Kenya Mennonite Church

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Mennonites in Kenya.
Source: Mennonite Encyclopedia, v. 5, p. 487

The arrival of the Mennonite Church in Kenya is a witness to the work of the Holy Spirit in spreading the good news. The Kenya Mennonite Church (KMC) is a result of a revival in the Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania (North Mara Diocese) (Tanzania Mennonite Church) in 1942, the year in which the first Mennonite preachers arrived in Kenya from Tanzania. The Mennonite congregation in Shirati in Tanzania experienced the pouring out of the Holy Spirit as part of the East Africa Revival Fellowship that had begun in Rwanda several years earlier. It led to an African-to-African church growth movement.

In most instances, churches of other denominations began in towns. This was not the case with the Mennonite Church in Kenya; it started in the rural areas of western Kenya. Later, it began to move to small towns like Migori. The point of entry, western Kenya, therefore, contributed to the Mennonite Church in Kenya being established, predominantly, among the Suba and then extending into Luo regions of western Kenya. Given the tribal and cultural differences, it was not easy for people of other tribes and communities to join the church.

The church in Kenya was, from the start, under the leadership of the Tanzania Mennonite Church (TMC). The fact that the first missionary. Hellon Amolo, came from Tanzania, later had an adverse effect on the leadership, growth, and stability of the church in Kenya. It was especially difficult for the church in Kenya when the border between the two countries was closed from time to time after independence due to the regional conflicts in the East African Community. It became difficult for the church in Tanzania to provide adequate leadership for the church in Kenya. However, Bishop Kisare of Tanzania did his best to ensure that the church in Kenya remained on track. During his leadership the church enjoyed healthy growth and expansion.

To encourage the church, Bishop Kisare sent Clyde and Alta Shenk to Kenya. They had served in Tanzania for over 30 years and had a calling to serve among Africans. They were mandated to plant new churches and also to lead the churches as they equipped pastors and evangelists. Shenk was able to encourage the planting of more than 10 congregations in less than a decade.

The church in Kenya enjoyed healthy peace for the first 16 years. However, the foundation for transferring power from Tanzania to the church in Kenya was not adequately laid. This led to heated debates, leaving the church in Kenya divided. After a series of consultative meetings, two bishops were ordained in August 1988, at the same time, instead of ordaining one bishop for the entire church in Kenya. This complicated the situation because the duo had to meet and identify the chairman. That became a struggle. A lot of misunderstanding arose which sent the church into a dark period lasting over a decade. Although the congregations at the local level were quite fruitful, the persons in leadership were in distress. Support from Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM) and Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) stopped. Several reconciliation meetings were held in Kisumu, Kisii and other places to help mitigate the effects of this misunderstanding.

Finally, after some years, the bishops and pastors agreed to have rotational leadership of three-year terms. At the same time, they coined the term "Moderator" for the chairman. Bishop Adongo became the first Moderator, followed by Bishop Joshua Okello and Bishop Moses Otieno. Bishop Domnic Opondo became Moderator on l December 2011. God used this strategy to restore calm in KMC. Since 2000, the church has experienced wholesome growth and was more peaceful. God used their weakness to show His strength in their service to Him and to His children.

As a young and developing church, the KMC has treasured relations with the world-wide Mennonite Church. It was an honor and a joy when KMC sent Musa Adongo as a representative to the 1978 Mennonite World Conference at Wichita, Kansas, USA. Several years later, one of their own, Joshua Okello, was elected to the Mennonite World Conference Executive Council. The KMC was grateful that on 1st October, 2011, Nelson Okanya from the Migori area became the new President of Eastern Mennonite Missions with headquarters in Pennsylvania. These global connections have been very important to KMC. Such relations were a sign that the KMC was a participant in the world-wide Mennonite Church.

For many years, the church operated without a secretariat office. There was a breakthrough in the early part of 2010 when the foundation stone for the office of the National Executive Council (NEC) staff, was laid at Obwolo near Kisumu. The NEC office has organized seminars, including a baseline survey. The survey showed that each diocese was doing their best to reach many people with the Word; the Lord, who started the good work in Kenya will bring it to completion. A church which began in a village in a single ethnic community has now crossed over to other tribes, such as the Kikuyu, Luhya, Mijikenda, Nandi, Maasai, Somali, and others, even in Uganda. God has remained faithful to all of them.

The restoration of broken relationships meant EMM and MCC resumed their support. The Kenyan church was now actively involved in missions; new churches have been planted even beyond the borders, like mission work in Uganda. In Kenya, new churches have been planted at Chwele among the Luhya, Malindi at the Kenyan coast, Nandi Hills in the Rift Valley, and Olepolos in Maasailand. Both youth and women's ministries operating strongly nationally in 2015.

This article was adapted from Francis S. Ojwang', ed. Forward in faith : history of the Kenya Mennonite Church : a seventy-year journey, 1942-2012. Nairobi, Kenya: Kenya Mennonite Church, 2015: 3, 10-11.


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Original Mennonite Encyclopedia Article

By Mahlon M. Hess. Copied by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 488-489. All rights reserved.

