15-days in Kenya - Moderator reflects

8.12.2023 | Mission News, Global Mission, Moderator, Overseas Tour, COVID-19 Emergency

It has been a week of meetings and visits, including a 100th birthday, and preparation for Ballyloughan Presbyterian Church’s 50th anniversary, tomorrow, Sunday – where Presbyterian Moderator, Right Reverend Dr Sam Mawhinney, will preach. The County Antrim church will be a far cry from one of the last times he spoke at a service – under a tree on the red earth of Kenya in Seren, Samburu, in the north of the country.

The service was one of a number of engagements across the east African nation on a 15-day visit. Accompanied by his wife Karen, the primary purpose of a Moderator’s overseas visit is to continue to build relationships, and strengthen ties with global partner churches, in this case one of PCI’s longest established partners – the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA). It is also an opportunity to encourage and support PCI’s Global Mission Workers (GMW). In Kenya, PCI has five GMW’s who support the work of PCEA in various ministries and different parts of the country.

Overseas visits are not just about seeing the work the Global Mission Workers, first-hand they are also pastoral visits. Dr William Henry was the last Moderator to visit Kenya, which was in 2019, a year before the Covid-19 pandemic. Given that, this particular visit was also an important opportunity to spend time with them, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Reflecting on his visit, Dr Mawhinney said, “Having served for a year as a doctor in the early 1990s at PCEA’s Kikuyu Hospital on the outskirts of Nairobi, and spent time in 2008 with our friends, Stephen and Angelina Cowan, who have been PCI Global Mission Workers in the country for many, many years, Kenya certainly has a special place in my heart. It was good to be back, especially to encourage them in my new role and spend time with their GMW colleagues, Naomi Leremore in Nairobi and, Gary and Mary Reid in Olkinyei, Masai to the south of the country.

“Kenya as a nation is predominantly a Christian country of over 50 million people from 40-plus different tribes. It is a beautiful, busy and varied country, one that has changed significantly since I was first there 30-odd years ago, especially Nairobi, the capital, even if it remains as chaotic as I remembered.”

Dr Mawhinney continued, “By and large children grow up learning three languages, English, Kiswahili and their own mother tongue. I was privileged to preach in two very different churches where in one I was translated into Samburu.

“On the first Sunday I preached to 2000 people in PCEA’s Zimmerman congregation in Nairobi. A very big modern church with state-of-the-art technology. I loved the enthusiasm, the vibrancy of the worship and their love for Jesus. Later on in the week, a few hundred miles to the north, I was translated into Samburu, preaching from Luke 7 to 40 people, mainly women and children, as we worshiped together under a tree, seated on wooden benches.

“That love for Jesus was equally as evident there, as it was in the city. It was a genuine privilege to share God’s Word in PCEA congregations, meeting fellow followers of Christ, and being able to worship together,” he said.

Dr Mawhinney also brought greetings to the local PCEA congregation in Tuum, northern central Kenya, were he preached. The Presbyterian Church of East Africa has seen enormous growth in recent years. With over 1,000 congregations in 310 parishes across 45 presbyteries, there are also a small number of congregations in both Uganda and Tanzania.

Having stayed in Nairobi when they arrived, they spent time with Naomi Leremore, her husband Thomas, and children. While they had arrived safely, their luggage didn’t – and was still in Heathrow. It was however put on a flight later.

As Dr Mawhinney writes in his blog, Postcard from Kenya “…they assured us that they would be delivered the next day at 9:30 pm…the flight with our luggage on board was delayed from Heathrow and arrived in at 2:30 am on Sunday. Very generously they were picked up at 5 am by Thomas. He was able to deliver to our hotel an hour before our departure at 6:30 am to preach at two services in the PCEA’s Zimmerman Church in northern Nairobi.”

Dr Mawhinney went on to say that while no one likes to lose luggage “… in Kenyan Christian culture clerical dress is important, it would have been unacceptable for me to preach in an open neck shirt! My argument was going to be the logistics of the situation and though man looks at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7).” You can read his full blog here.

Serving with PCEA’s Theological Education by Extension (TEE), Naomi writes theological and educational distance-learning materials, which she has done for the past 10 years. TEE has just celebrated its 40th anniversary and during his visit Dr Mawhinney also met PCI’s Rev Brian Gibson, who had set up TEE during his eight years in Kenya, and was in the country with his wife Jean for the anniversary. During his visit, Dr Mawhinney paid a courtesy call on PCEA’s headquarters in the capital and met PCEA’s Moderator Rt Rev Dr Thegu Mutahi. He also led staff worship there.

