out medicine, and people were healed. A seminary experience is something that should verse folks in the depth of this world’s need while enabling them to join God’s restorative work, and I am proud to say I learned this during my MDiv in Kenya.

Simon blogs at Up from the Stump;  Reflections during his time in Kenya: Nairobi Diary (He saw a fair bit of East Africa in those three years.)

Savoring Friendships – Ignatius and Jecinta

In light of the recent tragedy, I thought I’d post a personal tribute I wrote about these two dear friends back in August.

For the past month, Jecinta and Igg [Ignatius] have been staying in our campus apartment while we were house sitting across the road. Now that Christi and the kids are gone, they have taken over my housesitting responsibilities for me (at my friend’s house about a kilometer away), so I can be five minutes closer to the library for a week. 😉 It gives them a chance to enjoy a huge house and enjoy the calmer campus from their cramped little (tin) apartment in Kawangware, where water is currently being rationed to a couple of days a week. This has all meant some great opportunities to hang out together.

We first met Jecinta

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The baby died

A week ago Monday at 1:00 am, a beautiful, nearly 10lbs baby boy was born to our very close friends Jecinta and Ignatius (Igg) — their very first.  It was an extremely happy day for all of us. Around mid-day, Christi was on her way to visit them at the clinic, but found out that they had already been sent home. It was the usual happy celebratory visit. Jecinta was a little concerned that he hadn’t started breastfeeding very well, but all the aunties assured her that he would learn just fine. After some time of instruction and a prayer, he began suckling and Jecinta felt glad that she could feel the strong pull.  As she turned to go, Christi thought to snap a quick picture with her cell phone.

The next day,

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A kinder, gentler Islam

I’m comfortable in a lot of different cultural settings, but I confess that I’m still a little uneasy in Moslem contexts. I’m not at all afraid for my safety; it’s just that I haven’t been in any Islamic contexts long enough to feel totally at ease about how not to be offensive. All the interactions I have had with followers of Quran have been very good, there just haven’t been that many. (I spent a week – mostly as a tourist – in Tunisia, but I recall longer conversations with with Moslem traders when I was in high school in West Africa)

On the flight from Nairobi to Dubai (back in August), I sat next to a delightful family man named Muhammad. Despite our very different religious beliefs, he and I share generally similar family orientations and geographical life histories. He was born in Uganda, did all his primary schooling in Kenya before moving to Canada for University. He also lived for a few years in the Washington, DC area (then Orlando, FL) before moving back to Mombassa (Kenya) where most of his family lives. He was talking to his kids on the phone about the way I would talk to mine. Even our accents are similar. Currently he works on documentaries aimed primarily at Americans to educate people about Islam and try to dispel some of the misconceptions it. Here is a website of his posters – Discover Islam.

Anyway, Mohammed seemed like such a nice guy that I took advantage of the time to ply him with all the difficult questions – Islam as a violent religion, jihad, view towards apostates, etc. One of the things that struck me about this his responses is that he encourages the same kind of hermeneutic that we often do with the Bible: “e.g., you have to carefully read the texts in their original context.” (Eventually, we tapped out all my questions and settled into the newly-released Caspian movie.)

On the flight back from London, I sat next to a Pakistani businessman (pharmaceuticals). As soon as he found out I was doing “research in religion,” he said, “the problem with Pakistan is that people don’t truly follow the Koran.” My mind immediately saw that meaning two completely opposite things, so I asked him what he meant. “Take for example alms,” he replied. “If we only followed the charge to give [I forget the percentage of income] as the Quran commands, there would be more money in circulation and our economies would be doing so much better. . .[Later] It’s those militants from Afghanistan who keep stirring up violence and killing people in our country.”

His English wasn’t that great, and I could hardly hold my eyes open (redeye flight; 3 hours sleep the previous night) so we didn’t talk that long, but I couldn’t help smiling to myself. How many times have I said, “If only Christians truly followed the Bible and Jesus . . . it’s those extremists that really spoil the name of Christians . . .”

NEGST PhD students

In a recent comment, Eddie asks for a list of names. Here is a list with – program, country, topic, and family (and my nickname for some them.)

