Kenya Mennonite Church
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|Kenya Mennonite Church|
Kenya: World Factbook, 2009
Number of Congregations
Early relationship with Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania
The Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania (KMT), which was planted by Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities (EMBMC) in the 1930s, spread the gospel to Kenya throughout the subsequent decades. Pastors and church members in primarily village communities were responsible for the evangelistic activity.Initially, Mennonite influence came through the connections many Luo people of Kenya’s Nyanza region have to family in Tanzania’s predominantly Luo Mara region. The Luo people have historically lived in this area around Lake Victoria, which the Kenya-Tanzania political border bisects, and have moved freely between the two countries.
Founding of Kenya Mennonite Church
In 1965, Don R. Jacobs stated, “the fact that there are so many Mennonites in East Africa not under direct Board appointment is a rather interesting, if not quite remarkable development, in the programs of the Mennonite Church in the world.”By 1969, the EMBMC [now EMM] pointed out the need for reducing the mission’s control and allowing the “Africanization” of church leadership, asserting that the church “must be given the freedom to find the forms and expressions which best represent their life and spirit in terms most appropriate to their circumstance.”In 1977, the Kenya Mennonite Church was established as an entity separate from KMT. Bishop Kisare worked with Kenyan Mennonite pastors to set up a central committee to create structure for the church.
|1933, December 2||Elam and Elizabeth Stauffer and John and Ruth Moseman, who were commissioned by the Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities (EMBMC) set up the first Mennonite mission station in East Africa. It was located in Shirati, Tanzania, only thirteen kilometers from the Kenyan border. Zedekiah Kisare, a young Tanzanian Christian, interpreted for the missionaries during church services. In 1940, the fifth mission station was opened in Nyabasi, Tanzania, near the Kenyan border. The missionaries hoped to avoid establishing large institutions, rather providing basic education and healthcare.|
|1942:East African Revival||The preaching of an African evangelist at the Mugango mission station starts a revival, which spreads to many other locations. Many believe they feel the power of the Holy Spirit, and are convicted of their lackluster Christian lives, causing them to repent and spread the gospel. Chief Wilson Ogwada, a retired chief living Migore, Kenya, says the revival caused him to leave Shirati, Tanzania, and travel throughout Kenya with another believer, Nikanor Dhaje, preaching. This revival created a new understanding and relationship between Africans and missionaries.|
|1942-1960: The Mennonite Church emerges in Kenya||Prompted by the 1942 revivals, Zefanya Migre, Dishon Ngoya, and Zedekiah Kisare, among others, frequently travel to Kenya to witness and look after groups of believers in areas such as Bande and Nyagwaye. Many Kenyans and Tanzanians in the Lake Victoria region move back and forth between the two countries, bringing the Mennonite faith to Luos in this region.Youth from Suna, Kenya, had attended school in Shirati, Tanzania since the mid-1930s.|
|1945||Kenyans ask the colonial government for permission to set up a Mennonite station. The request of sixty Suna residents is denied in 1945,and the government goes on to refuse requests in 1960, 1962, and 1964 as well.|
|1962||Delegates from Mennonite groups in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Somalia, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), and Zambia, met to encourage each other and explore how to live as people of peace in the midst of violence. The 1962 meeting in Limuru, Kenya blossomed into the creation of the African Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Fellowship (AMBCF). The group met a second time in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe in 1965.The group has been unable to meet regularly due custom term paper
to high travel costs and difficulty obtaining visas. In 1979, the group drafted a significant peace statement.
