Letter from America: The genius of the Masai indigenous Evangelical Free Church of Kenya!

Masai land stretches from  Kikuyu hills in the north for seven hundred miles into Tanzania, passing through the Masai Mara heartland where buffaloes, gnu, and zebras make their annual pilgrimage from the dry grasslands into the wetlands of the lower country in thousands.

In this letter, I will begin at the deep end of the story while my mind is still fresh from my recent missionary visit to Masai land.

The visit, three years in the making, was at the invitation of my long-time friend Archbishop Manasseh Mankuleyo.

Masai land stretches from  Kikuyu hills in the north for seven hundred miles into Tanzania, passing through the Masai Mara heartland where buffaloes, gnu, and zebras make their annual pilgrimage from the dry grasslands into the wetlands of the lower country in thousands.

These gigantic natural transitions are captured in the mythical traditional folklore of the Masai, summarised as Transitions or Rites of Passages. Life (moyo-spirit) begins at conception and goes through pre-arranged transitions, the dependent child graduates at circumcision into a youth, then a warrior, followed by a young adult; the golden age comes at the age of 50 or thereabouts and then the twilight zone of wisdom, relaxation, sharing and passing into the spiritual world.

These grades cannot be bypassed no matter how clever a person is. The missionaries, full of colonial arrogance, contradicted nature itself by sending young missionaries, perhaps at age 20 as church superintendents to lord it over wiser and older men and women.

The Masai have kept away from the foolishness of the missionaries until very recently. Missionary contempt was further illustrated by their treatment of the kidongi (spiritual leader) the baloyi (sorcerer) and the medicine man: all three were banned from practice as witch doctors; a five-year prison sentence awaited the bravest of them.

Return of the native son.

After attending Bible College in Nairobi, and serving under the venerable Kikuyu pastor, Reverend Somewhere Mwatha at the Church of all Nations, the young Masai warrior, Manasseh Mankuleyo went abroad.

He served in Sweden and then in the 1980’s went to the United States. In California he saw what a society that had overthrown natural order could become.

Children over-ruled their parents, Los Angeles police aided and abetted drug addicts by offering clean needles, and the homeless slept in the streets, in a land where jobs went begging.

In South Carolina, he served at various missions, including those providing shelters for the homeless and alcoholics.

Meanwhile, the Christian church made very little headway in his homeland among the Masai. His father’s cattle ranch in Ngong had been overwhelmed by a growing population, now the provincial capital of Masai.

Reverend Mankuleyo returned home to find that the European-based churches had learned nothing from the past, remembered nothing from the nationalistic struggle. They preached a white-washed gospel that reflected European prejudices.

The custom of polygamy was condemned outright among the foreign- based churches. In its place, these foreign churches had imposed a sin worse than the one they sought to eradicate.

“Divorce all your wives, except the first one,” a 20-year-old pastor had told a 60-year-old Masai headman, entering his twilight zone, half his teeth gone as was indeed his hair.

I was tempted to laugh. The fanatical young pastor had not considered the consequences of throwing four families into the street in the name of Jesus Christ.

About the year 2006, Bishop Mankuleyo had become firmly convinced that if Masai society was to be perfected in Christ, white people must not be allowed to be interpreters of the gospel.

In that year, he came home, called the chiefs and elders in what was to become  a historic conference. He ordained 17 young warriors as ministers of the gospel in Ngong and gave them the great command.

“Go home and tell your people, the Masia how the Lord has blessed you.” He commanded.

In 2021, Kenya’s vice-president William Ruto opened the headquarters at Bisel, a multi-million building complex.

I attended the November annual general conference of the Kenya Evangelical Free Church in Bisel City. Mankuleyo’s dream had now matured.

African rhetoric.

The European tried to master everything, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and in the church even the way we preach. It was part of Mankuley’s dream that the Holy Spirit must be allowed to adapt itself to cultural experiences.

This liberation was best illustrated by Bishop John Kilole’s sermon in form that black Americans call African rhetoric.

As he delivered his sermon, which lasted over one hour, in three languages, Masai, English and Swahili, at first, I could not distinguish the preacher from the interpreter.

The audience was fully engaged. I think the interpreter was free to add spice to the sermon, as the audience laughed, sometimes with the preacher and at other times with the interpreter.

At other times, the two put their heads together as to what was the best word to be used, and the audience was free to help in loud voices. Then there was laughter.

Members of the audience were free to stand up and preach a parallel mini sermon and the preacher was most gracious.

Yet the acting out and cutting up did not diminish the seriousness of the sermon. Kilole touched on a sword that has more than one face.

“For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are now not under the law but under grace.” Romans 6:14

 “Your employer may call you in the middle of the night, you cannot refuse; he may order you to do something a certain way and you know a better way, but you cannot contradict him, for he is your master. You must do what he says, when he wants it done, and in a way, he wants it done. You have no voice in the matter.” Kilole rested to see if his message was carrying.

The message did resonate. A brother, full of the Holy Spirit stood up to witness that alcohol (drunkenness-pombe) can master one’s soul. Kilole took up the line of argument. Truly, pombe can master one’s soul. He added a new line. When alcohol calls (or smoke) the victim must answer the call.

Twenty-seven souls came to the mercy seat. (to be continued)

  • Ken Mufuka is a Lay Servant of the United Methodist Church and a Zimbabwean patriot.

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