“This seems like the beginning of a new partnership with our FM family in Canada,” Bishop Nixon Dingili of Kenya announced to our small team.
In September this year, myself and ICCM-Canada Director Paula Moriarity along with Rev. Kim Henderson (FMCiC Director of Personnel), Carolyn Deyo, and Wannett Reynolds, spent eight days in Kenya. Canadian missionary Rev. Debbie Hogeboom was our host and cultural guide for this visit along with Bishop Nixon.
The original intention for this visit was twofold: for me to spend some time getting to understand Debbie’s ministry context and job description, and to conduct a three day consultation on urban ministry with a group of pastors in Nairobi.
At the beginning of 2009, Debbie moved from oversight by the US FMC missions office to our Canadian model of global ministry partnerships. This means her ministry job description in Kenya is worked about between the FMCiC, the Kenya Provisional General Conference, and Debbie herself. It also means her support salary and ministry expenses are directly overseen by the Global Ministries Committee of our national Board of Administration. And all of this is only possible because of the group of committed supporting churches, mostly in eastern Ontario, that have stood by Debbie’s ministry, in some cases, for decades.
The FMC in Kenya was birthed in the late 1980s and early 1990s when FM believers from countries like Rwanda and Burundi were living and working in Nairobi. They did the natural thing, and gathered themselves together into a few churches. When a whole group of missionaries had to leave Rwanda and Burundi in 1994, they ended up in Nairobi – they naturally connected with these fledgling congregations. Then the Burundi General Conference took responsibility for developing a Mission District and then an Annual Conference in Kenya. Today there are 140 FM churches in Kenya, mostly in the central and western parts of the country.
Since she moved to Kenya in 1994, Debbie has been involved in leadership development and mentoring church planters. For eleven years she taught at Kenya Highlands Bible College, an interdenominational, Wesleyan-oriented college, in Kericho, a city of about 40,000. Today there is a thriving FM congregation and school in Kericho that Debbie was involved with since its inception.
During her years at Kenya Highlands, Debbie was also working with national leaders to develop a modular pastoral training program for many of the pastors who work bi-vocationally and who may not have the academic qualifications for a formal college program. Several years ago Debbie moved to the city of Eldoret (250,000) with the goal of helping plant a new church and developing a small campus for this modular training program. Canadian FM churches who support Debbie’s ministry have been instrumental in purchasing a three acre plot of land for the college campus and site of the new church in Eldoret. Our team had the pleasure of worshipping with the small congregation that presently gathers on the side of a hill under some shade trees!
At the present time, the majority of the FM churches are located in rural areas, which is entirely appropriate because the majority of Kenyans (70% of 36 million people) live in rural areas. But the group of pastors and conference leaders who met for the Urban Ministry Consultation in Nairobi, know that is the not the future of their country – rural people are moving to the cities. The challenge is that many of the pastors who are appointed to serve the urban churches come from rural pastorates, and they struggle with how to conduct ministry and encourage the spiritual growth of their parishioners in the city. Kim Henderson and I, along with Debbie and Bishop Nixon, were able to initiate a whole new conversation on this subject with the group of 25 pastors who were invited to the consultation. Canadian FM churches substantially underwrote the costs of organizing this three day training program.
A sub-plot to this visit developed when newly hired ICCM-Canada Director Paula Moriarity was eager to come and have her first on-site visit to meet ChildCare sponsored children and the FM schools they attend. And Paula wanted to bring along some Canadian sponsors as well – thus Carolyn Deyo (attends Harrowsmith FMC) and Wannett Reynolds (Wesley Acres staff)! And did I mention Kim Henderson sponsors a child in Kenya as well?
So the first part of our trip included a lot of driving on good – and bad – roads in central and western Kenya. We were continually stimulated by the beauty of Kenya’s physical environment – the Rift Valley, the Kenya Highlands, zebras, rhinos and flamingoes and tea plantations. We travelled to Kericho and Eldoret, where Debbie has lived and invested herself over the past fifteen years. We spent a morning with school children in Kericho and made a special ICCM presentation of soccer balls and skipping ropes.
We visited Superintendent Martin in the rainy, hill country at Shiru – and spent four hours driving 40 kms! We travelled through the ‘breadbasket’ of Kenya and wondered that we saw no signs of the drought that was all over the news. In Nairobi, Paula, Carolyn, Wannett and Kim visited FM schools and in the simple, pieced-together, homes of sponsored children in the slums of Kibera, Kawangare and Mathare.
On our last day it was a bit of a surprise when Bishop Nixon said “this seems like a beginning…” I recounted to him the ways in which Canadians have contributed to ministry in Kenya – for many years (look back at the highlighted spots in this article). Then Debbie reminded me, “this is the first time, in at least a decade, that a Canadian team has come to visit me in my place of ministry, just to spend time with me and find out about the ministry here in Kenya.”
Then it hit me again, anew – the money and the projects-aided are ‘nice,’ but we don’t have partnership without relationship. Now we all, mutually, have faces, friendships, connections, trust, common ground. Now we have a partnership. And the Athens FMC [one of Debbie’s supporting churches and contributors to the property purchase in Eldoret], will be sending the first substantial Canadian workteam to Kenya next spring to help with that campus development in Eldoret. They will carry on the development of this ‘new’ partnership.