From the Worldwide Faith News archives

ACNS - Kenyan Church thrives at heart of Nairobi slum

From Worldwide Faith News <>
Date Tue, 20 Apr 2004 12:44:28 -0700

ACNS 3816     |     AFRICA     |     20 APRIL 2004

Kenyan Church thrives at heart of Nairobi slum

Photographs that go with this article can be found at:

By Michael Craske in Nairobi

Kibera slum is home to one million Kenyans on the outskirts of Nairobi.
There are no legal water or electricity supplies, the sewers run through
the middle of the mud "streets", and when it rains, the corrugated iron
shacks - single rooms that sometimes house more than ten people - flood
with garbage and human excrement. Every few months, fires destroy large
numbers of these shacks, killing and injuring their inhabitants. "This
is an illegal settlement, it doesn't exist," said Revd Richard W Mayabi,
the priest of St Jerome's Anglican Church in Kibera to the delegates of
the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA) Mission and
Evangelism Conference last week. "Because Kibera doesn't exist, its
people also don't exist."

Revd Mayabi works amongst some of the world's most impoverished people.
Despite the shocking surroundings his work is thriving, his congregation
growing, and he has high hopes and a vision for the future. St Jerome's
now holds two Sunday services (English and Swahili) and hosts a Sunday
School - the only schooling some of Kibera's children receive. It also
has an enthusiastic choir that has recorded a collection of African
hymns and songs. He is the only pastor for the two Anglican Churches in
the slum area of Holy Trinity Parish.

"I have only been here since January of this year, but I have already
made major changes," said Revd Mayabi. "We have expanded the Church
building [a iron-walled shed tucked down an alley and surrounded by
washing lines]...we removed the office and moved the back wall and the
toilet out as far as we could from behind the altar. What do we need
with an office? I need to be out with my parishioners."

He has also taken over the running of the community/mission centre - set
up with the help of Church Army Africa - which although without
electricity, acts as a school, a centre for mission and evangelism, and
a general meeting place for the Mothers' Union - which runs all of the
Kibera activities with boundless enthusiasm.

"We hope to increase the role of the centre too in the future. Already
we teach people discipleship - to go out and bring more hope to people -
but I have a vision of offering even degree teaching for people from
this building," he said. "Outsiders think that because these people are
dispossessed that they are non-people, but that simply isn't true. Some
that live here are university graduates, some are skilled professionals,
but because of a lack of work they have been reduced to life in Kibera."

Revd Mayabi is also about to start a micro-finance project and classes
to teach people how to deal with money. The classes will again be run
from the community/mission centre.

"Sometimes it gets to me," he continued. "I go to a diocesan meeting and
the things I have seen are still banging in my head so I can't always
concentrate. It's difficult to get through to people what we are dealing
with here, and that is often dispiriting too." But, he said, he had to
carry on because the Church was bringing hope to Kibera's people. "I
must carry on with God's work. There are many ways in which God is
working through lives in Kibera and my helpers - Church Army Africa and
the Mothers' Union - try to unlock this in people, and I thank God for
his presence in our lives."

The congregation's daily reality in Kibera is hard to take in. There is
no law in Kibera. Murders are commonplace and when the police come they
come only to remove the bodies. Kibera's fires are sometimes started by
officials to encourage people to move on. Settlements are torn down and
people thrown out without any warning. And the people themselves have no
official voice. "If they speak, they do not know what the consequences
will be," he said.

Revd Mayabi said that people's expectations from a priest were basic,
but with only one Anglican priest for a million people it put endless
demands on the parish. "The most important requirement for the people of
Kibera is that a priest is there when someone dies. Though it's
important to just be there - ever present in the community. Part of my
work is to visit people and show my presence all over the slum, and this
really helps," he said. "When I arrive it adds something to their day
and they are always so generous despite the poverty." His main problem,
he said, was drinking too much tea. "I can't refuse it! And in a slum
with more churches than toilets this can become quite a problem!"

The delegates of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa's Mission
and Evangelism Conference visited Revd Mayabi with Church Army Africa.
The visit was made for delegates to see some of the good work undertaken
in Kenya with some of the continent's least empowered people. It also
demonstrated how mission and evangelism works in many different aspects
of the Church's life.

"Another church will be needed soon in Kibera," said Revd Mayabi. "God
bless these people."

For information on contacting Revd Mayabi in Kibera:

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