Africa Trip Report 18March – 5 April 2013
This report covers Kenya and Cape Town in South Africa, with references to conditions in Central African Republic at the end.
First, some overall impressions. Every village in Kenya seems to have a Christian church… or two… or three. These are of every denomination imaginable – from the regular ones to those unheard of by us in the west with names like Deliverance Church, New Fire for Christ and Mombasa Gospel Tabernacle. This latter numbers 26 gatherings in Kenya.
Church attendance in the country areas seems to be good – more so among women and young people. Sunday sees many people walking to church.
The bus system is dominated by 14-seater Toyota mini buses. Some of these carry Christian slogans such as “My Redeemer lives”, “Messianic prophecy”, “Deliverance”, “Shepherd”, “God is able”, “God’s mercy” and “God’s power”– this last on a little three-wheeler Indian taxi that had very little power of the mechanical kind. A semi-trailer had “Glory B 2 God” emblazoned above the windscreen. Even some businesses had names like “By Faith Auto Spares”.
Motor cycles and rider wait at corners in villages – they can be hired to take you as a pillion passenger, as a form of taxi. “Welcome” is the most used word in the land. It was even spelt “well come” at one place.
There is a custom to pour water on your hands before taking food. A large bowl and a jug of water is produced; the hostess pours water over one’s hands and the overflow is caught in the large bowl beneath. A towel is offered for drying the hands. As a variation, the water may be warm and a bottle of liquid soap may be offered. [See also 1 Kings … where Gehazi is described as pouring water on the hands of Elisha.] In a hotel or gust house, it is common to have a Thermos flask of hot water or hot milk on the table for use in making tea and coffee.
It is still very much an agricultural economy with little investment in industry. Many of the farms are tiny and not large enough to adequately support the owners. Some of the homes I visited had dirt floors and no electricity - rather like Australian settlers.
Some halls that I visited boasted a single portable solar panel charging a battery pack. This was used for amplification and an electronic keyboard.
My host in Kenya was Simeon Ongiri, a delightful brother who used his old Corolla to drive me around the country to the destinations I had requested. I “met” him through a Christian magazine called “Spreading The Good Word”.
We began corresponding in 2007. He wrote less of recent years and the reason became clear recently – he took up an appointment as the manager of a new orphanage. Many of those he grew up with are now dead as a result of AIDS. This is a problem in Kenya and other African nations. There are many orphan children being cared for by grand-parents.
Simeon is a pastor in a small church in Rongo, a village 25 km from Kisii, a town north-west from Nairobi and not too far from Lake Victoria. The church is affiliated with the ‘Church of Christ’ and he is supported by a charity in the USA called Willis Missions – see <willismissions.org> on the Internet.
He is the live-in manager of ‘Sam’s Place’, a purpose built orphanage for 40 deaf, orphaned children. To be deaf in Kenya is one serious affliction; to be an orphan in Kenya is another; but to be both in Kenya is a circumstance beyond our imagination. These children in the Kisii - Rongo area had previously been unable to communicate with anyone, had never been to school, were not only without shoes, but were without hope in the world. The need was identified by Simeon and his fellow Christians and they were blessed with a bequest from Sam McReynolds in the USA – hence the name ‘Sam’s Place’. The building was completed and opened for use in November 2010, i.e. two and a half years ago.
The orphanage is well organised and managed by Simeon and his wife Naomi. Along with some support staff, they employ four teachers, two of whom are deaf themselves. Now these children, aged 6-17, are learning to read and write in English, speak in sign language, play sport and perform drama. Last year they were taken to a nearby Game Reserve. Cameras had been supplied and their photography efforts were on display in the hall of the main building.
They performed a play for me – “The Good Samaritan”. It was a very moving experience to observe them while considering how far they had come – from social outcasts to individuals being loved, cared for, instructed in the word of God, and given a future. They also performed some traditional African dances. Amidst all this high drama - which some students dancing on stilts - a hen and her brood entered the hall looking for crumbs that fall from the lunch tables.
