Because We Have Songs
Because We Have Songs
COVENANT PARTNERS FOR 40 YEARS
COVENANT PARTNERS FOR 40 YEARS
by Aaron Kenny
“Birds sing not because they have answers,
but because they have songs.”
~ An African Proverb
When most people think of Africa, the picture in their minds is Kenya. The vast sweeping savannah filled with wildlife, serpentine rivers stained red with clay, children playing in coastal villages, thatched farms perched on terraced hills, tightly packed cities, gritty slums and massive refugee camps. It is all here: The colonial past, the independent spirit and the hopeful future.
As Canadian Baptists, our image of Africa has also been formed in no small way by our partner churches in Kenya. Swahili choirs swaying in worship, Guardians of Hope caring for AIDS orphans, teams working in arid lands to improve food security and access to water, trainers equipping pastors and congregations for integral mission, and Canadian and Kenyan missionaries building relationships of love and compassion with refugees. This has been the ministry of CBM and our partners in Kenya since 1970. A major part of that story has been the Africa Brotherhood Church (ABC).
Over the past 40 years, Canadians have travelled into the green hills of Ukambani and experienced the hospitality and fellowship of the ABC of Eastern Kenya. Through the ups and downs of this long-term partnership, we have grown in our understanding and practice of God’s mission in the world. Together, we have benefitted from this journey of interdependence, mutual learning and sharing.
The partnership was born out of a strong friendship formed between Rev. Dr. John F. Keith (CBM General Secretary from 1970-1980) and the late Bishop Nathan Ngala (ABC Bishop, 1951-2007). Their mutual trust and respect opened a door for Christians from Canadian Baptist and Africa Brotherhood churches to work together in education, evangelism, agriculture and in responding to health issues like a lack of clean water and HIV and AIDS.
The first team of Canadian missionaries to work with the ABC arrived in the community of Mitaboni in 1978. Two couples – Randy and Elizabeth Legassie, and Hans and Alison Van Nie – joined the ABC Bible School to provide pastoral training and leadership development for the Church. This focus on education and capacity building represents the greatest single investment of CBM with the ABC throughout the past four decades of partnership. The emphasis on education has been carried throughout the years by champions committed to investing in leadership like Brian and Caryn Stelck and Gordon King.
In the early 2000s, Carla Nelson worked with CBM and ABC to develop a teachers’ training program that has had an immense impact on the denomination and the schools of Kenya. The counselling component of the program has now become a standard for educational training in Kenya. The counselling training for teachers was later used to strengthen pastoral counselling in the church. During the anniversary celebration of our partnership held on May 19, 2018, pastors who had completed this program were asked to stand. Immediately hundreds of pastors rose to their feet applauding the work of Carla and leaders of the teaching program.
It is inspiring to see the ABC continue to build on this success by working to empower young people in faith and professionalism. “This journey we are celebrating,” shared Archbishop Timothy Ndambuki, “is a moment to reflect back and see what our forefathers did in laying a foundation for our generation to build upon… Their long-term goals have been fulfilled today through a spirit of unity and the sustainability of the church.”
The legacy of the CBM/ABC partnership is also found throughout the communities of Ukambani where roads, water weirs, farms, schools and clinics have provided a sustained impact upon the people of Kenya. Throughout the ABC, people are grateful for the commitment of people like Marilyn Smith, Judy Webb and Sam Mutisya, who each played a part in bringing participatory rural development into their communities. Today, the ABC Community Development program continues this work of helping people find sustainable local solutions to overcome poverty and vulnerability.
One of the most successful community development projects of CBM and the ABC has been the Guardians of Hope program (GOH), which has assisted local churches in responding to HIV and AIDS in their congregations and communities. Patty Card was instrumental in launching this program across several countries in Africa in 2004 and managing the GOH until her return to Canada in 2009. In the past decade,
Erica Kenny carried this ministry forward, working to enable groups to be self-sufficient, and building on the GOH program by establishing Kamp Tumaini, a camp program for children impacted by HIV and AIDS.
Over the 40 years of partnership, there have been many CBM staff members who were either embedded with, or worked closely with, the ABC. Some came for a year or more, while others remained for over a decade, and some continued to return to guide and support key initiatives that have stretched over many years.
During the May 19th celebration, CBM Board President Rev. Dr. Malcolm Card and Executive Director Rev. Dr. Terry Smith shared about the value of the partnership, recounting the work and sacrifice offered by so many people in the course of 40 years. The celebration shone a light on the transformation that has happened in the lives of countless people through the shared ministries of our two communities of faith.
As we look back on key people who have walked with the ABC, we want to recognize and honour the following CBM staff:
John and Virginia Keith, Dan and Doris Weibe, Donald and Peggy Bustin, Eric and Merle MacKenzie, Doug and Kathy Loden, Phil and Ruth Brown, Randy and Elizabeth Legassie, Hans and Alison Van Nie, Judy Webb, Marilyn Smith, Muriel Bent, Bob and Grace Berry, Elwood and Myrtle Bannister, Bryan Hagerman, Brian and Caryn Stelck, Gordon and Nancy Patterson, Aubrey and Diane Trail, Patricia Smith, Robert and Ann Swann, David and Cathie Phillips, Gary and Carla Nelson, Anne Drost, Robert and Sarah Patterson, Alden and Tracy Crain, Gordon King, Sam and Pauline Mutisya, Malcolm and Patty Card, Timothy and Diane Bannister, Aaron and Erica Kenny, Sam and Cindie Chaise, Ruth Munyao, Pauline Kariuki and Terry and Heather Smith.
Beyond this group, there have been hundreds of short-term volunteers who have come to assist in the dozens of ministries, projects and training programs that the ABC has been a part of over these many years.
These include pastoral training, the certificate of ministry program, teachers’ training programs, agronomist exchanges, food security projects, the diploma of integral mission, the Carey Theological College Master of Divinity and Doctor of Divinity programs, the Certificate of Integral Mission, Guardians of Hope, Praxis, Kamp Tumaini, Women in Focus and many others.
Under the leadership of Archbishop Ndambuki, the ABC has been intentional in reclaiming its Akamba ethnic heritage and strengthening its identity as an indigenous African Church. Over the past decade, the embracing of Akamba traditional music, oral history and values has brought great pride to the church. The ABC has become a model for other indigenous African denominations as it has demonstrated sustainability, self- governance and its unique identity.
We are so thankful for the journey of the past decades and the knowledge that God will be faithful as we seek the good of others. Please join us in praying for the ongoing ministry of the ABC as it leverages its experience and influence to strengthen other indigenous denominations in East Africa and walks with our network of CBM partners that are struggling in areas of war, conflict and humanitarian crisis.
As we move into the future, CBM and ABC will continue to seek to encourage and invest in other African denominations that are struggling in areas of great need. We still have much to learn about what Integral Mission needs to look like in the rapidly changing societies of Africa, but trusting God in the unknown is what faith is all about. We have a song to sing and a part to play in the great redemptive mission of God bringing hope, healing and salvation to all people.
Aaron and Erica Kenny are CBM’s Africa Team Leaders. They first began their service with CBM working with the large number of refugees in Kenya, especially Muslim women and children who are among the most marginalized groups in Africa.