Lumakanda Friends Church and Monthly Meeting.
Gladys and I have lived in Lumakanda for the past ten years. We have regularly attended Lumakanda Friends Church which is only a short walk from our house. Since a church must be in walking distance for the parishioners, the structure is slightly different from the United States. Lumakanda Monthly Meeting, the decision-making body, has four village meetings. We attend Lumakanda Village Church which is by far the largest of the village churches and the “seat” of the monthly meeting. The local church service begins at 8:00 a.m. and goes to 9:30 to 10:00. Lumakanda Village Meeting has about 80 to 100 attenders each Sunday while the other three village meetings have perhaps 10 to 25 people attending each Sunday. If there is a major occasion, such as a wedding, 750 will be attending with additional children usually looking through the windows. The Friends Church is one of the largest churches in Lumakanda.
As you can see from the foundation stone, the church was built in 1972.
The monthly meeting has eleven pastors and evangelists. Evangelists are the apprenticeship for becoming a pastor. There is a pastor for the monthly meeting who is appointed by the yearly meeting and usually stays for only two or so years before being assigned somewhere else. Each village meeting has a pastor/evangelist, there is a pastor/evangelist for the women, and another for the youth. The Monthly Meeting has a total of over 350 adult members. The church structure is divided into United Society for Friends Women (USFW) (which is a very strong group), Quakermen (not so strong), youth, and Sunday school. Pastors and evangelists are not paid, but each month pledges of food are solicited from the members which are given to the pastors and evangelists. She (for our present pastor is a woman) is also given a house to live in behind the church building. I guess this is called a “parsonage.”
Attenders standing for a prayer on Sunday, March 19. Gladys is the person in red behind the blue post. Notice that the women including Gladys are mostly wearing white scarves which have the logo “USFW” on them. The women sit on the right and the men on the left. The center seats are mostly for younger people. Gladys and I are one of the few couples that sit together in the center. Notice the chair and basket in the front of the picture – this is where the offering will go near the end of the service.
The Sunday school usually has 40 to 60 children from ages 3 to 13. The boy in the blue shirt on the far right is our grandson, Brian.
About four years ago when talking with our then pastor, Edward Muluhya, I characterized Lumakanda Friends Church as a “tired” church. There was no choir and the singing was solely from the hymn book, many of them in Lugoli, the local language of many, but not all, of the church members. It took almost the first four years we attended to raise sufficient funds to put on the roof, install windows and doors, and plaster the parsonage. While I thought this was all rather a simple, small task, it took a long time. The leadership of the church was mostly older people.
There were two incidents that illustrate this decline of the church. About seven years ago, the Young Friends – these are people who are from 18 to 35 years old – wanted to have a weekend retreat from Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon. This meant that the attendees would stay overnight and the elderly leadership of the meeting was afraid of “sex” so they did not approve an overnight retreat, saying that they could have only a Saturday retreat with no sleep-over. The leadership of Young Friends walked out of Lumakanda Church and went to another church in town. For the next several years, the Young Friends didn’t do much of anything.
The second incident concerned a wedding. The church was packed. The elderly pastor presiding over the wedding spent about 15 minutes speaking in the local language, chastising the church for too much singing and dancing, which he considered to be unQuakerly. First if he was concerned about this, the proper response should have been to go to business meeting and complain. The bigger issue was that the bride’s family had brought a large school bus and at least two mini-buses full of guests for the wedding. They were not Luhya, but Luo, and didn’t understand anything he was saying. The impression he gave was that the Quaker Church was only for Luhya and not Luo or other tribes. I was not the only one in the church that thought his lecture was inappropriate for the situation.
I am not certain exactly what began to revive the church. Probably it was a large number of small steps that in the end built upon each other. It is difficult for me to remember the order of the changes, but here are some of them.
*The United Society of Friends Women decided to collect funds from the women to purchase plastic chairs to rent out for occasions such as weddings and funerals. They collected funds to purchase 47 chairs. Gladys and I, since we have a pickup, were tasked to go to Kakamega and buy the chairs. This was an income generating project since each chair would be rented out at 10 shillings each per day (then about 12 US cents). This worked so well that about a year later the church decided to buy 53 more chairs to have a hundred and then purchase a tent to rent out with the chairs. Now Quakermen are raising 45,000 shillings ($450) to buy a generator to rent with the tent and chairs. This income is used for improvements in the meeting. The major significance, though, was that the church was doing something proactive as a congregation.
*About three years ago, the fourth village meeting, called Upendo, was started. It is only about 1 and ½ miles from Lumakanda Church towards the main road, but it allows for closer access to those who live on the other side of the main road. This new church has already bought a small plot and built a simple church – Gladys and I contributed some corrugated iron sheets for the roof.
