The New Church in Kenya
M. T. Dibb
New Church Life 113.9 (September 1993): 40912.
It is said that one cannot see Providence except in hindsight, for it is from the perspective of time that one sees the various threads and events of life pulled together to form a coherent whole. This is surely the case with Rev. Patrick Magara, of Kisii, Kenya.
A couple of years ago Mr. Magara, a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, went to Philadelphia and then Pittsburgh to study toward a degree. This was the time he first heard of the New Church. His interest was sparked by conversations heard at the seminary he was attending. Interestingly, the things he heard sparked his interest far more than the teaching of the Reformed Presbyterians. His relationship with that organization was not smooth. (During this time he came into contact with the New Church and was attracted to it. One thing led to another, and when he learned more for himself, Mr. Magara left the U.S.A. to preach the new gospel in Kisii.
I first heard about Kenya from Rev. Robert Jungé and my interest was aroused. Another branch of the church springing up, somewhat independently, in Africa? I was delighted to be asked to travel to Kenya to find out what was going on.
Nairobi is a four-hour flight from Johannesburg, and I went with some trepidation. Were these people for real? Were they just trying to take the General Church for money? Or were they bona fide converts to the New Church? Until we had some answers to these questions we would never know.
Mr. Magara met me at Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi. We spent the first night at a hotel in the city and travelled to Kisii by public bus the next day. During that time I got to know Patrick a bit. Our conversations were hampered somewhat by his English, my deafness, and the noise of the bus. However, we communicated.
He told me his story along the way. When he returned from Philadelphia, he immediately began preaching his understanding of New Church doctrine. For his efforts he was beaten up by the Presbyterians and the Seventh Day Adventists, and ended up in hospital. The damage to his hand has never healed properly. Some good friends of his, who had an empty building in the village of Etora, about sixteen kilometers (10 miles) from Kisii, took in him, his wife Theresa and their five children. Etora is now the headquarters of the New Church in Kenya.
Etora proved to be a one-street village full of charming people. Their homes are understandably primitive, but the people themselves are gracious and happy, their lands beautifully tilled and cultivated.
From Etora, Patrick covers his district; he travels into Kisii and to the other side of the town, where there are three congregations. Closer to home there are several groups and congregations in neighbouring villages. He feels an especially strong call to reach out to the nomadic and warlike Masai people, and bring them the truths of the New Church as well.
Because funds are in very short supply, Patrick often walks up to thirty kilometers a day visiting his scattered flock. But his energy is indefatigable. He has organised a structure into which the New Church fits. There is Echo Polytechnic, a fairly typical Kenyan school, teaching religion, motor mechanics, bricklaying and other crafts. He has been given control over a local primary school, and plans to upgrade it and include New Church teachings as part of the curriculum. (In Kenya, religion is a required part of education.)
During my stay in Kisii I travelled to a variety of Patrick's congregations. On a Thursday we visited local churches; on Friday we bumped to Masai land and visited two congregations there; on Saturday we visited the groups beyond Kisii.
Most of the congregations do not have church buildings per se. The first congregation we visited actually had a sort of semi-thatched, semi-walled structure. In fact, this was the only church building I saw. The rest of the groups met either under trees (as the Zionists do in South Africa) or, as in the case of Masailand, in the middle of a large bush or thicket.
The New Church in Kenya is still in its early days. While Patrick Magara has read parts of the Writings, the general understanding about the doctrine of the church is still primitive; there are still residual falsities from the former church. I believe that these can be overcome in process of time with proper training and development of the doctrinal understanding of the people.
The highlight of my trip was the final Sunday morning. Patrick had mentioned that he wanted to be baptized, as did his secretary, Sampson, and some of the men training with him. At the service, when it came time to baptize the people, almost everyone came forward. When names were counted at the end, there had been eighty-five baptisms. (They would give me only the names of those who had addresses, despite my pleas to the contrary.) With this baptismal ceremony, the New Church was truly inaugurated in Kenya.
The church there still faces problems. The General Church leadership is working on finding ways of sending someone over to Kisii for a longer time to train, preach and teach. We are also looking for ways of training men like Patrick Magara and his students to become priests of the New Church.
The Church in Kenya also has added difficulties not faced in South Africa or most western countries: the state requires churches to run schools and clinics if they wish to be registered. At the same time they cannot raise funds unless they are registereda catch-22 which makes it hard for churches to start up operations.
I believe, however, that the New Church will succeed, that it will grow and develop like wildfire in Kenya and spread to other countries in East Africa. The Writings make frequent mention of the openness of Africans to the teachings of the New Church, and experience shows us that in total there are more black African members of the New Church in South Africa alone than in the rest of the world put together. Add Ghana to those numbers, and now Kenya, and we can see that a large part of the New Church future lies in Africa. It was both a privilege and a very humbling experience to be part of this growth and development.