While he was in Nairobi he also paid a visit to PCEA’s Kikuyu Hospital, where he served as a doctor. Covering paediatrics, Dr Mawhinney did ward rounds, night cover and minor surgeries. He also worked in maternity where he was taught to do emergency C-Sections, ultimately bringing 34 babies into the world.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to return to where it had all started. While it was a general hospital then, it had expanded over the years, so it was difficult to orientate myself to where departments once were. But with the help of a nurse who had started a few years after I had left, things began to fall into place when she pointed out where various rooms and departments that I would have known had been, like the maternity unit. We also met the Chief Medical Officer and Consultant Surgeon, Dr Stanley Aruyaru, who had an amazing story, having begun life as a shepherd, was educated by missionaries, and studied to become a surgeon. It was a nostalgic visit, but in a good way,” Dr Mawhinney said.

Having stayed in Nairobi, PCI’s Stephen and Angelina Cowan took them north. The Cowans have been serving together in northern Kenya, working with the Samburu and Turkana people, through Church-based community development and outreach programmes since 1989. This includes introducing the Bible and Jesus in a relational way.

Travelling around 240 miles to Tuum, they broke their journey in Rumuruti, and made a courtesy visit to the headquarters of the local presbytery that the Cowans are based in. They spent the next four days meeting those involved in various aspects of the Samburu Awareness and Action Programme that Stephen and Angelina run.

The drive to Tumm was the longest journey that the Dr Mawhinney and Karen made, but during the 15-day visit they spent nearly 30 hours travelling across the country. Some of which only a four-wheel drive could manage.

In a post on ‘X’ (formerly Twitter) the Moderator joked, ‘Let me never think the journey from Dublin to Ballycastle is long! 14 hours from Nairobi to Tuum where the Cowan's live and work. 7 of those on unsurfaced roads.’

For the final part of his overseas visit, the Moderator and Karen took an Africa Inland Mission internal flight south. Landing at Keekorok Airstrip in the Masai Mara, to the south west of Nairobi, Global Mission Workers Gary and Mary Reid welcomed them. From the air Dr Mawhinney said that they had seen some of the amazing wildlife that makes Kenya such a desirable destination for many, finding elephants grazing next to the runway as they came in.

The Reids first went to Kenya in the year 2000 and have been working in the Olkinyiei area since 2005. Currently they are working with PCEA in church planting, outreach and literature distribution, among the Maasai people in their spiritual heartland, where the Moderator saw some of their work.

Speaking about one visit, in another post on ‘X’, the Moderator wrote, “Karen and I received a really warm welcome in Olkinye Massai today as we spoke and prayed for a bible distribution project. We were gifted these lovely Massai blankets from Diana.” Dr Mawhinney also received a traditional beaded collar and staff.

Looking back on the visit, Dr Mawhinney said, “It was a privilege to return, to see how PCI has been engaging with PCEA to the Glory of God, and to encourage the work of our Global Mission Workers.  Experiencing the vibrant worship of an expanding Church was insightful in different ways and Karen and I learnt much from being part of it.

“In sharing God’s word with our brothers and sisters in Christ across Kenya, and our PCI colleagues, I wanted to show how, as followers of Jesus, we can be confident in Christ, holding on to His words in the scriptures and building our lives and communities that will thrive in the reality of the present world, wherever we live and worship Him. It is a message I look forward to continuing to share across Ireland.”

Images: (1) A young Dr Mawhinney in Kikuyu Hospital in the early 1990s (2) preaching to 2000 people in PCEA's Zimmerman congregation (3) and in Seren under a tree (4) with his wife Karen bringing PCI's greetings to PCEA's church in Tuum in Samburu county, with Kasoni translating (5) Dr Mawhinney and Karen with Naomi and Thomas Leremore (6) Rev Brian and Jean Gibson with Dr Mawhinney and his wife Karen, PCEA's Moderator Rt Rev Dr Thegu Mutahi and Naomi Leremore (7) at Kikuyu Hospital with the Gibsons, Chief Medical Officer Dr Stanley Aruyaru and the nurse who showed Dr Mawhinney around (8) the road to Tuum (9) with Stephen and Angelina Cowan (10) and Barry and Mary Reid (11)  in Olkinye Massai where Dr Mawhinney and Karen were presented with traditional Massai blankets by Diana, who is also pictured.

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