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Fellowship and Frustration
Extracts from letters from Rev. Dr. Peter Ensor, a mission partner at Kenya Methodist University, Meru.
KENYA METHODIST UNIVERSITY, P.O. BOX 267-60200, MERU, KENYA
Many thanks for whatever prayers you have been able to offer up for Kenya and my work here since I last wrote. This letter will bring you up to date with my news and will hopefully inform and stimulate your continuing prayers.
First, we can thank the Lord that the political violence which marked the general election period towards the end of last year is now well and truly over and the country has moved into a much calmer and more settled state, as we prayed. Nevertheless, there have been moments of tension along the way, including the moment when the leader of the opposition coalition, Raila Odinga, had himself formally inducted as ‘the People’s President’ before 4000 of his followers in the central park in Nairobi. The government wisely took this event as a piece of political theatre rather than as an act of treason, and not long after Raila Odinga was pictured in the newspapers shaking hands with President Kenyatta in the grounds of State House. This act of reconciliation not only signified an end to Odinga’s opposition towards the government, but also triggered the disintegration of the coalition itself because he took this momentous step without consulting, or even informing, his coalition partners beforehand.
Regarding Kenya Methodist University, little has changed since I last wrote. We are still being led by the acting Vice Chancellor I mentioned last time, Prof. Maurice Okoth, and he continues to need our prayers as he seeks to lead the university out of the financial difficulties which he inherited. One encouraging fact is that the government is still sending us state-sponsored students in large numbers, thereby boosting KEMU’s income, but a policy of austerity over spending is nevertheless still in place.
One example of the effects of this policy relates to the Wesley College books which I have mentioned in previous letters. Last year KEMU employed 4 temporary library workers to process the 38,000 theological books generously donated by the British Methodist Church, but their employment was terminated at the end of April, mainly, I was told, because of a shortage of funds to pay for them. We need to pray, therefore, that money may be found to bring this task to completion. On a happier note, I am pleased to be able to report that a room in our departmental building has been set aside as an extension of the main library, and that the room has now been furnished with shelves paid for from the legacy of the former mission partner I mentioned in my last letter.
Spiritually, the university community remains in good heart. Though worship is entirely optional for our students, the large galleried Chapel on the campus, which seats about 600 people, is virtually full for Sunday morning worship during term time. Moreover, the student Christian Fellowship is flourishing and highly respected, and the teaching programmes are running smoothly. For all these blessings we praise the Lord.
Outside the university, I still get invitations to preach from time to time. I also frequently hear stories of church growth around the region. One of my former students, for example, who is now a minister in a circuit about 10 miles south of KEMU, told me of a recent service in his circuit in which about 50 adults were admitted into membership, and in the Kinoru circuit on the outskirts of Meru Town, to which I am attached when not preaching elsewhere, the new church planted at Gatobora last year, which in my last prayer letter I said already had about 40 adults and 20 children, is now said to have about 70 adults and 48 children! More widely, the Methodist Church in Kenya, which historically was concentrated almost entirely on the coast of Kenya, in the Meru region and in the city of Nairobi, now has congregations in almost every county. However, encouraging though these statistics are, we still need to pray that all those who are entering into church membership, whether in the Methodist Church or in other churches in Kenya, may be effectively nurtured in their faith and consistently live it out in their daily lives.
Finally, I would be grateful for your prayers as I prepare for retirement. Next year I will be completing 6 years of service with the MCK at KEMU and will also reach the age of 68. After much thought and prayer, I feel that that this will be the right time for me finally to return to the UK and become a ‘supernumerary’ minister. There will be many decisions to make in this process, as you can imagine, and I will need God’s guidance in making them.
With many thanks and best wishes,
Yours in Christ,
This comes with best wishes for a Happy Christmas and a Peaceful New Year, and with thanks for your prayer support over the past few months.
When I wrote my last prayer letter in June this year, I was preparing to go to Uganda for a Leadership Training Week for potential young leaders of the Methodist Church in Uganda. I am pleased to be able to report that the week went well: all the facilitators and participants had safe travelling, and everyone felt that the teaching given had been appropriate and helpful. Several testified that they would never be the same again, and many expressed a wish to engage in some form of Christian ministry in the future. We are now hoping that funds may be found to enable the delivery of the two-year Cliff College Diploma Course in Mission and Ministry to follow up what began during that week.
Meanwhile, my normal work at KEMU has continued as usual. Since Easter, I have been teaching courses in the biblical languages, books of the New Testament, and Early Church History. I have also been working on the new M.Th. degree programme (which I have been asked to lead). The programme proposal has now been passed by the Department and the Faculty, and will hopefully be passed by the Senate before long and inaugurated sometime next year. The lack of adequate library resources is still a concern, not least because the university does not make library acquisitions a spending priority, but we will do the best we can with the resources we have.
