I left Aberystwyth after the mid-week meeting, before 9 p.m. on Tuesday March 4, driving tensely over the mountains eastwards to Birmingham. I was uneasy because the car’s head gasket had cracked and the engine was giving signs of overheating for the first time. I had ordered another car a month ago and it was to be ready a couple of weeks ago, but nothing had happened. Where was it? There was an additional complication. The cable to open the bonnet has rusted and so it was getting impossible to open it to pour in more water. I managed it once in Newtown but for the next two hours into Birmingham I could pour no more water into the radiator as the bonnet refused to open. So I just kept driving on with the warning red signal telling me of the overheating. I finally made it to Alec Taylor’s house near the airport at midnight. Whew! We talked for an hour and then he drove me to the airport. The problem lying before me was at my arrival back in Birmingham on Thursday at 9 a.m. I had the previous intention of driving to Northallerton in North Yorkshire, preaching, and then driving home – between 300 and 400 miles, but all this with the head gasket gone seemed impossible. What should I do? Probably take a train to Ripon and stay there the night, and come by train back to Birmingham and then nurse the car back to Aber. on Friday. That seems the most sensible. Probably I could even nurse the car half way home from Birmingham to Shrewsbury and leaving it there and going on to Ripon by train. I think I could make it to Shrewsbury because it had not stopped even with the red light blazing away on the journey from Newtown to Birmingham.
Birmingham airport was deserted, though the few leatherette sofas were taken by other early morning departees. I lay down on some seats at 1.15 a.m. and stayed there until 3.45 a.m. Then I filled in a boarding pass on a machine (feeling proud of myself) and booked my seats all the way to Nairobi. Finally the KLM staff arrived and soon I was into the departure lounge and waited a further hour and a half for the plane to Amsterdam, leaving England around 6 a.m. Once I sat on that plane I fell into a deep sleep; we touched down and came to a halt and the ping announced people could get up out of their seats and get their luggage out of the overhead lockers. I heard nothing of all this, deeply asleep, and the man sitting next to me had to nudge me awake. Besides the shops there is even a museum in Amsterdam airport which is vast, so much bigger than Gatwick. I enjoyed walking for half an hour. The flight to Nairobi was a delight, two-thirds empty, maybe holiday-makers are afraid to go there in the light of the riots and bloodshed of recent months. I had taken with me Paul Johnson’s new book, Heroes, and John Piper’s book on the imputed righteousness of Christ, his answer to Tom Wright. Heroes is a delight, and Piper a model of lucid controversial writing. I found his arguments overwhelmingly convincing
Keith was delayed getting to the airport with the new density of traffic on the Nairobi roads, but though our plane arrived on time my bag was amongst the last to appear on the carousel so he still had to wait for me. We group of waiting passengers fearing we were not going to be reunited with our cases kept our spirits up through banter and appropriate conversation. “Where are you going?” I asked one Kenyan woman who had told me that now she lives in Atlanta, GA. She told me it was to a coffee plantation, “And you?” “Doonholm in Nairobi,” I told her. Her eyes opened; “That’s a dangerous place,” she said. The three Underhills howled with laughter when I later told them this. Finally my drab case arrived, a little flat and battered but with everything safe and sound, and off I walked to be greeted by Keith and Matthew who had then arrived (I could see them in the distance through the glass partition). We took 20 minutes to get home to Priscilla in the familiar house. The two men had come in the battered old saloon; the big four wheel drive is again in need of a time in the garage with a mechanic gazing at its engine and scratching his head; last year they had had to spend a lot of money on that 4X4. They could not get to the Rendille without that four wheel drive.
We sat around in the front room and I was introduced to delightful Carol who is a 20 year old Christian who has been sort of fostered by the Underhills since the death of her mother. She calls them Mum and Dad. She is looking forward to beginning her law studies later this year in Nairobi. I teased her about her birthday, her name suggesting that she was born just before Christmas, while in fact it was in April. She and Matthew are good companions. They all went off to their beds except Keith and myself; we stayed up until 11.30 talking of the situation here. It was the first of what were to be many, many conversations. I have a wonderfully comfy bed under my mosquito net, with the World Service of the BBC to take up my thoughts if I have a time of sleeplessness. A fan keeps the air circulating. It has been over eighty degrees for the last few weeks but we had brief showers two evenings and the high altitude of Nairobi made it comfortable.