After spending two days in Rongo, Thursday saw us set off for the home of Joseph Kerongo and his wife Jacinta, to a village called Ogembo about 20 km from Simeon’s place. It is almost on the equator, at a height of 1,600 metres (5,400ft.) It is very hilly, with lots of small landholdings - subsistence farming. Bananas in the county of Kisii are renowned for their flavour. Tea and coffee plantations are nearby.
Joseph packed maybe 30 or more people into his living room – a dirt floor and no electricity. I spoke on the kingdom of heaven. Interest was definitely aroused because after we left they asked Joseph to teach them about the kingdom for two months!
Lunch was prepared in the ‘kitchen’ – a room with a depression in the ground with an open fire that generated fierce heat. The ‘bathroom’ was an external, open-air arrangement – privacy obtained by a screen of banana leaves, etc. If India is any guide, I assume that a dipper and a bucket of water is the ‘plumbing’ for the shower.
Many young orphans came to this occasion. Joseph’s brother remarried after his wife died. The brother and the new wife disappeared and left Joseph and Jacinta with four children to rear.
After lunch we headed for the home of Samuel Ongige in an area nearby known as Keroka. His house and another belonging to his parents are situated on the side of a very steep mountain. Driving down to it from the main roadway is like going down a ‘big dipper’ at a fun fair, but without the fun.
Here we had afternoon tea. I had written to him sporadically over 10 years or so. He is related to Simeon and it was through him that Simeon originally contacted me. It was appropriate to visit him since I was in the area. The plot of land (his father’s) is less than an acre - too small to support a family so Samuel has gone to Nairobi for work and returns on the weekend. He had come back to meet me. He has built a simple church hall with mud walls, dirt floor and split logs for pews. So far he has an attendance of 12, even in such a remote place. In Kenya, “if you build it, they will come”.
On the main road we passed many tea plantations and the towns nearby looked quite prosperous along this stretch of main road.
We were headed for Nairobi but due to major road works we were diverted along a very bad road which meant a slow trip. We needed daylight to negotiate the potholes so were forced to stop for the night at a village called Molo. A local motor bike rider led us to a sleepy hostelry called Green Garden Lodge which I later learnt from a tourist book is “a plain but pleasant old place, decently kept up, but for no apparent reason (as there appears to be few if any guests). They offer 24-hour hot water and a plain but tasty menu”. Spot on. We had a dinner of fish and chips. Kenya prepares a good omelette for breakfast.
On Friday 22 March we continued our journey towards Nairobi then headed south to Mutomo via Kitui. The road to Kitui was magnificent although punctuated by speed humps at every village encountered, and random police checkpoints. Kenya police set up portable tyre spikes on main roads and flag down trucks and mini-buses for various checks.
At Kitui we met Nicholus Munyao. He is a pastor with the Mombasa Gospel Tabernacle – a denomination with 26 churches in Kenya. Recently he was voted bishop of Kenya, or leader of them all. He accompanied us on the dirt road that he claimed was 40 km to Mutomo, but turned out to be at least 80km. At one point he declared that we had only 2 km to reach the destination; it proved to be 20 km! The rough road seemed to last forever and shook the Corolla badly.
We stayed Friday and Saturday nights at “Revelation Guest House”. After having repairs performed on the car – the rear bumper panel had become dislodged by the bone-shaking ride – we set off for a hall “in the wild woods” at Kyatune 14km back up the rugged dirt road. The graduation ceremony was for three senior men who had completed a four year Bible Study course. It was scheduled for 10:30 but did not commence until 12:30. African time! Nicholus had asked me to give an address at this function. After a late lunch we drove to his home.
His home has no power. To get water, it is a two hour walk to the river, then fill the containers and walk the donkeys back another two hours – a four to five hour exercise. There are several out-buildings on the site. One thatched roundhouse is the communal kitchen, using a hole in the ground for the wood fire.
Another one houses the farm labourer and his family. Another one houses his father, and yet another, a cousin and family. When visitors arrive, the wives help out the one who has the guests.
Nicholus showed us his store of maize from last year; the quality was poor. The rains lasted only two of the usual three months. If he could sink a bore he could irrigate his field and also save the trips to the river.