*Those elderly leaders of the meeting, mostly in their 60s and 70s, have been replaced by people in their 40s and 50s. Gladys was on the nominating committee last year and was one of the people who encouraged this age change.
*Sufficient funds were raised to rehabilitate the church. The inside of the church was painted, old thick wooden posted were replaced with thinner metal ones, the windows were replaced with much larger windows, a new, much better sound system and keyboard were purchased, and a new podium was installed. Cows were forbidden to graze on the extensive grassy areas unless payment was made, indicating that the church was again asserting control over its property.
*Edward Muluhya, the pastor I mentioned above who was the pastor at Lumakanda during two years at the beginning of this revival, was well liked by members of Lumakanda Church including me. He decided that he wanted to get a Master’s degree in Pastoral Counseling in Eldoret. This cost 95,000 shillings (about $1100 at that time). Lumakanda Church held a fundraiser for him and received 112,000 shillings ($1300). They gave him the extra for books and travel to Eldoret. He would come to visit us and we would discuss his thesis which was on counseling for couples who planned on getting married. I read the draft of this thesis and gave him a few thoughts of advice to improve it.
The new “Praise and Worship Team.” Notice that they are all women.
*While the old familiar hymns are still sung, a more modern style has been introduced. This is the “Call and Response” singing where the leader sings a short verse and the congregation repeats. The new “Praise and Worship Team” leads this kind of singing. While in a sense this is “new”, in another sense it is a traditional method of singing. Some of the older male members do not stand up and participate in this much more rousing type of music.
Women leading Lumakanda Village church service on Sunday, March 19. The woman in the center, Finora, is the clerk of the local branch of United Society of Friends Women (USFW) and led the service. The woman on the right is Frieda Wekesa, the pastor for USFW, who gave the sermon that day. The dark and light blue curtains on the wall are also new, being brought and donated by a member who purchased them in Juba in South Sudan and installed them in the church herself.
*Yet the biggest change was the rise of women in the meeting. Of the eleven pastors and evangelists, six are women, including Josephine Kemoli, one of my sisters-in-law. I cannot emphasize enough how unusual this is in Africa. In the 2008 post-election violence when Gladys and I helped to organize a Peace Day at the Turbo Internally Displaced Persons camp with the local ministers’ association, all 32 pastors were men and commented on the fact that three of the four pastors we brought to lead the Peace Day were women. I once was talking with the local Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG) leader of the region and, knowing that Pentecostals allow female pastors, I asked him how many were in his region. The response was “one.” Quakers in other African countries aren’t much better. In Rwanda with 41 pastors, only 3 are women. In the two yearly meetings in Burundi with 104 pastors, again only 3 are women. Lumakanda Church alone has 4 female pastors.
Pastor Frieda Wekesa wearing the USFW scarf giving the sermon at the newly purchased podium.
*I can’t actually remember how long ago Frieda Wekesa began attending Lumakanda Church. Her husband, Sedrack Wekesa, is an evangelist at Mugusa village meeting, and is a veterinarian who takes care of our chickens and cows when they are sick or the cows need insemination. Frieda has livened up the church. She started as one who led singing. While she may not have been the first to introduce the call and response singing, she has enhanced this considerable. She gets people singing, clapping or waving their arms to the music. Whenever there is a lull in the service for one reason or another, she quickly jumps up and fills the void with another call and response song. She is also young, probably in her early 30s.
For me though, she has brought another aspect. Most of the members of the church, including Gladys, are Maragoli who have immigrated from their home area 75 miles south of Lumakanda. Frieda is a Bukusu who comes from the slopes of Mt. Elgon. While both are sub-groups of the Luhya tribe, they speak different languages. Therefore Frieda speaks Swahili in church and only once can I remember that she has used a Luhya song. This is important for me because I don’t know the local Lugoli language, but many other members of the church don’t either. This includes many of the younger people, including my grandchildren, the oldest who are in high school, because they don’t know the local language either. This is due to the fact that Lumakanda is a mixed community and the common language is Swahili. If the Friends Church wants to branch out to the other 42 tribes in Kenya, they will need to speak Swahili.
Members leaving at the end of the service. Only one person regularly drives his car to church and this is because his elderly mother, Rebecca, would be unable to walk to church and back. With respect due to the elderly, Rebecca is frequently asked to give the closing prayer at the end of the service.
I can’t predict how the village and monthly meetings will develop in the future. Nonetheless we will continue to attend and play our part. Gladys is the one in our family who attends the business meeting, serves on committees, attends the USFW gatherings, and determines our proper donations for its many requests and activities.
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From 1998 to 2016, David Zarembka was the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He continues his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC) and Friends Church Peace Team (FCPT). He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. David is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region.
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