Andy and Ramadan

Andy and Ramadan at work - Tyndale House

Ramadan Chan, Southern Sudan, translation. translating the concepts of justice and righteousness from the prophets – esp. Isaiah and Amos. Ramadan and Mary have four college-aged children, and many more dependents. Ramadan is our “respected patriarch” and a real Dinka giant and wise chief.

Andy Alo, translation, Congo, “Translating the metaphor of light into Lugbarati.” Andy and his wife Yvette have four boys and one girl (three kids of their own and two orphaned nephews) ages 8-12. Andy is “the philosopher.”

Karita and Daniel

Daniel Hankore: Ethiopia, translation, translating vows and Genesis 34. Daniel and Dero have four children. Erome just started college in Nebraska. (If any of you have warm clothes to send her way, she’d be grateful). The youngest, Tumo was born four days after Liam two years ago – and helped kick off the first round of PhD babies; with the second round we have seven PhD babies so far. Daniel is our “evangelical shepherd” – keeping us in line and making sure we stay evangelically orthodox.

Karita Mbagara: Kenya, biblical studies, the Holy Spirit and liminality in Luke-Acts (maybe some ethnicity too). Karita and Jacinta have three children; the oldest just graduated from university and is working in the marketing department at KPMG. (Karita is “the respected statesman” – a true leader in every way. He has worked for FOCUS (InterVarsity equivalent) and still does a lot of pastoring).

Nathan, Peter, and Daniel

Nathan Joshua: Kenya, biblical studies, patronage and leadership in the pastoral epistles. Nathan and his wife have one girl and two boys; his daughter is in college. Nathan is “the pastor.” In addition to being a professor, he has been a pastor in the Africa Inland Church for many, many years.

Peter Yuh: Cameroon, translation, translating concepts of Honor and Shame from Ezra-Nehemiah into Kom. Peter and Joy have four children. The oldest is in junior high, the youngest is two. Peter is “Mr. Honor” for obvious reasons.

Phoebe Muthami: Kenya, biblical studies, community identity formation and the “then-now” contrast in Ephesians. Phoebe and Dickson have three biological children along with the many other children they have raised. Their oldest David was married last Saturday in a wonderful, unique, standing-room only wedding. Phoebe is our “mother.” Phoebe and Dickson also pastor a church plant in one of Nairobi’s poorer slums. (See for example this heart-rending story from the period of post-election violence.)



Richard Mutura: Kenya, biblical studies, Paul as exemplar in Galatians. Richard and Helen have a nearly one-year old daughter (just a couple more days), Becky. Richard is our “fearless leader”; he was our designated leader for the first few years. Eventually he asked for a break, so now we rotate the “representative of the month”, but Richard still takes up the reigns when we need him. I can’t begin to tell you all he did to make sure we got our tickets and other things we needed. Look for Richard in the Kenyan Parliament five years from now. Richard is the kind of guy who will go the extra mile for you – a midnight rescue. To read about his jail experience from his more youthful days, see here.

Nelson and Andrew

Nelson and Andrew

Nelson Makanda: Kenya, biblical studies, patron-client relationships in Galatians. Nelson and Carol’s one-year old son Andrew turned ONE YEAR OLD yesterday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ANDREW!! They also are raising Tracy, their five-year-old niece. Nelson is our “politician”; look for him in the Kenyan parliament after the next elections too. Someone asked Nelson today why they would go into politics in addition to teaching. Nelson’s response: “We need leaders who will transform Africa for Christ.”

Not with us are:


Jackie Othoro, Kenya, biblical studies, Esther and social drama. Jackie will be going to Wheaton, Ill. to do her outside library research. Jackie is a wonderful and active pastor, and we all miss her cheerful personality on this trip.

Samy Tioye, Burkina Faso, translation, already did his library work in Jerusalem at Hebrew University. He’s our “rabbi!”; where else could he go? Samy is working on translating the concept of eating blood from Leviticus into Lobiri. Samy and Fortuna (one of Christi’s very closest friends) have four children – Eliel, Menahem, Myria, and Ayelette. For one of Samy’s recent adventures, read locked up in a Kenyan jail.

I guess this blog makes me the “Chronicler.”

