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Mission to Kapsabet, Kenya

In 2019 St Mary's Church in Atherstone entered into a partnership with the Pro Cathedral in Kapsabet, Kenya, growing on the link between the Diocese of Coventry and the Diocese of Kapsabet. In February this year a team from St Mary's visited the Diocese of Kapsabet. The Revd Michael Brandsma, Vicar of St Mary's, writes about their visit.

Kapsabet is a rural municipality of perhaps 80,000 – but the town itself is probably smaller in size to Stratford - and lies 6 hours by road North-west of Nairobi. It is on the equator but it rests about 2000 metres above sea level and the climate when we were there was superb.

A team of 4 people, led by Revd Michael Brandsma, Vicar of St. Mary’s Atherstone, Dianne Stenning, Dave Marshall and Richard Hartley, left Birmingham airport via Dubai and Nairobi to arrive in Kapsabet Diocese. And we certainly knew that we had arrived! The wonderful welcome at the airport set the scene and was a taste of what was to herald us everywhere we travelled. One of joy, smiles and singing.

The Anglican Church of Kenya in Kapsabet is headed by Bishop Paul. There are 9 churches in the diocese that probably is the size of Yorkshire.

Apart from the town itself which is pretty basic there are huge areas of tea plantations and small farms. It is a very poor area with lots of people living in poverty. Pumped water in rural areas is limited. There are many children with happy smiling faces. Church going is the norm (80% of the people are Christian) and when Dianne and I went to church on Sunday to give the sermons, there were 130 people aged from 5 to 85 who sang and smiled and prayed with a fervour I had never experienced. The whole service lasted 3 hours and included auctions of fruit and vegetables to raise money for the church, a baptism, much singing of gospel songs and two sermons as well as Holy Communion! It was a wonderful feeling of companionship, worship and unity in Christ.

We visited 4 schools – two primary; one senior and a village school. And the welcome from all of them made us feel humble and quite emotional. With the first school in particular the children were from a poor area of Kapsabet. They had so little and had waited for us for over an hour as we ran on Kenyan time that seems to be well over an hour later than normal time. After the speeches (and everyone in authority seemed to give a speech) we presented some pens and crayons. Yet the cheers and clapping from them was louder than adoring fans at a pop concert in this country. At the end of the ceremony we were mobbed with everyone wanting to shake our hands and in the case of Dianne feel her blonde hair and touch her skin. Our hearts went out to them – they were happy and quiet and attentive sitting on the ground for 45 minutes in addition to the hour they had been waiting for us to arrive. Imagine that happening in England!

The next day Dianne and I made a personal visit to the school where our hosts had educated their children. There were prayers and 400 children put their hands together, closed their eyes and prayed. This was an unofficial visit so we had not planned to bring gifts of stationery. We gave what we little we had but were so moved that we went to the local stationery store and bought 1000 further pencils and crayons.

There is so much that needs to be done to help these school children in their future battles against drugs and glue sniffing and to be brought up on Christian values. We pray that funds from the Kenyan government and overseas aid will find their way to them in the form of better equipped schools. (Parents even have to buy the desks that they sit on in their very basic classrooms). We pray also that ACK will minister to these children and continue to support and encourage them in Christian values before the power of social media and TV adversely affect them.

Next day we visited the local prison and met the women prisoners and some of the men who were segregated only by a thin wall. It seems that most of the women had been found guilty of selling illicitly brewed alcohol.  Some had their babies with them as they sat on rows of benches listening to Michael’s words. All were well behaved and knew the songs we sung. Again all very emotional and humbling. As for the men, they sat quietly in the hot midday sun listening to the evangelical sermon given by Michael. At the end about 80% of the prisoners raised their hands and stood up as they accepted Christ.

One day we drove probably 35 miles to the Nandi Hills. The Nandi Hills would be described in the UK as an area of outstanding natural beauty. The views were stunning - areas of sugar cane and rolling hills and mountains as far as the eye could see and in the middle of all these, small villages with people living not that much above the poverty level but they smile and laugh and seem very happy. We could learn a lot from them and we need to think very carefully as to how best we can assist.

Then onto a modern tea plantation. It was all very well run and modern plant that employed 8000 pluckers. It is one of the main suppliers to Taylors of Harrogate and if the cup of tea we drank is anything to go by, I would recommend them; it was delicious.

I could write much more but to end I should ask “So what have we experienced?” The answer is: the overwhelming welcoming of all those we met was so uplifting; the ceremonies at every occasion; the huge meals we experienced and the rapidity at which they came (one day, we were offered – and ate – 3 lunches at different venues!) and the crusades that were held and led by Michael. But above all it is the willingness to worship and learn more of Christian matters. We could do well to follow their example.

Suffice to write that for all of us, it has been a life changing experience. We cannot sit back and let this experience fade away. God called us to go for a purpose. It wasn’t a holiday. I believe He will guide us further to serve Him in this wonderful part of Kenya.