He currently pastors a church at a remote place called Kathithi, some 18 km from home. To reach it, he phones a motor bike and he and members of the family squeeze onto it. To do this both ways is expensive for him. Now with a three month old baby as well as two young daughters, he cannot do this. He - or the church - has acquired an unfinished and unused dwelling some 15 minutes walking distance from his home. He plans to finish this and use it as a church.
We headed for Nairobi on Sunday afternoon and stayed overnight there before heading north to Eldoret (330km or 5 hours away at an altitude of over 2,100 metres or 6,900 feet) where the Kenyan athletes train.
We visited Charity, a young woman who lives in Kiambaa village known for the church that was burnt down in tribal strife after the country’s elections seven years ago. She was in the church when members of one tribe fled there for refuge. Their enemies then set fire to the crowded building. Thirty died and many were injured. She is now 28 and would like land to cultivate. An acre of farmland near her dwelling is priced at $12,000, and another half acre plot at $6,000.
On the following day we travelled to Turbo 32 km west of Eldoret and collected Johnstone Malinda – a retired high school teacher known to me for perhaps 12 years via STGW. His daughter Gloria is the director of a Christian school called “Treasure Academy”. I was asked to address the 98 pupils and their teachers.
We met up with Samuel Kibet, a pastor at a church at Kilimani village not far from Turbo. Many orphans walked from school to the hall for lunch. The Christians are providing lunch for them as many have only one meal per day. These children live with relatives rather than in an orphanage.
A notable feature here was the construction of a freestanding building using mud - akin to the early days in Australia with ‘wattle-and-daub’. A man stood on an improvised wooden scaffold and threw mud at the lath of woven wooden sticks.
By car to Nairobi, then Johannesburg by air, and another flight to Cape Town.
Cape Town - South Africa. On Good Friday, a conference was held at the suburb of Athlone. The community hall was attended by more than 500 brethren. Apart from the members of the Elliott family, the attendees were all coloured folk. There were two addresses before lunch and two after lunch. Two of the words were in English and two in Afrikaans. Mrs Elliott and her son-in-law sold over $500 worth of books and Bibles. Tracts are distributed free. At 83 she regularly visits the Evangelical Mission Press where tracts are printed in numerous African languages, and Bibles and Christian books are sold. She and her husband (now deceased) have run this enterprise for over 50 years.
Late on Lord’s Day I travelled to Strand with Rodney Brown who gave an address and then a gospel preaching after a meal - this in the hall used by the coloured brethren. At Strand there are two halls only about 1 km apart. One is attended by the whites and the other by coloured brethren - a carry-over from Apartheid which was disbanded officially in 1986. Both halls are quite substantial, so it is understandable that neither gathering wants to relinquish their hall.
On Tuesday we took a sightseeing tour of Cape Town that included a visit to the original Portuguese Castle (begun in 1650) and a trip in the cable car to the top of Table Mountain. This was followed by the prayer meeting and reading in the evening.
Cape Town area is neat and very attractive but security is an issue. Some houses have plates on a front wall stating that they are monitored by a security company, e.g. “ADT Security – Armed response”. Mrs Elliott’s home is further protected by a four strand electric fence atop the standard fence - this after two recent break-ins.
Central African Republic (CAR). This leg of the journey had to be cancelled due to the rebel forces entering the capital Bangui. The president fled to Cameroon. These armed men are not part of some disciplined army but belong to various northern warlords from Chad and Sudan that are out to get what they can. These chiefs are not known to one another – the only thing uniting them is Islam and those financing them. In all the looting, violence and murder, the local CAR Muslims are the ones not touched. The churches and properties of Christians are treated as fair game.
An all-African peace-keeping force is trying to maintain some kind of order. CAR was formerly part of French Equatorial Africa, so French troops are also helping, but their real mission is to protect French interests and personnel. The western media ignores the plight of the population. Neither Big Oil nor Big Finance have any interests in this, one of the poorest of the world’s nations. The pygmy conference will have to wait until some kind of order returns to that part of the country.
The day to day drama unfolding in the nation is the subject of separate reports.
Please pray for the Christians in CAR.
MM April 2013