I’ve slaved in the trenches with these friends for over three years now, and I can say that they are the most incredible group of people I have ever worked with. A couple of years ago, we spent five weeks living together and trudging around Israel. We all got tired, and a few of us got sick, but never once did I see any conflict. On a daily basis, I get to see their commitment to God and their sacrifice to other people. I can’t tell you how much of a privilege it is to be able to share in their lives and call them my closest friends.

The new face of African missions

For the new face of African missions, look no further than Patrick and Violet Nabwera – the Kenyan couple that has been our next door neighbors for the last year. It’s no exaggeration to say that these two are true saints in every sense of the word.

They work for a twenty-year old mission agency that is entirely Kenyan. They live simply, and they go to places where Christians normally fear to tread. They have to start slowly because everyone suspects that they are there to “convert” them. Sometimes the challenge is simply to fight the spiritual weight that presses them down in bed every morning.

They start schools, teach English, join the football (soccer) associations, and become an integral part of the community. Before long, people start coming to them seeking advice and prayer for various problems. Neighbors can see that their faith in Christ makes them strong and wise; eventually a new community of believers in Jesus begins to form.

Once an area has been “tamed,” they replace themselves with newer missionaries, and begin looking for areas where the gospel has still not been lived out or preached. They’ve moved through remote parts of Tanzania now and are looking to mobilize new teams for Mozambique. If you take out a map of eastern Africa, and look for the most remote sections, that’s usually where their heart is.

Even here at NEGST, they have not taken a break. In their first year of study, there was a housing shortage on campus, so they had to live 20 minutes away. Still, Patrick and Violet won the “couple of the year” award. When they moved next door to us, we immediately knew why. There’s hardly a moment when you won’t find someone sharing a meal at their table or pouring their heart out to them.

Our children have become inseparable, and are equally at home in each apartment. (Joy is Kiara’s age, and Abby is between Leila and Liam.) One of my secret highlights of living next door to them is the “song” of their early morning prayers; I can’t hear any of the words, but as these prayers float over the concrete walls, they are sweet music to my ears. We will all miss them deeply when they graduate in July.

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone more passionate and strategic about contextualized missions than Patrick, so next week, I’m going to post a series of segments from Patrick’s master’s thesis – “Attrition among African Missionaries” (or in rough terms- why missionaries quit.)

Locked up in a Kenyan jail

Friday 3:45 pm: my phone beeped with a new text: “Ben, can u get in touch with Kivanguli [NEGST’s Dean of Community Life]. I am being held at Karen Police station as an excess passenger.” Samy

Samy Tioye - Happier DaysSamy Tioye, one of my closest friends, is from Burkina Faso and is working on a PhD in translation: אכל דּם Eating Blood’ in the Old Testament: Its Meaning, Theological Implications and Translation into Lobiri. Among ourselves, we call him “the rabbi” for his background in Hebrew and his love of all things Israeli, a place he has already visited for study three different times.

Friday afternoon, Samy made a quick trip into the shopping center at Karen (about 3 kms away), and was on his way home in one of Kenya’s infamous matatus (minivans used for public transportation). By way of background, Kenyan law says that a matatu can only carry a maximum of fourteen people that it has seats for. A few years ago, the government cracked down, but somehow the route coming past our school has been neglected and these matatus almost always carry excess passengers. It’s rare to find one that isn’t totally overcrowded; just about everyone I know – including me – has been forced to squat in the aisle or even hang out the open door of a matatu. It’s the rare matatu on this route that isn’t overloaded. But Friday, the police apparently decided to enforce the law, and poor Samy was one of those who hadn’t gotten a seat. (In Kenya, the passenger shares culpability along with the driver and conductor.)

This is what Samy had to say,

I had just run into town for a quick errand and was rushing back to finish a section of my dissertation to hand into my supervisor before the end of the day. As usual, the conductor was packing as many of us into the matatu as possible. Just before we got to the school gate, a policeman stopped the matatu and forced everyone out. After some long discussions in Kishahili (which neither of us speak), they put the four of us who hadn’t gotten a seat back into the matatu and headed back for Karen. On the way, we stopped and picked up three more people from another matatu that had been stopped; there were now nine of us total, including the driver and conductor.

