Monday, January 29, 2018

A Story of Transformation

Rev. Mwasya Muema, William Waqo, Pastor Paul Makembo, 
and Pastor Eliud Mololow in Karura Forest, Kenya.

2018 marks the fortieth anniversary of Canadian Baptist Ministries' outreach in Garissa and the former North Eastern province of Kenya. 

In 1978, our predecessors Ron and Joan Ward moved their family from the leafy highlands of central Kenya to the semi-arid bush country beyond Kenya's Tana River. This great expanse of lowlands is crisscrossed with camel paths stretching all the way to Somalia. The Wards traveled to Garissa to establish a joint pioneer outreach with the African Christian Church and Schools among the Muslim peoples of this territory once called Kenya's Northern frontier.

Over the years, hundreds of Canadian and African volunteers, missionaries, and development workers have been a part of this rich story among the local Muslim people, and Christian communities, embedded in this sun-scorched corner of Kenya.

A lot has changed over four decades, and it was our privilege to sit down with three of our local partners and our colleague William Waqo to hear their perspective on ministry and partnership with CBM in Garissa and the villages of present-day Garissa county.

"I want to thank each of you for joining us today to talk about our shared ministry in Garissa. As Canadian Baptists, 2011 marked a significant change in our approach to integral mission in North Eastern Kenya. It was in September, of that year, that we began to engage with your churches, and in the years that followed thirty churches in Garissa became a part of this partnership. 
These years have not been easy. Is there still hope in Garissa?"
"There is hope in Garissa, there is still hope. The churches are slowly picking up. The effect of the [terrorist] attacks are still felt. The shooting of Ibrahim and the murder of Abid Wedi affected all of us, but God is faithful and the Church continues to prevail.”
"The July 2012 attack that killed seventeen people during a Sunday worship service in my church is not forgotten. In the year that followed our membership had dropped to less than forty people. People stayed away and they struggled with trauma, fear, and tension. ‘I can’t come back to that church, pastor,’ people would tell me. ‘I try, I start to go, but when I see the building I see everything that happened that day, and I am living it all over again.' 

I tell you God has been bringing about healing. Today more than 180 people have come back, God is transforming their hearts, their minds, and their attitudes.

I remember a few years back we could not use instruments in the church because people were fearing the instruments. They needed the church to be quiet and they did not want any loud noise. We needed that time, it was a part of the healing. Now today, we are worshipping like we once did."
"As we look back, we have to give a great word of thanksgiving to CBM. When the attacks against our churches started everyone ran from Garissa, but CBM stayed. More than stayed, you drew near us. 
The retreats that CBM sponsored were such a great encouragement to pastors and church leaders, you gave us spiritual strength, physical rest, and such important training. It was a time of such chaos and Kennys and your team gave us clarity. The training on Integral Mission came when we needed to understand God’s mission in a way we had never understood. You challenged us on our attitudes toward each other, and toward the Somalis, and I can say that our love for God went higher. Today we see with new eyes and we look at Somalis and Muslims with different attitudes."
“Can you tell us about what the relationship with Muslim Leaders has been like since CBM started to work with the Garissa Churches. Say since 2012?”
“Today the relationship is very close.
In 2012, the pastors' fellowship was formed and established with the help of CBM. And more than providing us with prayers and encouragement, CBM helped to give us an identity. The formation of a united Christian presence in Garissa made us visible. It was only after the fellowship was formed that the government approached us and engaged.
As a registered body we were taken seriously and the government and NGOs began to reach out to us to participate in peace meetings and training on coexistence and living together. 
We learned that these Muslim leaders were more persecuted than we were from the terrorist groups. We would have meetings together and they would be threatened because the extremists didn’t want Shaykhs sitting with women or talking with Christians. We could listen more to their fears and we could speak out together. 

CBM seemed to know what we needed even before we did. I remember the gatherings that the Canadian Baptist team led in 2014 at the Catholic Church on Muslim and Christian dialogue. This was a new idea and something many of our churches and pastors were afraid of. CBM opened a door for us to see how we could be doing this as Jesus followers. This was so valuable. 
And before that, in 2012, CBM brought us training on talking to the media and promoting peace in times of conflict and from that training we held our first press conference. 
And the training we were given on counseling and trauma healing was something else we needed. You gave us what we needed as we needed it.