Thursday we had porridge for breakfast and then Keith and I joined David Anderson, the new missionary, and Michael Otieno, a trainee pastor, for an hour’s discussion and prayer talking about the call to the ministry. Derek Prime’s book on the pastor is being used. What wise words the three of them said. It was a happy hour. David was delighted to get all the materials he had ordered from the UK which had arrived in the Manse over the last week and which had come without breakage inside my delayed case. Then Keith went into the heart of Nairobi to the Post Office and I accompanied him. What unendurable traffic, taxi-busses cutting in front of you in a flash, but I did not witness one bump. Keith picked up letters and parcels from the Post Office from the P.O. Box he has maintained there for over thirty years. There is no postal delivery. I stood on the first or second floor of the P.O. looking down on the crowded streets, such smartly dressed men and women; no beggars, while the cars and buses were cheek to jowl as far as the eye could see.
On we went to the hospital to visit one of his members who has had an operation. The ward at noon was packed with visitors; we were five around the lady’s bed. She reminded me so much of Catrin Petherbridge. It was a mixed sex ward. A British girl with a broken leg in traction was right opposite a 70 year-old Kenyan man; not nice. I read and prayed and then Keith opened up the theme of what I had read and applied it to the lady. We drove off going around the edges of the city back to Doonholm and home. At long last they have had the road running past the church tarmacadamed and it looks great, but now the big trucks use it and they have wailing horns like U.S. 16 wheelers. Meetings continue against that background of hooting. A new smaller school has gone up on the one side of the church to balance the large old school on the other side. There are now two decent supermarkets and they are good value. Going where Priscilla (with Iola) used to go for fruit, vegetables and groceries now means a whole afternoon’s expedition mainly sitting in the car and Priscilla is glad of the shops on the corner. The development of this area has not been accompanied by additional utilities. Crazy. There has been no piped water to the Underhills for years, and so there is a well and a pump and water-tanks in the roof and alongside the house.
I slept after lunch for an hour and then at 3 p.m. I sat with Priscilla until 6 and heard about the problems from her perspective. People’s conduct is quite unbelievable. After an hour my old friend Mohammed from Somalia, a deacon in the c
hurch, joined us. He is utterly loyal to Keith. He is very sharp and gave another vivid picture of the small group of women and men who have stirred up this campaign against Keith. After another hour we were joined by Rafael Bulkash who finally, after the subsiding of the bloodshed of the past months, has been able to leave the Rendille heart-land and had taken a bus for a couple of days to arrive in Nairobi. We were seven around the table, and this week Keith is taking him to buy a Suzuki motor-bike for which we had a collection on Christmas Day for his energetic visitation and evangelism in that virgin area. Even the RC’s have made little progress there. He is zealous and courageous. When he interviews a chief about organizing congregations, evangelism and meetings he makes notes in a book, and then reads it back to the chief and gets him to sign what he has written. That takes guts doesn’t it?
At seven Thursday night 22 of us met for prayer at the mid-week meeting (though the elder Joseph did not turn up – through ‘traffic’ he later said and Mohamed was the only deacon present). Keith is going through second Corinthians and after he spoke and we made observations we prayed until 8.15. I thought it was fine praying. We went back to the manse and soon Keith and Matthew left for the airport again to meet the three mediators from the USA, Matt, Hank and Sam Owen. Their plane too had been pitifully empty; the British Airlines flight had merged with an American airline flight which had cancelled its flight to Nairobi because of the absence of passengers. Yet for two flights in one there was the sum total of a mere 60 people on a jumbo jet. Because of the recent troubles people do not like arriving on the night flight and having to drive home in the darkness; the morning flights are fuller. The men had flown from Philadelphia to Heathrow and on to Nairobi. They are staying in an apartment cum guest house near the church for ten days. That is certainly not inexpensive. While Keith was away Priscilla spoke to me again about the situation here and how much it had affected her.
Priscilla has had to go through extra pressures like the erection of the new building (which has taken a year or two) of the students’ facilities right next door to their house – rooms for 24 students and two lecture halls. It overlooks their garden and front door, but when the inspector came to look at the completion of the first part of the work he was dismissive of the shoddy workmanship and recommended it be demolished. All that money had been given by Christians – for it to be knocked down? That was not on the agenda, and so they pleaded that they might transform what was there, and they were given permission, but what draftsman or architect was going to draw plans for the next stage – the second floor and the roof – when he had no knowledge of the foundations? They tried three men and all turned them down, and then there was a friend who agreed to do it; they showed him photographs of the building going up at different stages of its development and that assured him that the foundations had been adequate. So by today all the concrete, walls, stairs and roof are finished, but the wiring and the plumbing are not in place. I think they need about 15,000 pounds to complete it.
