The sight of a brightly decorated Christmas tree and a toy snowman were rather incongruent against the 26 degree temperature, but after a week in Nairobi we were gradually becoming used to life in this land of stark contrasts. Now at home in Newry, the memories of Kenya linger – the mad traffic jams in Nairobi, the stillness and wide open spaces of the Maasai Mara and the wonderful work being done by our Presbyterian missionaries.
Accompanied by my wife Esther and daughter Debbie, with PW representatives Anna Morison and Charlotte Stevenson, we travelled widely and learned much about the country and our partner church, the Presbyterian Church of East Africa.
In Nairobi, Naomi Leremore prepared materials for children’s work while her husband Thomas, a Kenyan, is working in peace and conflict resolution.
About five hours drive to the south west in Olkinyei, Mary and Gary Reid have built a compound where, for nine years, they have provided care and teaching for the Maasai. This is a difficult work and they have built up the Acacia Grove Mission and Maasai Action for Change helping vulnerable people in a whole range of areas.
In the north of the country, in Samburu, Angelina and Stephen Cowan have laboured for twenty-five years in Tuum. Among his other work Stephen is responsible for keeping six land rovers running – no mean feat on such poor roads.
Much of our missionaries work is collaborating with local groups to improve the lives of the people around them. But underpinning all of this work is the presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We visited orphanages, schools and hospitals where PCEA plays a key role. While our church was once involved in such work in Ireland, the state has largely taken on that role. In Kenya there is still much for the church to do and it takes its responsibility to the people seriously. That included a visit to the Deputy President, William Ruto, at which we were present.
Kenya is a wonderful, vibrant country, predominantly Christian and everywhere we went we saw a plethora of churches, some no more than shacks with exotic names.
Tensions are running high following the attack by Al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi last year. When we visited the church in Bahati two weeks ago, there were six security guards searching all cars that came through the gate because there have been threats against the Christian community. Those fears were realised last Saturday when the terror group attacked a bus and murdered 28 non-Muslims, most of them Christians. Although this took place in Mandera province in the northeast of the country at the Somali border, many Christians in the district have decided to leave amid fears of further attacks. Following other attacks on the coastal region, this is causing concern among the largely Christian population.
Many things stand out from our trip. The energetic singing, clapping and dancing in the church services. Attending Langata Women’s Prison’s graduation ceremony for prisoners who have followed a course in theology. The work of the Women’s Guild in their social outreach. But most vividly the verse from Revelation which pictures the scene in heaven:
“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.”
The church around the world will one day be gathered by God, and even the gates of hell cannot stand against it.