|1965||The Kenyan government recognizes Kenya Mennonite Church as an official church. Many Tanzanian Mennonites return to Kenya, formerly held back due to their apprehension about the new government. These groups go to Songhor and Kigoto, where Naaman Agola and Elifaz Odundo lead believers.|
|1966||Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania sends missionaries to Kenya. Hellon and Joyce Amolo were sent to Suna, where they planted six churches, before moving on to plant four in the Kadema area and two in Mbewa. Church leaders Musa Adongo and Naman Agola return from Tanzania to the Kisumu area.|
|1968||The Kenyan government allows the Mennonites to build a mission station in Migori. Clyde and Alta Shenk, missionaries with the Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania, move there to assist in building meeting houses and strengthening and encouraging congregations.|
|1969||Alta Shenk is killed in a plane crash outside Nairobi, Kenya. Clyde Shenk returns to the U.S. but comes back to Kenya in 1971 after marrying Miriam Wenger. They continued work at Migori and retired in 1976.|
|1973||David and Grace Shenk start the first Mennonite church in Nairobi.They had previously been working in Somalia.|
|1976||East African Mennonite churches with long-standing ties to the Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities begin to meet every two years to discuss their vision and concerns, as well as to strengthen relationships.|
|1977: The Kenyan Mennonite Church is established||The church had previously been a part of Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania. Bishop Kisare worked with Kenyan Mennonite pastors to set up a central committee to create structure for the church. Since then, KMC has had direct contact with EMBMC through its central committee. Nashon Arwa and Musa Adongo are the first ordained Kenyan Mennonite pastors. Naaman Agola, Elfaz Odundo, and Joshua Okello are ordained as pastors later.|
|1979||Samuel Adongo becomes the Executive Secretary of KMC after David Shenk left Kenya. He is the first African executive secretary of the church.The Ogwedhi Sigawa Project is started as an outreach to the Maasai people. After a conflict between the Luo and Maasai turned violent, the Border Committee, a group of chiefs and elders of both ethnic groups, met together to devise a solution. Wilson Oguwada, a Luo chief, suggested that only a church could end the bloodshed and recommended the Mennonite church as a “peace-loving” church.They decided KMC could help them achieve peace, and invited the church to use 100 acres of land for a development project. Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Stutzman, missionaries, and Paul and Siprosa Otieno, an evangelist couple, began the task of working for peace. The project built a church, primary school, farm, dispensary, tree nursery, and wells. The project successfully facilitated the interaction of Luos and Maasai; today they are living, worshiping, and working together peacefully.|
|1980||The Eastleigh Fellowship Center, a community center in Nairobi, is opened. It aims to provide a Christian witness in the city, with room for inter-faith dialogue between religious communities, as well as recreation for low-income families and students. Another KMC outreach is a correspondence course, “People of God Service to Muslims,” which serves as an introduction to Christianity for Muslims and has been studied by over 6,000 students. Bishop Joash and his wife Rebecca Osiro give seminars on Islam at Kenyan churches.|
|1988||KMC is divided into two dioceses. Musa Adongo serves as the first bishop of the Western Diocese and Joshua Okello iss ordained as bishop of the Southern Diocese.The drafting of a constitution in preparation a church conference and calling a Kenyan bishop results in conflict and misunderstandings, but the church leaders involved are reconciled in February 1982.|
|1989||The Happy Church of Nakuru, comprised of ten congregations and over 1,000 members, joins the Mennonite Church. Joseph Kamau, the church’s founder and pastor, is ordained bishop of a new diocese at Nakuru in 1991. Sometime between 1995 and 2002 the Happy Church left the KMC|
|Early 1990s||The Mennonite Theological School of East Africa is reopened in Nyabange, Tanzania. It had been closed during the 1980s due to conflict. Students from Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania are enrolled at this college, which is located in the Mara region of Tanzania.|
|2006||Bishops from the Kenya Mennonite Church and Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania form the East African Mennonite Mission Board to assist the churches in spreading the gospel. Less than two years after Kenya Mennonite Church sent missionaries to Uganda, the Mennonite Church of Uganda, comprised of four churches, is established. Eastern Mennonite Missions president Richard Showalter called the church’s beginning “one of the most rapid formations of an autonomous new national circle of congregations EMM has ever witnessed,” adding that there is now a “great-granddaughter circle of churches.”|
Kevin Yoder, who served with his wife, Sharon, in Kenya for six years with Eastern Mennonite Missions, and Professor Sarone ole Sena, a member of the Olepolos Community Mennonite Church, named economics and leadership as challenges in the future of the church. Kevin Yoder explained that all pastors must have other means of income, since "pastors’ salaries are never enough to survive on.” Many pastors teach, have a shamba (farm), or are involved in business ventures. With widespread poverty, church members are asked to give whatever they have to the church. In Maasai congregations, it is common to offer an animal such as a goat instead of money. Sarone also cited a “need for internal and external funding.”
