Monday, October 18, 2010

Henry's Church

Today I woke up ready for an unknown journey. Steven and I met our friend Henry at our apartment at about 11:00am on Sunday morning. He had brought two of his friends with him to greet us. One named Simon was a profit in Henry’s church, the Africa Israel Nineveh Church. The other was a member of his congregation. We had initially met Henry at a meeting of the Organization of African Instituted Churches during our orientation over a month ago. We had since visited his home outside one of the slums of Nairobi and joined for a tour of the city. He has been asking for us to join him for church since he met us. So today we left with Henry and his companions to meet for a church gathering in the Kangemi Slum, which is just about two miles from my apartment.
We took a short bus ride to Kangemi and went to the home of the priest of Henry’s region. The Africa Israel Nineveh Church is spread all over East Africa and a few other parts of the world. Each region is broken down into churches and small groups much like other denominations. A small group is led by an elder. A church is made up of several small groups and is led by a pastor. A region of churches is led by a priest, and the head of the whole denomination is the Bishop who leads out of Nairobi. The church was actually founded in western Kenya, but because so many have migrated to Nairobi to find work, there is a large number of these churches in many of the slums of Nairobi. Just like everyone else in Nairobi, they have another home in their native village (most are from the same tribe in western Kenya). The actual founding place of the church is where everyone goes for Christmas which I might get to learn more about soon!

After arriving in Kangemi, Henry gives us a tour including a walk through the main market which I will hopefully be visiting to get my small budget to stretch much further than going to the fancy grocery store in the mall. We then joined a growing group of men, women, and children all dressed in white robes (some light blue robes also) that were waiting for other churches to arrive. As they waited, some formed a platoon of dancers, singers, and drummers – almost like a marching band – and marched circles around the rest of the people that stood there talking to pass the time. Each church would appear at the top of a hill and make their way toward the main mass of people while dancing to their own drummers and being led by their flag holder. It was almost like the opening ceremonies to the Olympics when every country marches into the main stadium to join the world with their flag in hand.
The first Drummers to arrive!

Marching while we waited to start church.

Taking off on our three hour march from Kangemi to Kawengwari.

Kept the energy up for 3 hours of drumming!

Finally enough churches arrived that they could start the service. Everyone made a circle – now many more than 400 people. Some pastors gave prayers and read scripture, and then a drum was set on the ground to act as an offering plate. Everyone individually walked to the center to make an offering. Then more short sermons were spoken and without a breath, we were all marching down the main street of Kangemi with hundreds of drums and bells and singing men and women.
We actually marched for several miles while other churches joined our group. We turned off the main road and started down the big hill that led to the next slum. Before we knew it, we had danced our way into Kawengwari which normally involved a matatu ride. This was originally welcomed news for Steven and I, as we have been thinking of ways to start an exercise program, but as the day drug on and the sun continued to beat down on our pink skin, we realized how serious these people were about making a joyful noise for God.
We eventually marched with over 2000 white robed Christians.
After three hours of dancing down the road we were told that we looked very tired and we should probably start heading home. When we broke off from the thousands of others dancing, singing, and banging drums and bells, we were chased by another pastor who asked us to just get a ride with the Bishop. As we could now see, there were about five cars following the growing number of dancing Christians in white robes – now well over 2000 people. We followed Henry back to the last car that held a driver and the Bishop. He was very gracious and happy to see us. He asked which of us was from Indiana. When I told him I was from Indianapolis he explained that he had just moved back from that very place two years ago when he finished his PhD at Anderson University. He also studied theology in London. He was a very intelligent strong man. He didn’t look over the age of 45, but he told us he had been Bishop for 27 years. I am not sure how the church leadership works, but it seems like they are doing good works in God’s name every day.
Henry had a dream about meeting six wazungu (white people or foreigners) some time before he met us. His position in the church is an interpreter of dreams. He knew there was something important about meeting these wazungu, so he was more than joyful when he found six Americans from the Presbyterian Young Adult Volunteer program at the kick off meeting for the OAIC Just Communities initiative in September. He took time to introduce us to the city and have us over to his humble household for dinner. When the marching was over, the Bishop gave us the opportunity to speak at the final meeting of all the churches. I thanked the crowd for their devotion to God and the wonderful noise they brought to the streets of Kawengwari as they marched. I thanked them for being the positive force of change in their communities. I told them that my NGO was working in communities just like theirs to deal with the issues that their church was also trying to overcome. This remark led to a long conversation with Henry as we left the meeting.
Our final meeting before we left.

I think he sees Church World Service’s programs for community empowerment as part of the reason why he dreamt about us so many months ago. It makes sense that his church could be a partner organization with CWS to initiate more programs all over Kenya, but right now I am just the new guy who is learning how to get the right information from my wonderful coworkers to write relevant articles for CWS donors. I hope our friendship can lead to something for Henry’s church because what I see in the leadership of the Africa Israel Nineveh church is a passion for working with the poorest of the poor and the most marginalized of East Africa’s communities. They are in the slums bringing the good news and improving people’s lives every day. That is exactly what I and CWS stand for.

Me enjoying our dance/marching.

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