Kenya Mennonite Church
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.
In October 2006 Mennonite bishops from the Kenya Mennonite Church and the Tanzania Mennonite Church formed the East African Mennonite Mission Board to work together in spreading the gospel.
"East Africans Unite for Mission Work." Mennonite Weekly Review (20 November 2006): 1.
Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions & Charities staff. Gospel Herald (7 May 1968): 403-404.
Ferster, Clinton M. Gospel Herald (16 March 1948): 238.
Hertzler, Daniel. Gospel Herald (16 March 1976): 216.
Hess, Mahlon M. The Pilgrimage of Faith of Tanzania Mennonite Church, 1934-83. Salunga, PA: Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions & Charities, 1985: 81, 122, 170.
Kraybill, Paul N., ed. Mennonite World Handbook. Lombard, IL: Mennonite World Conference, 1978: 85-90.
Mennonite World Conference. "MWC - 2003 Africa Mennonite & Brethren in Christ Churches." Accessed 12 March 2006. <http://www.mwc-cmm.org/Directory/africa.html>.
Mennonite World Handbook Supplement. Strasbourg, France, and Lombard, IL: Mennonite World Conference, 1984: 13.
Stauffer, Elam W. Gospel Herald (17 January 1950): 65.
Wenger, Grace. "Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities, 1894-1980." Unpublished manuscript available at Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society.
|Author(s)||Mahlon M Hess|
Cite This Article
Hess, Mahlon M. "Kenya Mennonite Church." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 19 Jun 2021. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Kenya_Mennonite_Church&oldid=57528.
Hess, Mahlon M. (1987). Kenya Mennonite Church. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 19 June 2021, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Kenya_Mennonite_Church&oldid=57528.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, pp. 488-489. All rights reserved.
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