One unexpected event in the Department of Theology this trimester was the death of one of our lecturers, who was killed by an elephant while he was walking in a nearby forest. This was followed soon after by the resignation of another lecturer to take up an appointment in another university. However, the Department was able to continue its teaching schedule, partly through other lecturers cancelling their leave, and partly through the use of adjunct lecturers. Nevertheless we still lack specialists in the Old Testament and Church History among the full-time staff, which is a cause for concern.
Preaching opportunities outside the university have continued to multiply over the past few months. Sunday by Sunday I have been setting off early in the morning, with a student translator, for a church somewhere in the Meru region, to share in its worship and deliver a sermon. The size of the congregations has varied from the big town church I mentioned last time, which has a congregation of about 500 adults at its English service (and is now building a new sanctuary to seat 2500!), to the tiny rural church in a sparsely populated area I visited recently, which had about 15 members. But all of them alike have been very welcoming and hospitable, have shown evidence of a great spiritual hunger, and even after 3 hours of worship have been in no hurry to go home.
My impression is that the Methodist Church in Kenya as a whole is undergoing a spiritual renewal at this time. I have detected a new vitality in the quality of its worship when compared with the worship I experienced when I was in Kenya before (from 1985 to 1999), and there are stories of church growth in many places. One recent sign of this renewal was an all-night prayer meeting held in the KEMU Chapel at the end of November. The meeting was led by the Presiding Bishop of the MCK himself under the theme ‘Prayer as Warfare’, and was attended by about 600 people. Such meetings are not uncommon at local levels, but to have such a meeting led by the national leader of the MCK marks a significant new development in the life of the church.
Finally, let me report that the security threat I mentioned last time is continuing. Recently, 28 people were shot dead by Al-Shabab Islamists on a bus travelling in the NE corner of Kenya near the border with Somalia, and a few days later 36 quarrymen were shot dead by the same group in the same area. There have also been other terrorist attacks in other parts of the country. The Meru region itself still remains unaffected, but we need to continue to pray for peace to be restored in both Somalia and Kenya, so that the terrorist threat may recede.
Wishing you every blessing in Christ,
A number of you have been enquiring after my well-being in recent weeks, which has prompted me to return to the habit I had when I was last working in Africa of sending out two newsletters each year, one at Christmas time and the other around the middle of the year. This newsletter comes, as always, with thanks for whatever prayers you have been able to offer on my behalf. Certainly I have much for which to thank the Lord.
Firstly, I am thankful for good health and a secure place to live. Many of you will have heard of the recent terrorist attacks in Kenya, which have been carried out, it is believed, by the Al-Shabab Islamist group in neighbouring Somalia which is seeking retaliation for Kenya’s role in the international effort to defend the current government of Somalia from such groups as their own. All these attacks have taken place in Nairobi, Mombasa, or the areas close to the Somali border, and thankfully the Meru District has been unaffected, but we need to pray for the cessation of this threat and for the restoration of peace in Somalia itself.
Secondly, I am thankful for the tasks I have been given to do here at KEMU. Since Christmas I have taught courses in Hebrew, Greek and Systematic Theology and have also written up learning materials for five New Testament courses for the benefit of our Distance Learners. In our Department, I have also participated in the development of new curricula for the B.Th. programme and the M.A. and Ph.D. programmes in Religious Studies. With respect to these programmes, and others which are contemplated, I think we need to pray that resources may be found to enable our library to acquire the reading materials recommended in the new curricula. Apart from the lack of an adequate library, I have encountered many other shortcomings in KEMU’s operations during the 9 months I have been here, and so I would appreciate your prayers for wisdom in knowing which ones to point out, to whom, how and when. Having said this, I am still inclined to believe that, all things considered, KEMU probably deserves its reputation of being one of the best universities in Kenya today.
Thirdly, I am thankful for the vibrant church life I have continued to experience since the beginning of the year. Preaching opportunities have been increasing recently, and it has been a particular joy to share in services in several rural areas, where small temporary church buildings, made of wooden frames and corrugated iron, and with mud floors, are packed with worshippers for services lasting three or more hours, in which different singing groups participate, 40 minute sermons are listened to with rapt attention, and there is no hurry to go home at the end. At my own local church, Kaaga Methodist Church, where I go when I am not preaching, I have begun to lead some after-service meetings in the church hall which are called ‘Going Deeper’. In these sessions I am seeking to give some deeper Bible teaching than is normally given in the sermons. I would be grateful for your prayers that these meetings may flourish and may meet the needs of those who come.
There are many other blessings outside my work of teaching and preaching for which I am thankful, not least: (i) the publication, in April, of an article I wrote while I was at Cliff College on ‘Tertullian and Penal Substitutionary Atonement’ in the Evangelical Quarterly, and, around the same time, the acceptance for publication of an article on ‘The Meaning of “We ... died to sin” in Rom. 6.2’ in the Expository Times; (ii) the acquisition of a piano, bought from a missionary couple in Nairobi who are returning to USA, which enables me practise at home; and (iii) the opportunity to continue exploring the beautiful countryside of the Meru region, including the two game parks which are close by, in which I have spent a few days ‘on safari’ viewing a wide range of wildlife.
