The church in Kenya – focus as the marathoners!
This author is presently based in Norway, but has served for many years in East Africa since late 1970’s. Just before Easter I returned home from Kenya after teaching and guiding a group of college students taking a course in World Religions and Missions. What did we see? The history of Christian faith in Kenya is mixed. Evangelical churches and missions from Europe and America have played a key role in this history. Some stories are very encouraging and deserve to be told again and again in order to inspire and provide role models in e.g. mission, bold evangelism, courageous leadership under pressure, endurance in suffering, long-term positive engagement in community development, and a heart for the lost and needy in society. Unfortunately, the story also contains too many reports of things gone wrong. The ills of society have become the ills of the church – with its own added twist and flavour. The last decade Kenya has been in political turmoil as ethnicity, corruption, theft and nepotism have taken centre stage and stand as a serious hindrance to the development of the welfare of citizens. Sadly enough, many churches have been caught up in these evil currents as well. It is becoming more difficult to find an alternative Christian voice and witness that model a different life - based on Kingdom values. Add to this the terrorist threat from neighbouring Somalia.
Why does the Kenyan church find itself in such a sorry state of affairs? The reasons are undoubtedly many, but one is that the church is the victim of its own success. Kenya’s churches have not been able to teach and disciple the thousands that have joined through schools and church outreach. Leadership development and training in various competencies needed in church work is way behind what is needed. In Kenyan society general infrastructure and institutions are overworked and unable to cope. The same seems to be the case in many churches. This gives food for thought for all who plan for tomorrow’s mission and church cooperation and programmes. When gathering in the harvest, the church must make sure it is able to secure and nurture as well as win new converts.
One morning our group visited a training camp for Kenyan marathon-runners. It is probably harder to become part of Kenya’s national marathon team than to win international medals. The dedication and singular focus was impressive. Young men and women in their 20’s come here to be coached. In an average week they will run about 240 km, i.e. a marathon each day except Sundays! Morning and afternoon sessions. Certain days have interval training to improve speed and flexibility. Under such a strict regimen, no wonder they finish top level in any world class contest. Single-minded focus, dedication, discipline, love for sport, individual coaching, hard work - it proves successful. Sounds like the apostle Paul, 1 Cor. 9:24-27.
We shall continue to learn from and pray for Kenya - for the Kenyan church and for the people of Kenya who have suffered heavily under Al-Shabaab terrorist attacks.
Erling Lundeby Archivist of the Norwegian Lutheran Mission Member of the Executive Committee of the Fellowship of European Evangelical Theologians