On the Sunnyside

White Face

The story that has dominated the news recently reminded me of an eye-opening experience I had in Kenya, but it was about whiteface. My wife and I enlisted for one year of voluntary service at the Kijabe Mission station. The commitment was for ’92-‘93. I was teaching at Moffat Bible College and Helen helped out with some clerical work at the Administration Office.

One of the expectations from some students was that the teacher would conduct an evangelistic outreach in their village, preach in their church and visit their family. When Peter Ngya asked me to come with him to Karuri for that purpose I readily agreed. I was frequently gone to such places over the weekend, sometimes Helen accompanied me. I was a bit puzzled when Peter told me, in an apologetic sort of way, that the church leadership agreed to this invitation. I thought to myself, “Why would he express it that way? Of course the leadership has to be in favor. Is there something more to this?”

I was billeted in the home of the chairman of the board. During the evening of my arrival the pastor and a group of others came to the home, welcomed me and were gracious hosts. The conversation soon revealed that both the pastor and the chairman had been jailed for being part of a revolt against British colonial domination over 30 years ago. In fact, extremists in the Mau Mau movement adopted the slogan, “Kill the white man!” Resentments had run deep. Foreigners were grabbing more and more of the best land and reducing Kenyans to poorly paid laborers. At one point about 17,000 Europeans owned 48,000 sq. km. of the best Kikuyu land while over a million Kikuyu tribes people were allotted 18,000 sq. km. This fueled the resentment and sparked massive rallies in protest. The colonial government responded to the revolt by banning all public gatherings except for church services. No problem, vowed the movement. We’ll form a church and continue meeting. They called their denomination the Africa Independent Pentecostal Church of Africa. It was a front for their political agenda. When the colonial government discovered this they expropriated this church’s property and gave it to other organizations including some supposed church missions but the Africa Inland Mission, now centered in Kijabe, opposed that idea. The ensuing war claimed the lives of an estimated 100,000 – 300,000 Kenyans over the 1920-1963 period. In addition the colonial government executed more than 1000 of the revolt’s leaders. (Check the details on Wikipedia.)

When independence was finally achieved in 1963 the AIPCA lost its initial mandate and changed its slogan to “No white people allowed in our churches.” I was told just before the Sunday service that the pulpit had been moved off the platform and onto the main floor. I thought nothing of it – no problem. It was a concession to an element in the congregation still angry with the white man. The platform was occupied by an array of leaders in various clerical robes. Obviously the white man didn’t belong among them and I was very content with that.

After the service a number of speeches were made. Peter told me he’d explain later. It turned out that they were speeches about reconciliation with the white man and the need for forgiveness and putting the past behind them. Peter told me that I was the first white man to preach in this church (but not from the platform…yet). My face was the wrong color. I carry no credit for this small breakthrough, since I was clueless about what was happening, but give credit to the Lord and them for the step they did take.

Henry Wiebe

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