Prior to my trip to Kenya, I was told, “Africa will always be a part of you.” Only now do I realize how true this is.
I was part of a team of three sent to minister in the rural diocese of Bungoma. Our team conducted four seminars over a period of two weeks, teaching skills of sermon preparation to a total of 200 evangelists, virtually none of whom have had any theological training. I learned more than I taught and I received more than I gave.
Most of all, I was struck by two things: the growth of the Kenyan church and the sense of community among Christians. I also came to the conviction that there is a direct relationship between these two.
Kenyan Christians take community very seriously. Indeed, their concept of community reminded me of the picture of the church in the New Testament. Kenyans have fellowship with one another regularly. For example, when a guest arrives at the home of a Kenyan Christian, the guest prays a blessing on the home, food is served, and they eat together. They then share what God is doing in their lives.
Pastors and lay leaders see community building as a major component in evangelism. Pastors place a high priority on visiting people. One pastor shared with me his personal philosophy of ministry. He pointed out that Christianity is grounded in relationship. In his context, it was through visiting that lasting relationships were formed and that people established relationships with the church and with the Lord.
This priest had been challenged to plant a church. So, starting with not a single member, he began to visit people and established relationships with them. He committed himself to meeting with them regularly, and the people began to come to his church. He now has a church of 150 members–in the space of three months. He has already established a core group of members to visit others and to further grow the church.
This sounds quite simple. Yet, what this pastor has done and continues to do is to model in his relationships the type of fellowship that God seeks to have with His people. Thus, through these encounters the church grows. As I look forward to beginning parish ministry, this priest’s example will stay with me, specially in terms of establishing relationships and building the community. Indeed, the whole Africa experience will always be part of me.