On Friday morning with the three American mediators settled in the guest house as well as the fourth, Sam Olouch from Kisumu, Keith and I went to visit Michael Otieno and Margaret with their 10 day old baby Deborah. He lives a mile away. (Michael is the man I met on my first morning here when four of us gathered to study Derek Prime’s book on the pastor.) He is growing as a preacher. When the church in Miathene had a pulpit vacancy through the pastor’s adultery he stepped in and preached in Swahili for a couple of years. It was a tough assignment. He told me he was talking to one man and he replied, “You preachers from Trinity Church Miathene take other men’s wives, I can’t trust you.” Now Michael is working here evangelizing, visiting etc. He has been strong in taking a Christian testimony against cultural practices, especially at funerals. For example, a man’s sons and grandsons will allow all their hair to be shaved off. Michael resisted that. In other places everyone coming to the home of the dead person will get down on their knees ten yards away from the front door and walk on their knees wailing into the house. Most missionaries accept all this as merely ‘cultural’ and allow all the tribal customs about a funeral to take place in the family home (some of them having allusions to ancestral spirits, while none is buoyant with the Christian hope of heaven), and then the missionaries tag on a Christian service at the end. Michael and Margaret want the attitude to the dead to reflect Christian convictions. I find such conversations edifying and I nursed little Deborah for a while as Margaret scrambled an egg for the three of us.
If you could attend the prayer meetings, Sunday services (every seat taken), the teenagers’ Bible studies (they are studying I Peter, but next week are to have a talk from some of the younger married couples on courtship and marriage), pastoral visitation and evangelistic outreach.
David and Elizabeth are probably going to the Karakapot district to work. They will not go until the end of the year and have not finally confirmed it. This is a 13 hours drive away from Nairobi. They are going to a village with 4 shops (mud walls), including a grocer’s shop and a pharmacy and a school with a number of teachers. They will build a corrugated iron home, sink a well and get a generator for electricity. There is a pastor who reads and preaches exegetically in the Kapot language. There are a dozen members. The Andersons are learning Swahili. The pastor and the older children in that congregation go to school and speak some basic English. I believe they are thinking in terms of giving their early years when the children are young to this work and then they might move on to other work. There are seven churches in the Karakapot district all within two hours of one another. The pastors and the churches all get on with one another very hapily. It is one of the success stories of the 50 churches linked with Keith. Ominously, they have had no missionary living there! However, they have all been trained by Keith and the men here.
We left the Andersons at 8.20, but Keith and I went on to visit Wilfred (whose son had been killed in the car crash) and listened to his wise words about the trouble. He had spoken to me on my last visit, being one of the few men in the church to have spent some time in Wales. He was a distributor of electricity transformers from a factory on the Treforest industrial estate. He had picked up the sad fable that Welsh people speak Welsh to one another in order that the English mightn’t understand what they were saying about them. I said nothing . . . The transformers are now obtained from China, not nearly so reliable, and the Welsh factory is closed. The Chinese make such appliances for the American market and they are made to specific standards and they are good. The below-standard stuff from China is shipped to Africa and that is more unreliable. Is that a rumour like the one about why we speak Welsh? This, of course, is just a snippet of the conversation. It was mainly about the church situation once again, and we got home at 10.45.
After a poor night’s sleep I went to the monthly 8 a.m. prayer meeting. The four mediators came and we were about 22 in all including three women. There was good praying until 9 p.m. The distant burglar alarm that had gone on all night was still ringing when we broke up. It had not been so distant from the mediators’ guest house. In America a ‘good ole boy would have taken his gun and shot that varmit’ we were told with a la
ugh. Keith and Priscilla remained behind to talk for a long time to people there, but I got some breakfast with Matthew and then looked at my Email. Soon I was asleep in a chair. I worked on this report in the morning and then began to complete the sermon on Luke 4 for my Sunday back in Aberystwyth, having finished the sermon on Ruth. I was called down to dinner at 1.20 and there were the four men having a meal with us before their sessions this afternoon. Hank had a somewhat wobbly stomach but it quickly got better. They all went off at 2 and I went to my room and continued with the sermon (which doesn’t seem particularly scintillating). You understand that the afternoon session with the mediators was for members only and so I did not go. One or two people asked Priscilla where I was and she explained my absence. “But he is preaching tomorrow; he can come today,” they said. However, after it was over I spoke to old friends in the congregation, little Mary Muketha who had come to Aberystwyth with her diminutive growth syndrome many years ago came looking for me. She is now mid-twenties and small and thin, but not tiny. She is doing a secretarial course. She is very attractive. I gave to the leaders the copies of my book on Scripture that Michael Keen had provided.
