Malcolm & Barbara Leighton’s reflections on their latest visits to Kenya
It is amazing to think that our Church’s partnership with Zion Harvest Mission (ZHM) began in the early 1990’s, following a brief meeting in Nairobi between our previous Rector Rev Chris Hughes and the then Bishop of ZHM, the late James Aweyo.
This led to James spending a year in Ashtead, training at All Nations Bible College, and ZHM becoming one of our Mission Partners. Since then, our Church has had the privilege of sending money to help the work of the Mission, as it reaches out into the communities, which it serves. Most ZHM Churches are located in Western Kenya, a generally impoverished and underdeveloped region, although they also have churches in and around Nairobi, the Mount Kenya region and in Mombasa – all located in poorer districts.
The visit to Ashtead in 2002 by James & Eunice Aweyo deepened their relationship with the Ashtead Church generally and with both of us personally. Malcolm first began visiting Kenya in 2004 and Barbara joined him for her first visit in 2005, which had a big impact on her personally, especially as she returned home just in time to see people rushing around madly to finish their Christmas shopping – quite a contrast!
We visited together twice in 2006, including sadly attending the funeral of our dear friend James Aweyo. We then decided to visit twice this year for various reasons: firstly, in response to the terrible post-election violence at the start of this year; secondly, to develop a closer relationship with the new ZHM Leadership Team, since Barbara had earlier become our Church Representative for ZHM, succeeding Jane Hiley, who had been involved since James first came to Ashtead; thirdly, to attend various ZHM Conferences, meeting many church members and seeing the work of the church at a local level.
There is now a new Bishop, Nashon Odida, who had been elected in 2007, and it was important to get to know him, to learn about his vision for the ZHM church and how best to support him. This year we travelled with Pastor Tehro Jaatinen from Finland, representing Siion Church in Helsinki, whose missionaries had helped to establish ZHM in Kenya more than 30 years ago and whose relationship with ZHM remains very strong.
We had originally planned to travel first in March this year, but, due to the post-election violence, we did not travel until May, when peace, albeit still fragile, had been restored between the various tribal communities. During the previous months of violence in Kenya, we were able to keep in close contact with our friends in ZHM. Importantly, we were able to send out emergency money from Ashtead Church to Pastors to help those, who had been caught up in the conflicts, often forced to flee back to the relative safety of their tribal homeland, leaving behind most of their possessions and losing their means of earning a living and supporting their families.
As we spoke to people, both before and during our visits, it became clear that the Kenyan people themselves were truly shocked by the extent and nature of the terrible violence, which erupted immediately after the announcement of dubious election results last December. We heard individual stories of horrific killing and maiming, resulting in families being traumatised and losing the ability to support themselves, as the infrastructure within communities fell apart and the price of food, transport and other essentials increased by 30%. With many houses destroyed and people living in fear, thousands became ‘internally displaced persons’ (IDPs), relying on relief aid and temporary shelter in camps, where some remain even today.
An emergency appeal to Ashtead Church members in February produced an incredibly generous response, enabling further funds to be released to help ZHM respond to local emergency needs and to restore income-generating projects, which will help ZHM Pastors to care for their own families and their wider local communities.
As we travelled in May, we were able to see and hear for ourselves the position that Kenya was now in and how it affected the lives of the people. We spent time with the Bishop and other representatives of the Mission to see how we could help develop the work of ZHM, including looking at ways to help them to rebuild the lives of those most in need. For most members of ZHM, they are very poor, and the Pastors, who themselves struggle to make ends meet, are reaching out to these people in their commitment to doing the Lord’s work.
We returned again to Kenya in August in order to attend the ZHM conferences being held in three different areas. Following a brief stay in Nairobi, visiting ZHM churches in nearby Thika, we flew to Kisumu, immediately travelling on to Migori, a town situated close to the Tanzania border. From there we travelled daily to Sango, the home church of Bishop Nashon, for a 2 day conference. Sango is a very remote rural village, but we were able to meet members of various churches, many of whom had travelled a long way to come and greet their visitors from Finland and UK. The drive back to our hotel after the first day at the conference was in torrential rain along muddy roads that seemed to disappear under water, mastered only by our excellent driver Anthony.
After Migori, we travelled up to Bumala, just outside Busia on the border with Uganda. Here again, we spent two days with the people, many of whom travelled miles by foot each day to come and greet their visitors. In all places we shared times of worship (they can clap very loudly and for a long time!) whilst singing praises to our Lord, and times of passionate prayer (also very loud!). Here again, after the first meeting, the people had to return home in torrential rain, many of course walking back along now muddy tracks, only to return faithfully the next day.
The main Conference was held at the ZHM church in Tido, on the outskirts of Kisumu, which is also the headquarters of the Mission. This church had been built with funding from Ashtead and can hold many people, so we were delighted to see the building full. As at the other churches we had visited, we were entertained by choirs from different areas. Choirs are seen as a very effective way of reaching out to the youth in the church, as evidenced by the numbers involved during all the meetings. The Sunday service lasted 4 hours, but the people were hungry to praise the Lord and to hear God’s Word.
There is so much to write about Kenya, but, as we reflect on all that we have learned during these visits, we remember the very, very harrowing accounts of the violence that occurred during the post-election troubles. However, we can equally reflect on how the resilience of the people to pick themselves up and carry on shines through. Their smiles and warm welcome, received wherever we went, show a people, who, even though they live a hard life, rejoice in living in the Faith of God, the Love of the Lord Jesus and Inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
As Church Representative, Barbara is continuing to work with the ZHM Leadership to release further funds in ways, which will be most effective in supporting God’s work through ZHM. More information about this important partnership will be on display at next month’s Worldwide Charities Fair.