Kenya Mennonite Church is an outgrowth of the Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania (Tanzania Mennonite Church, TMC), formerly the Tanganyika Mennonite Church. Youth from Suna attended school at Shirati in Tanganyika (Tanzania) from the mid-1930s onward. Scarcely aware of the political boundary, families traditionally moved back and forth within the tribal area. Before long some Shirati members were living in Kenya.

Following the revival at Shirati in 1942, Nikanor Dhaje and Wilson Ogwada, a Kenyan schoolboy, spent 22 days witnessing in the Suna area. In subsequent years, Zephenia Migire, Dishon Ngoya, Zedekia Kisare and others made regular visits to Kenya to witness. Groups of believers emerged at Bande, Nyangwayo and other places.

In 1945 Suna residents, 60 in number, requested a Mennonite station, but the government refused permission. Steady follow-up continued, led by Jonathan Mabeche and Clyde Shenk. Not until 1965 were the Mennonites recognized as a church body.

In 1965 many Luo people from Kisaka, Tanzania, returned to Kenya to take up some of the rich farmland available for resettlement. Groups led by Naaman Agola and Elifaz Odundo went to Songhar and Kigoto. To lead the emerging churches, Tanzania Mennonite Church sent Hellon and Joyce Amolo to Suna in 1966, and in 1968 Clyde Shenk and Alta Barge Shenk were transferred to Migori. The Shenks found 125 members to shepherd. Alta Shenk died in 1969. By the time Clyde and Miriam Shenk retired in 1976 there were 900 members in 40 worship centers.

The local congregation is the basic unit of the Kenyan Mennonite church life. When there is a nucleus of committed members at a worship center, congregational life begins. District clusters of congregations come together in annual spiritual life conferences featuring guest speakers. Each worship center (congregation) is led by an evangelist or catechist. These leaders, a few of them women, are appointed by the church planter or church council. Elders chosen by the congregation assist the leader. Leaders and elders in an area constitute a district church council. Leaders come together for occasional refresher courses. In response to persistent calls for a Bible school, Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities (EMBMC) provided Bible and leadership classes in each district. An ordained pastor oversaw the district and officiates at baptisms and communions. Women's activities depended on local initiative.\

In preparation for the Shenks' retirement in 1976, Bishop Kisare ordained the first national pastors, Musa Adongo and Nashon Arwa. In 1977 he also organized a central committee as the interim administrative body of the church. This enabled EMBMC to begin relating directly to Kenya leaders. With 50 congregations and 2,400 members, additional pastors were ordained in 1983: Naaman Agola, Elifaz Odundo, Hellon Amolo, and Joshua Okello (leader of the Nairobi congregation established in 1966).

In preparation for organizing a church conference and calling a Kenyan bishop, a committee was chosen to draft a constitution. The handling of this document precipitated misunderstandings and division. In February 1988 the leaders were reconciled. Two dioceses are being formed, with steps toward ordination of bishops and a new emphasis on leadership training. There were 3,000 members in 70 congregations in 1987.

To reach large numbers of Somali Muslims in Nairobi, a community center was established at Eastleigh in 1977. It provided a study center, classes and other ministries, including a correspondence course for people of Islamic background. The center also spearheaded ministry to Muslims in other towns, part of the interchurch "Islam in Africa" project.

As latecomers to Kenya, Mennonites did not establish primary and secondary schools. Instead they provided teachers for secondary schools and teacher training colleges. David Shenk, a lecturer at Kenyatta University, trained teachers in the use of the religious instruction syllabus for Kenya. He helped write some of the textbooks.

Missionaries and their national colleagues ministered to physical and social needs. In southwestern Kenya they taught carpentry and building skills in the Migori Village Polytechnic. A nurse helped establish a community medical center on Rusinga Island; another served in Ombo Hospital, Migori. A demonstration farm was established at Ogwedhi Sigawa. Deliberately located on the tribal boundary, it helped build relationships and trust between the Masai, the Kurya and the Luo peoples.

In northeastern Kenya missionaries responding to a government request following a famine, helped settle nomadic Somalis, establishing an agricultural community near Garissa. Nurses served in government hospitals at Garissa and Rhamu. Missionaries taught in the secondary schools at Mandera and Garba Tula. Another produced three primers for a literacy program. Mennonite Central Committee Teachers Abroad Program (TAP) served across the nation.

Missionary Harold Miller served the national Christian council as a development officer, first in bleak Turkana and then nationwide. Serving for all the churches, he will be remembered for helping people to recall traditional ways of surviving natural disasters. For example, traditional farmers planted three or four varieties of rice seed in each plot. If rains were plentiful, one kind flourished; if they were short, another kind took over.

Across Kenya the churches continue to grow; in 1987 the Christian population exceeded 80 percent. With rapid population growth; the nation faces serious social and economic problems. Many Kenyans and others, are praying for healing of relationships in the Kenya Mennonite Church so that it can share more fully in the harvest and grow in contributing to nation-building

See also Kanisa la Mennonite Tanzania (North Mara Diocese).


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Author(s) Francis S Ojwang'
Date Published 2015

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Ojwang', Francis S. "Kenya Mennonite Church." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 2015. Web. 1 Dec 2022.

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Ojwang', Francis S. (2015). Kenya Mennonite Church. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 1 December 2022, from

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