Then I called Trowbridge. Triple 0 and double 4 and Catrin’s number on my mobile phone got me immediately talking to Catrin and soon to Iola, with Eleri and Fflur in the room. The younger six grandchildren were there. The reception was very clear to me but I was not so clear to Iola. The men were watching the rugby somewhere else. A little later Matthew went to the Internet and to the BBC channel and got me a full report of the Wales v. Ireland game from Dublin. It was a quite exhaustive analysis with still photos. A worthy victory for the Principality and even a surprise loss for England against Scotland. I am looking forward to getting back home again and the time is speeding by. Sundays always rush by with so much happy activity.
Mohammed from Somalia as well as Raphael joined us for supper with delicious Kenyan or Somalia mangoes for pudding. Then we had sweet conversation until nine when the Underhills’ exhaustion was apparent and we went to bed. They had been happy about the day, but there are constant suspicions and fears about certain conversations they could see going on around the church.
Sunday school started at 9.30 (everything, including the meals, is on time in Keith’s home and congregation) with catechism singing. Who made me? God made me. What else did God make? God made all things. Etcetera. Then we broke up into classes and Keith taught 40 adults the 1689 Confession the third chapter on the divine decrees, especially election. He is a born teacher. Excellent. Then the children came in, but mostly adults, a couple of hundred, more men than women. Grace hymns were sung unaccompanied, Martin Bussey was the precentor. We sang one hymn in Swahili. I preached on Romans 15 on the God of hope. It is a sweet sermon I think and I brought it up to date with the story of Barry helping Jacqui as a good Christian does, and ending up with a badly broken leg.
I talked to many in the congregation afterwards as they hung around while the women made the food, rice and beans and some pieces of meat. My portion was large and was unfinished. I sat with the Americans, David Anderson and some Kenyans. Then I went across to speak to John Muketha. He is now very high up in the government of Kenya, arising at 5 and off to work before 5.30 each day. I had enjoyed talking to his daughter, sweet little Mary, yesterday and she wanted my Email address today. John and I spoke about the new phase in government and he seemed to think better times were ahead for Kenya.
At 4 p.m. was the evening service and I returned and Michael Otieno preached on Titus 2 on the grace of God appearing to all men . . . He is the man brought back from Miathene to head up evangelism in the church. He is a splendid preacher. Ooh it was grand. I could wish our own congregation could have heard it, exegetical, theological, applicatory, illustrative, caring, and preached with such passion. It is the element often missing in the kindly and gentle style of Naphtally. This had a vigour and spiritual energy. It was grand preaching. It reminded me of Conrad Mbewe whom they call the Spurgeon of Africa who is the conference speaker later this year for the pastors (Austin Walker last year and myself the year before). If Keith can work with Michael over the next years (and he is a true student) then he might follow Keith. Sitting in the front, in her yellow two-piece was Alice (who had threatened to go to the police if Keith preached), her face was grimly fixed on the floor throughout, never looking up at all at the preacher, never smiling when he gave some amusing illustration. How well we know such a pose of disapproval and judgment on the preacher.
I met two men from Bangaladesh during the week. They were at the services today. They are Baptist pastors here for a nine month training programme about evangelizing, I think. They are in something like Youth for Christ, but not that exact name. They are warm and appreciative men missing their wives and families back home. They know of numbers of Christian martyrs in Bangaladesh, “ . . . three last year.” They have little discernment concerning sovereign grace and the few books in their room are pathetic, and so they got the final two copies of my book on Scripture.