Sarone ole Sena believes there is a need for “visionary leadership, growth, a flat/progressive church structure, and integration of the spiritual with the social.” In the near future, he hopes for a revolutionary change in the leadership structure to accommodate youth, women, and people from non-Nyanza regions and in the long term, a growth of the church to cover the entire continent. Yoder agrees: “If they cultivate leadership and give authority to the young, the church will be successful.” When the Yoder family arrived in Kenya, the bishops were all wazee (elders), but now younger bishops have been ordained. He views this change as necessary, since younger bishops can advocate for the youth, who sometimes feel unheard
Involving women in leadership roles in the church continues to be a challenge. Though very few have formal theological training, African Anabaptist Women Theologians (AAWT) affirms that thousands demonstrate practical theology. “It’s about putting our faith in Jesus into our everyday life. Women who are involved in ministry are doing theology," said Rebecca Osiro, who has been an active leader with African Anabaptist Women Theologians (AAWT), an inter-country group facilitated by Mennonite World Conference. Bishop Joshua Okello even challenged the Lancaster Mennonite Conference to study the whole of scripture and include women in all levels of ministry; “Our culture says, ‘leave women behind,’ but the church is bringing them forward.”
Kenya is a developing country that has not established its economic status.Ministry work faces obstacles in that the church does not have enough funding to reach out to its members.Poverty has affected many families forcing them to chose between going to church on Sunday or working to make ends meet. 
Tribal and ethnic relations
In the aftermath of the conflict-filled 2008 Kenyan election, KMC held a peace-building seminar at the Eastleigh Fellowship Centre for pastors from five ethnic groups. Pastor Caleb Owuonda of the Mathare Mennonite Church in Nairobi proclaimed, “In this church we don’t preach tribes. We preach Jesus Christ!” Owuonda envisions a future without racial and ethnic division. “One day we will not have black, we will not have white. We are going to be one. I am looking for that day,” he said. The government even called upon the church to assist in peacemaking in the election-related turmoil. Upon the request of an official, Maurice Anyanga, a Mennonite pastor and MCC staff member, facilitated a gathering where over 100 people, including some responsible for violence, asked for forgiveness and vowed to hold one another accountable for peaceful actions. While there have been many positive actions by the church after the 2008 disputed election, there may be undercurrents of ethnic tension. Sarone added that the church has responded “poorly, like other Kenyan churches: partisan and biased.” Kevin Yoder said that in the next fifty years, he hopes KMC can become “more Kenyan than Luo…a multitribal and multiethnic church,” instead of primarily Luo.
An additional challenge for the church is the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in Kenya. The Nyanza province, where the majority of Kenyan Mennonites live, has the second highest incidence of infection in Kenya. The practice of wife inheritance is responsible in part for the spread of the disease in this region. KMC has developed an HIV/AIDS project in Kisumu East to address this and other social practices. The project provides health care, counsel, education, and assistance with school fees for people affected by HIV/AIDS, either directly or through a family member.
Identification within the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition
Kenya Mennonite Church's emphasis on peace is one clear tie to the beliefs of Mennonites around the world as well as the 16th-century Anabaptists. Professor Sarone ole Sena, a member of the Olepolos Community Mennonite Church, expressed that an Anabaptist or Mennonite identity in Kenya leads believers to “pursue peace not war” and integrate spiritually “with all other spheres of life.” In other words, an Anabaptist faith means “living out what we believe in – farming and faith, farming and appropriate unwasteful technology,” and being “fair and honest.” Kevin Yoder, who served with his wife, Sharon, in Kenya for six years with Eastern Mennonite Missions, asserted that KMC’s peace stance is “one of their unique understandings of what it means to be Mennonite.” The church’s decision to witness in Uganda was largely because they felt their peace stance should be shared with their neighbors. Yoder said that this conviction led church members to actively work at peacemaking during the post-election conflict of late 2007 and early 2008. The church was a “safe spot” for people seeking shelter, he said. Kisumu West, under the leadership of Dominic Opondo, assisted 2,000 refugees, while the Olepolos Mennonite Church cared for over 1,000 refugees. EMM workers Brent and Katrina Siegrist questioned “How many of us would be willing to let 400 people sleep in our church, even if they were not being hunted by a murderous mob?” Clair Good, representative to Africa for EMM, said it was very powerful to see the KMC put their own lives and churches at risk to love their enemies and asserted that in the midst of the post-election violence, other Christians came to the Mennonite asking, “how did you do it—actually love your enemies?”
Mission and discipleship
Kenya Mennonite Church and the early Anabaptists share a strong emphases on mission and discipleship. One example of this passion is the May 2008 World Missions Institute, which KMC hosted. This gathering of mission leaders from eight East African countries sought to equip participants for mission and church planting. After two weeks of meeting together, the group was sent to four ministry locations in Kenya. Philip Okeyo, the coordinator for the East African Council of Mennonite Churches, said that “four new churches got started that week. People were really fired up as they saw the results of immediately putting into practice what they’d been taught. People will come to churches where God is present and actively at work to deliver those who are in bondage.”
