Written by Andi Clinard
At the moment, there’s a lot that stands in contrast in Kenya.
Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki.
Orange Democratic Movement and Party of National Unity.
And, perhaps most of all, Kikuyu and Luo.
Or, given the day, any of the other lines able to be drawn between Kenya’s many and varied tribes.
There’s the haves, and the have-nots. The settled and the uprooted. The predators and the preyed upon.
Here in this cavernous church overlooking the Rift Valley, the contrasts—though perhaps not always as sharp—continue.
The cold, two-story stone shell of this AIC church in Kijabe, Central Province, gives way to a warmer inside. The windows glow with the late morning sun, casting shadows beneath row upon row of thin, wooden pews, some askew from last Sunday’s crowd.
But this Friday portrays a slightly different scene, as a line forms at the door. These are IDPs—internally displaced people—who have come from all over the Rift Valley, forced from their homes by the post-election turmoil in this country. They’ve come to the AIC for help—food, clothing, and a message from the church.
Soon, the sea of benches is one-third full, mostly with women, their heads covered in brightly colored handkerchiefs, their hands holding plastic bags or woven baskets, or their youngest children. A man with traces of gray hair bows his head, holding his worn cap between his knees.
Above them, a long wooden sign declares Psalm 118:1, “O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.” Some are asking, why would a good God let such a bad thing come upon our country, upon us?
The people share their stories—stories of despair, of lives turned upside down. My home was burned. My own neighbors suddenly became my enemies. I saw my friends attacked with machetes, arrows or spears. As the testimonies come, the calm of this tucked-away church contrasts more clearly with violence outside its doors. The echoes of clapping and singing are a far cry from the crash of glass, the pop of tear gas cans and crack of guns not so far in these peoples’ pasts.
A woman stands to lead prayer, and the benches creak as some bow their heads. A man closes his eyes and massages his brow. A woman bounces her crying child. Some stare absently away, chin in hand. A grandmother clucks to a baby in her arms. Someone coughs.
And against the soft murmur of the praying woman, there is a bustle of activity in the back of the church, as a handful of volunteers prepares the food distribution for that day. A door slams. Shoes scrape across the floor as a man hurries from here to there.
Near the door of library-turned-storeroom is a yellowing paper sign: “What would Jesus do?” An oasis of congruency—surely, this is what Jesus would do.
The library tables and chalkboards are pushed back against the wall, stacked one on another. A bench usually used for churchgoers perusing books now holds a wall of containers of shortening. On the bookshelves, there are bags of salt. Empty bags and boxes litter the concrete floor; stray beans and fugitive kernels of maize are scattered here and there. Volunteers hurry to pack bags of sugar, rice, beans, tea, carrots and much more—nearly everything donated by the congregation of AIC Kijabe.
There is one final, sometimes painful contrast within these church walls, and it lies within the hearts of the people. All of them have been wronged, all have had hardship, but where there is anger and bitterness in some, there is hope and forgiveness in others.
John Mwangi, a Kikuyu, was working at a tea estate in Kericho when the decree was released: All Kikuyu and Kisii must leave. His own friends looted his house, beating others to the punch because—being close to him—they knew where he lived. They took everything, he says. They’re bad people. They don’t know God. You can’t even talk to them.
John says he’s willing to forgive these people. But will he ever go back?
The question twists his face, and a short exclamation comes out of his mouth.
“I won’t,” he says. “I can’t try.”
He shakes his head. No way.
Meanwhile, Harrison Munyua is ready to shake hands with his Kalenjin friends and customers, though deep lines have been carved between those tribes and his own Kikuyu people in his battered hometown of Eldoret.
Harrison, a radiator repairman, was warned by his Naandi friends to evacuate and escape the bloodshed in the town in western Kenya. He saw people being speared to death, and is thankful for his friends who rose above their tribal differences and helped him dearly.
He believes there are people who love the Lord among the Kalenjins, because if there weren’t, he wouldn’t have been warned to flee by the people he fellowships with at his church. His pastor, a Naandi, wouldn’t have invited him to hide in his house. Kalenjin police officers wouldn’t have helped him get to his wife and children by hiding him under the seat in their vehicle for an hourlong drive, ferrying him through dozens of roadblocks put up by angry mobs.
He hears what others from his area are telling him, about never going back. But he believes forgiveness is everything—and for him it means going back to Eldoret, living among the very people who looted his home and workshop, and trying to show them God’s love in that way. And, moreover, Harrison believes God can and is at work in the Kalenjin community, just as He’s worked in his heart.
A calm hope comes from the eyes of Hannah Wangui, an old mama from Molo, also in Rift Valley and a scene of a lot of recent violence. She sits, hands one on top of the other in the lap of her printed dress. She holds her head, adorned with a white handkerchief, high. A small smile makes her distinct cheekbones even more beautiful. Small winkles gather around her eyes and mouth, as she speaks words of hope and forgiveness.
Yes, she is homeless, a state delivered from the hands of her neighbors in Molo. But transportation and tough roads are the only things keeping her from going back there.
To her, it’s simple. She is receiving food and clothing from the church in Kijabe, but she doesn’t feel she belongs here. She doesn’t mind if she has a house or not—she knows the Lord has her, and she will trust Him to work through her as she goes back to live in Molo. Others around her are calling for revenge but she carries nothing on her heart against these people. She wants only to be a light in the darkness.
True forgiving, Mama Hannah says, means going back. When you don’t go back, she says, you are just saying you forgive them, but you are very far. You haven’t restored the relationship.
When you forgive someone halfheartedly, you haven’t done any forgiving.
Her prayer is that as she shows them God’s love, they will be convicted of the wrong they have done, and they will repent and be led to God. And it’s on that path that people will be brought together—even people of different tribes.
So, there are many contrasts in Kenya at the moment. But it’s the prayer of people like Harrison, and people like Hannah, and people like the volunteers at AIC Kijabe, that eventually the love of Christ will help to blur the lines, to reconcile the tribes and to restore Kenya and her church, for God’s glory.