Finally, I would ask you prayers for a training week for leaders in Uganda in which I have been asked to give some talks at the end of July and beginning of August. It is being organised by one of my former Ugandan students who is currently working in Scotland and has felt a burden for the development of a new generation of leaders in the Methodist Church in Uganda. I would be grateful if you would pray for the safe travelling of all the facilitators and participants, and for a spiritually fruitful week which will have a lasting impact on the Methodist Church in Uganda as a whole.
With many thanks,
Yours in Christ,
Dated 26 Oct. 2013
Last Sunday I had the experience of watching our students in action as they held an open air evangelistic meeting in a village up in the hills about 10 miles from the university. It was the closing meeting of a weekend mission to the circuit. The meeting lasted about 2 hours and attracted quite a good crowd. I thought they did very well in their leading of worship and preaching, and they got a good response at the end. It reminded me in some respects of stories from John Wesley's journals and of the kind of missions Cliff College students used to conduct years ago. There was no traffic to disturb us and it seemed as if almost all the local inhabitants were standing outside their homes and shops in the large market square where the meeting took place to watch what was going on.
Last Sunday I preached in a local independent church called the 'Christian Foundation Fellowship'. This had been organised through the same student who arranged for my first two preaching appointments. There were only about 25 people present, and there was a power cut at the time, so all the singing had to be unaccompanied, but otherwise it was a good experience.
Dated 24 Nov. 2013
'Today I preached at Kinoru Methodist Church, which is located on the outskirts of Meru Town. At the English service at 9am there were probably about 500 people present, some of whom were standing in the porch area because all the seats were taken inside the church. During the service, lasting over 2 hours, I baptised 13 babies and children and preached on the first commandment: "You shall have no other gods before me". This was followed immediately by the Kimeru service, lasting another 2 hours and was attended by about 100 people. My sermon had to be translated, sentence by sentence, into the Kimeru language by the Principal of the local Secondary School, who was the worship leader. The leaders finally sat down to lunch in the church lounge at about 1.30pm. I learnt that the church has a separate Sunday School of about 300 children! I also noticed two armed guards having lunch with us. Asking who they were when they had left, I learnt that the church hired them to protect the congregation every Sunday morning in case of a terrorist attack. I think this must be the first occasion I have ever preached under an armed guard!'
“Where is my freight?” “Go down to Mombasa and find out.”
Dated 8 Dec. 2013
After a 12 hour drive to Mombasa, I visited the agent's office and went with two young employees to the Container Depot. Here we met a customs official who spoke very angrily and harshly to us, who referred my case to a higher authority, the Assistant Commissioner at the Port itself. He turned out to be a much kindlier man. He questioned me about my previous spell of work in Kenya, and when he revealed that he was an Anglican I only had to mention that fact that his archbishop and many other Anglican bishops in Kenya had been my students and that I had been the Principal of St. Paul's United Theological College for him to decide in my favour: he exempted me from all customs duties and cleared my freight at a stroke. The next day I had phone calls from the Conference Office and from KEMU to say that my work permit had also been granted, though whether that decision had any connection with my conversation with the Assistant Commissioner I cannot say.
Dated 12 Dec. 2013
The main event this week has been the arrival of my freight. It was delivered yesterday, exactly 12 weeks after my arrival in Kenya! Everything has now been unpacked and I have not noticed anything missing. It is a delight to have simple things such as a kettle, a toaster, a radio, and a CD player, which I have been without for so long, quite apart from my books and academic notes, which made up the bulk of my freight. I have already transported most of my books into my office in the Faculty building, but some will remain in my study in the flat. I will be teaching Hebrew and a Systematic Theology course covering the doctrines of the Holy Spirit, the Church, and the Last Things
Yesterday, I went to Nairobi for the day to try make progress towards registering as an alien, as required by Kenyan law. I went by matatu (minibus), partly because I was not sure where I could park my car safely in Nairobi, and partly because I wanted to avoid the possibility of driving back in the dark. In many ways it was a frustrating day. When I got to the immigration office, I discovered that the document I had about my work permit only approved a work permit without being the work permit itself, and that this was necessary before being registered as an alien. To get the actual work permit I was required to pay a K.Sh. 10,000 fee by bankers draft; but the bank I went to for the draft told me that I could not get one without having an account with them and that this was the policy of all banks. So I went to the MCK Conference Office for help, and a member of the finance office staff kindly took me to the bank where the MCK has an account. By the end of the working day I was able to present the draft at the immigration office, but then was told that I had to come back after a week to get the work permit! Hopefully this will happen on my next visit on New Year’s Eve and I will then be able to apply for registration as an alien! As anticipated, I came back in the dark and finally reached home at about 10pm., having left at 5.30am in the morning. It was a long day, but necessary.