I can say that the activities with CBM was the greatest step forward for the churches of Garissa... we are using the things that we were given and we see the fruit from it."
* * *
"It has been a true honour and privilege for CBM to walk with you and all of your churches. The way that you, and your congregations, are practicing hospitality and demonstrating the inclusive love of Jesus is truly inspiring. 
As you reflect these past few years, on the trainings and the ministries that your churches have started, what are some of the key lessons learned?"
"Mission work is holistic. Over this time, I have learned that our spiritual welfare is connected to the physical, political, social and economic. God’s mission is holistic therefore the Church is not only for the good of believers but for the good of the entire community. The Church in Garissa sees that we have a part to play in human development irrespective of tribe or religion.

This lesson has impacted our churches and has allowed us to grow wide in influencing the community. And we have seen intergal mission touch peoples lives.
For example, this Christmas the county commissioner saw what our churches were doing with the community and so he, himself, contributed. On Christmas day, he joined us in feeding the community. We cooked rice and meat and met with hundreds of Muslim families in Bula Iftin where CBM had introduced us to a school. We ate with the people and distributed flour and sugar to families.

And other churches did the same in the villges of Bula Pamoja and Kora Kora. Christians went to share their Christmas and love with their neighbours."
"I can not forget how CBM introduced us to Farming God’s Way. The program of conservation farming brought a lot of good. It created a way to bring locals and Christians together. It brought healing and hope. 
It made a way to bring people together. The farming helped us to talk to see each other, to do things together, and that reduced fear."
"Personally I was helped by the Bridge program as it affected my attitude toward Muslims. My view of them as enemies changed, and I began to think beyond the pulpit to engaging in holistic ministry in the village of Madogo. Today our primary school ministry has shifted its focus to share the love of God with our Muslim neighbours. 90% of the parents are now Muslim. This is a vital ministry."
Muslims and Christians working together 
in the conservation agriculture ministry
"Together they are transforming the desert 
into a garden," Geofrey Mwita.

* * *
"As our friends in Canada and around the world pray for the ministry of local churches in Garissa, it would be great to hear about your hope for the future. How can we be praying for the Church in Garissa?"
"In 2011, Aaron and Erica did an important thing by bringing CBM to lift up our churches. People have been with us, now can we rise to the challenge to stand on our own and be sustainable and be able to continue. This is our great prayer.

Garissa is a vulnerable place and relief is continually needed, the challenge is to be independent and do things ourselves. 

Our church has started an adult education class, thanks in part to the help of CBM. We were one of the churches that received a grant to purchase chairs, desks, and blackboards. We started the class because so many in our area never finished school. The classes continue and we have more Muslims than Christians coming to our church to learn.  

Catherine a school teacher at the Garissa Academy volunteers as one of our teachers, every afternoon she finishes at her school and then comes to the church to teach the adult students. 

She is an example for us all, the challenge we have is to put into practice what we have learned."

"Over all, I believe that the objective of CBM was to help us to show the love of God in word and deed in our community. It is our responsibility now to continue to reach the community of Garissa. We are so grateful to CBM, for the Kennys, Andai, Mwita, and Waqo for the Farming God's Way agroforestry courses, the Bridge training, and for your support. These were powerful ways that have brought the whole community together. You have helped us to come out of our churches and to join the farmers and villages around us. My church in Mororo has a farm that we started with CBM and it was with such pride that we were able to open it to everyone to come and see how conversation agriculture works.
"These methods increased the yields of our farms, but more than just that, they helped us to reach to the community by working together in the area that they were working.

Taking this approach, we are continuing where CBM has left us. This is where we must take off. CBM has invested in building up our capacity through training and working with us. The great challenge for us is to encourage our members to give toward missions and activities with our Muslim neighbours, even in small ways."
William Waqo teaching conservation agriculture to 
Christian and Muslim farmers in Garissa
Our CBM colleague, Andai Jackson, facilitating a training for farmers


"Along with the farming program, it has meant so much to have Christians working with the Muslim leaders in the villages to build schools, water canals, and safe latrines. I think that this is the legacy of  CBM's four decades in Garissa -- bringing Muslims and Christians together. 
 We did not come to this community with all the answers. It was a process of walking together and seeking God's leading. Change comes when we see that there is a different way, and we have the courage to follow it."
The new school in Bukuyu build by the local community 
with the help of churches in Canada and Garissa.
Students attending classes for the first time
 at the new Bukuyu school
"The impact of the Canadian Baptist program in Garissa has had a profound difference in the lives of our people. 
You have opened a door for Christians to enter into the lives of Muslim people, unlike we have seen before.
We pray for God to open another window of opportunity for our churches. We also pray for water and sustainable ways to make life in Garissa for everyone."

1 comment:

  1. thank you very much for this informative article
    it is encouraging to see how Christian and Muslims can be working side by side and both living and helping each other inspite of the threat of terrorists