KMC actively witnesses to their faith in many ways. During their December 2006 national assembly in Chwele, convention attenders grouped into teams to evangelize door to door. This bold step generated many conversion experiences as well as interest among some new believers in establishing a Mennonite congregation. Another example of the church’s evangelistic focus is their outreach to the Maasai people. In 2007, the Kenyan and Tanzanian Mennonites of several ethnic backgrounds traveled to Maasailand in northern Tanzania to share their faith with the Maasai. David ole Shunkur, a Kenyan Maasai pastor, said that when asked what Mennonites forbid, he replied, “We don’t forbid anything – God is the one who tells us what to leave behind.”The church also reached out to those affected by the post-election crisis through a trauma healing conference held May 2008 in Nakuru, Kenya. Bishop and psychiatrist E. Daniel Martin, who helped lead the conference, said a focus of the workshop was acknowledging that identity as Christians is more important than tribal ties. He said many people came to faith, were freed of demons, and found healing from physical ailments and expressed his humility “to have played a small part in God’s amazing work of healing.”
Sharon Yoder pointed out the incredible hospitality shown by the church. “One of the biggest things we learned from our Kenyan friends was the importance of relationship, and their mentality of hospitality – if someone comes to the door, they will always be told, ‘Come on in!’” she said. Yoder also stressed the value placed on relationships over tasks, which was demonstrated through sharing food with others and interest in “the whole of a person.” She emphasized, “In North America the goal is to be self-sufficient – in Kenya…the goal is interdependence, sharing resources.”
Ties to other Anabaptist-Mennonite groups
The Kenya Mennonite Church has strong connections to many Anabaptist and Mennonite groups. It works closely with its mother church, the Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania. The KMC and KMT General Church Councils, comprised of bishops, pastors, and church elders, meet together every three years.In 2006, KMC and KMT formed the East African Mennonite Mission Board. The two churches join with other East African nations for theological education at the Mennonite Theological College of East Africa, which is located in Nyabange, Tanzania. Additionally, bishops from KMC and KMT meet each year to discuss issues including the theological college. They also collaborate in the Council of East African Mennonite Churches. Kenyan Mennonite Church is part of the African Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Fellowship.In 2004, KMC took part in the first conference of African Historic Peace Churches, which consists of groups from Congo, Burkina Faso, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Burundi, and Nigeria.KMC still works closely with Eastern Mennonite Missions. In 2006, Kenyan Mennonite leaders, including current KMT secretary general Joshua Okello, were part of an African and Latin American delegation that met with Lancaster Mennonite leaders to share about their churches and strengthen relationships between Mennonite churches.
Key individuals in church life
- Philip Okeyo is currently the general secretary of KMC. He was previously a bishop in Nairobi and has been involved with EMM. He is the coordinator for the East African Council of Mennonite Churches. KMC still works closely with Eastern Mennonite Missions. In 2006, Kenyan Mennonite leaders, including current Kenya Mennonite Church secretary general Joshua Okello, were part of an African and Latin American delegation that met with Lancaster Mennonite leaders to share about their churches and strengthen relationships between Mennonite churches.
- Rebecca Osiro, an ordained minister, is part of the MCC Mennonite Women Theologians in Africa and a leader in the African Anabaptist Mennonite Theologians.
- Clyde Agola is a younger bishop who was part of an EMM Youth Evangelism Team (YES) in Kisumu.
- David ole Shunkur is a leader in Olepolos Mennonite Church, a Maasai congregation.
- Ibrahim Omondi is a pastor of Dove Kenya, in Nairobi.
- Caleb Owuonda is a Nairobi banker and pastor. He led the Mathare Mennonite Church in “risky, cross-tribal acts of kindness” that helped to avert a Rwanda-like genocide in Kenya. <ref>Showalter, Jewel. "Kenya Crisis Revisited: Rwanda-like Crisis Averted?" Eastern Mennonite Missions.online (web site), 4 December 2008http://www.emm.org/index.php?option=com_content/.Accessed 17 April 2011.<ref>
- Bishop Dominic Opondo is a representative of Kenya Mennonite Church to Mennonite World Conference. He oversees more than ten Mennonite churches in the Kisumu East Diocese, in Kenya (Showalter,2008).
- Joseph Kamau leads the Happy Church in Nakuru.
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