So Sunday ended with the usual large numbers in the congregation, most of whom know little about the larger troubles. The situation here is one which partly reflects the weakness of Independent church government. Of course such cases rarely arise but when they do they gives us Independents peculiar troubles. To whom do you appeal when there is deadlock between officers? But it is by no means an Independents’ problem I think of a situation of a deadlock between pastor and a fair number of members in Greyfriars Presbyterian church in Inverness ten years ago, until the pastor had to leave. It could not be resolved even in Presbyterianism, but when there is independency, with each church sensitive to its autonomy, then it is more difficult. May the Americans, and myself, and Keith and his friends and Joseph and his people all be wise and temperate and courageous in what they say. Only the Spirit of God can help them be like that.
At the end of the evening the four mediators joined us for supper and stayed a few hours. A happy time. They left after calling or writing to their wives and then I listened to Keith and Priscilla for an hour until 10 p.m. He is meeting the four tomorrow morning and he was outlining what he would say to them. What a tough time they have had.
Up at 6 a.m. and off to the Prayer Meeting at 7 a.m. Nine of us there, one woman. I led the P.M. speaking on the three ‘Seeks!’ of Zephaniah 2. They prayed and then at 8.30 my footsteps were dogged by two Sudanese men training to become pastors. Did I have another of my books to give to them? “I have never had a book whose author I knew,” said the spokesman. I had given them all away, and so I said I would send a copy each to them. They all want books.
One man wanted to talk to Keith about the situation. He had had another Email from Masunga in the last couple of days complaining about my coming out here – though I had spoken last Friday to Masunga about it. He was Wilfred who has been to Wales. What a pernicious thing an Email can be. You write things to a man which you would never say to his face, but today I had a grand Emails from Iola and from John Noble as well as photos of Iola with Osian from Ian Alsop. So Prisiclla and I and the two younger ones waited in the manse for Keith to finish his conversation with Wilfred about Masunga, but the time went by and so Priscilla, Matthew, Carol and I had
breakfast before Keith joined us. At 9 p.m. he began the morning with his session with the four mediators. He asked me if I would take the family devotions in his place. We have been reading Exodus’ opening chapters, learning a verse and catechism and praying for some of the men and places in Kenya.
As we began the door was knocked and in came two men from Korr, Rendille men who later today were going back there. They joined us in family worship and prayed, one in English and the other (with big piercings in his ears) in Rendille. They had come for some money for their fares from Priscilla. Part of the grumblings of the little group of opponents is that Keith has this money with which he supports so many students and pastors. They want to get their hands on the distribution of the money. “There is plenty of money,” is their cry. At the same time they themselves give little to the church – the offerings are down – the other time-worn ploy of the disenchanted in the congregation. “If only things were done differently we would be giving so much more to the church,” so they claim . . . . But until that time comes they hang on to their pennies, and I fear will do so until the end.
I said to the Rendilles (Boniface was the name of the spokesman) if they were going back home to Korr in a bus. “No. On the back of a lorry, about 12 of us, both men and women,” Boniface replied. “Are there seats?” I asked. “Bags of rice and sugar.” The sugar is the most comfy to sit on. “How long is the journey? “We leave around six tonight and we will be at ‘the junction’ at noon tomorrow.” “Then do you get on another lorry?” “Maybe, but there are not many vehicles going on that road. Maybe none tomorrow.” “How far do you have to go?” “38 more miles.” It is a dry area with no crops, just cows, sheep, goats and camels. Incidentally the Rendille heard with amazement of the post-election mini-insurrection and the bloodshed in Eldoret and Kisumu. “Do you know they are killing each other there . . . and they have no cattle.” Cattle stealing is the single cause of fights and murders. I would love to have given money to these men from Sudan and from Korr but I am urged not to by Keith and Priscilla. I can understand that, but again I say that it has deprived me of the pleasure of directly helping these men and women. I feel frustrated about this. I would rather not have taken money out there.
Keith and I went to another study session with David Anderson and with Michael the preacher. We went through the next chapter in the book of Derek Prime. I enjoyed it and used the time to minister to Keith. These two men’s presence – David from England and Michael from Kenya who has come to the truths of God’s grace from an Assemblies of God back ground – give me much hope for the future. The four mediators had a few hours off. One played badminton with Matthew in the church and then all four joined us for supper.
This was my last day; it was packed with important meetings, and no electricity until 5.30 p.m.. Breakfast was with millet porridge at 8.30 (left unfinished) but delicious mangoes. This is the mango season, but the plum season is over. Family devotions were on the plagues of Egypt, memorization of Scripture and the Shorter Catechism and we all prayed.
GEOFF THOMAS. Tuesday, March 18, 2008.