At first, I thought we were just being taken back to the matatu stop and forced to start our journey over again. But we drove right past the stop and into the police station parking lot. I still didn’t realize how serious things were until they paraded us all back behind the desk and herded us into a dark, barren concrete cell that was still wet from the most recent washing. I was kind of shocked into reality when the large iron door slammed shut and the deadbolt locked behind the nine of us. All the men around me started dialing frantically and shouting into their cell phones. The only word I could understand was “Cash bail!! Cash bail!!” Continue reading


UPDATE: The NEGST Letter is now housed HERE

Over the last couple of months, Christi has volunteered to help create The NEGST Letter, a monthly newsletter highlighting happenings in and around NEGST. The newsletter was her idea; she designed it and edits it. Along with Kavita Muoka, NEGST’s new director of Communications and Development, she supervises a team of students and staff who come up with story ideas and write the articles.

Here are some highlights from May’s NEGST Letter: [Click on Headings for full stories.]

NEGST student organizes camp for internally for internally displaced people.

Meet Christopher Ngugi Wanaina, a first year NEGST student pursuing an MA in missions. . . .

Image. . . With the onset of the post-election violence, Karura Community Chapel began hosting three hundred internally displaced people (IDPs)—95 adults and 205 children—within the first week of January. By the second week, the number had doubled! Chris was responsible for leading a team of volunteers and church workers to offer the IDPs shelter, food and counselling and to help them resettle. Creating time for school work while responding to the increasing needs at the church was a herculean task.

“There was a day I slept for only 3 hours.” He says. “Listening to the agonizing stories of the people was very emotionally challenging. I felt duty bound to help one man. So we left Nairobi at 8:00pm for Nakuru, just to be back the next day by 2:00pm in time for a quiz at NEGST! This was among the most challenging times.” . . .


QUOTE: A Lesson Learned

Lesson Learned

“Learning to read the New Testament in its original written language–Greek—has helped me clarify meaning that may be blurred or utterly missed by some Bible translations. It is an opportunity for me to appreciate the gist of the texts. It is not just a scholarly exercise but a heart-warming experience as well.”

– David Muturi, first year MDiv student in biblical studies; learned in Greek 2, taught by Dr. Margaret Sim

Image NEGST student addresses crowd in Uganda More than 300 students from Ugandan universities gathered in Entebbe for an Easter missions camp. NEGST MA in missions student Dennis Kilama, who works as a resource person for the Fellowship of Christian Unions (FOCUS), addressed three plenary sessions on the topics “What is mission?” and “How to organize an effective evangelistic outreach”, under the global theme “Who shall we send?”.The first year at NEGST changed Den…

Image Paul Kato sends a library to campus primary schoolPistis (Faith) School, the NEGST campus nursery and primary school, received an entire container full of hundreds of boxes of library books, textbooks, computers and numerous other gifts from Paul and Gwen Kato. Paul Kato, son of NEGST founder Byang Kato, now lives in the U.S. with his wife Gwen. When the two of them visited NEGST last year, Paul decided that he wanted to impact the next generation of Christian leaders, which is clearly the goal at Pistis….
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Armed thieves at Njeri’s house

Me: So Njeri,* did you enjoy your long Easter weekend?

Njeri: Well, on Saturday night (about 2:30 am), I woke up in the night and heard men cutting the bars on a window next to my apartment. They had big guns – AK47s. The woman next to me has a shop, and they were after her phone credit of 5,000 (about $80). They also took her TV and her DVD player. As I moved back away from the window, I bumped a plastic container on the floor, and they quickly shined a torch (flashlight) in my window. Thankfully, they didn’t see me. I heard them telling the woman next door to be quiet or they would shoot her. 

I went back to the bedroom, woke Nicholas up (11) and told him to be quiet. He was surprisingly not scared. He told me not to scream until they moved further away. We overheard them saying that they would not enter our apartment and the one on the other side because they knew that one of these two apartments had a gun, and they weren’t sure which one it was. When they finally moved further away, Nicholas told me to call for help, so I screamed out the back window and woke the neighbors. It took them a while to figure out where my voice was coming from, but one of the neighbors has a security alarm, and triggered it. At this, the robbers packed up and quickly fled with the TV and dvd players. They had already entered three of the ten apartments in our complex.

I’m extremely grateful to God for sparing us that night, but it’s been hard to sleep since then. 

*Njeri is our househelper and a very close family friend.

More on-air brilliance

By popular demand, my friends Jackie, Nelson and Karita were back on the radio again today. Once again, they were brilliant.

Jackie encouraged people in mixed marriages who were struggling with recent events. Sadly, the situation seems to be stressing many marriages to the point that it is breaking up families.

Nelson outlined steps in the cycle of conflict, and encouraged Kenyans to focus on the things that unite them. Drawing on Genesis 50, Karita illustrated how Joseph and his brothers addressed the past, present, and future. If we are going to be reconciled, the truth must come out. Justice must be founded on truth, so let’s revisit our history, let’s bring it out. In the present, we must be willing to forgive. When people sit down and address the issues transparently, we can make significant progress. 

The interviewer was so moved, she was “visibly” speechless a couple of times.

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Making a difference

Three of my colleagues were on the radio for two hours today discussing ethnicity – the topic we’ve all been studying for the last year and a half. Karita, Jackie and Nelson did a phenomenal job, and there were so many questions, that they got asked to come back next week for a follow up session. They also got asked to produce a little booklet or manual that pastors and other leaders can use. We had already talked about doing something like this.

We had no idea how relevant the subject would be when we started studying it. Maybe I can do a post or two on it when the situation here calms down.

A midnight rescue

Late yesterday morning, Richard dragged into the PhD study room above the library. “How are you?” I asked. This was his answer.

Well . . . At 10:30 last night, I got a call from a friend from church. He was on his way home on the other side of Nairobi, when the matatu [taxi van] he was in came up on a roadblock where young men were pulling people from different ethnic groups out of vans. Knowing he was the wrong group for this part of town, as soon as the matatu stopped, he fled into the bush with several men in hot pursuit.

“Where are you?” “I have no clue. I’m in the bush, and these guys are circling in closer and closer. On just walked by, inches from where I am hiding.” “What is the last landmark you remember on the highway? . . . When you got out, did you run to the right or to the left?”

I called the police station in that area across town only to be told that everyone was already out, and the only two officers left had to hold down the fort. His wife called pleading with me to do something. So I jumped into the car and raced across town, picking up my brother on the way. Maybe we could plead for his life even if they caught him. I just kept praying the whole time, “Lord, make them blind. Make them blind.” We raced up and down the highway until we found the abandoned road block, but there was no sign of my friend.

We tried to call again. “The mobile you are calling has been switched off.” We feared the worst. His poor wife. They’ve only been married 29 days, and she lost her first husband in a freak carbon monoxide poisoning accident on the 29th day of that marriage. She was so distraught that she started having seizures.

An hour later as we were racing up and down the highway at top speed, my cell suddenly rang again. It was him!! He still had no clue where he was, but his pursuers had moved away and he could see some lights . . . “it looks like a gas station.”

Yesterday morning, the wife was still so traumatized that she had to go to the hospital for treatment.

Now about that dissertation proposal.

How can you possibly study when . . .

How can you possibly study when . . . your phone rings in the morning and you hear a woman screaming on the other end.

“Pastor!! Save Us!! Pastor, they are going to burn us!! They are going to kill us!! Please, please come quick to deliver us!! You are our only hope!!”

That’s how yesterday started for my colleague Phoebe, who pastors a church across town. Mobs had surrounded the house of a family of nine, including a two-week old baby from her church. After listening to the pleading for a minute or so, Phoebe switched off the phone, and took a deep breath. There’s no way she could do anything for this family all the way across town. She prayed quickly then called the police station for that area of town, urging them to rush to the rescue. Then she called an elder in her church who lives in that area. Finally, she called the family back and just prayed with them, pleading “God, restrain them.” The glass in all the windows had been broken, all that was left was for the angry mob to kick the door down, torch the house, and end the lives of these poor, innocent people.

Suddenly without explanation, the mob left and the family fled to safety. They left everything behind.

No sooner had Phoebe hung up when her phone rang again.

“Hi Mom”

“I’m officially engaged!!”