May 11-May 14
Monday we awoke ready to head toward Garissa to start our survey trip. We left our room in Nairobi before the sun came up to avoid the Nairobi traffic. We were in Garissa town by 11am. The drive in was great. The road form Nairobi all the way to Garissa is very smooth. We started to see signs of the Orma an hour before we reached Garissa and the farther we got away from Nairobi the hotter it got and the terrain changed very rapidly. We did have to change a tire in route to Garissa.(Repair # 4 of the trip)
When we got to Garissa we checked into the Almond Hotel. It only cost us $40 a night and that included breakfast. I will not lie and say it was a dump or that we were roughing it. The hotel was very nice and even had A/C in the rooms. Believe me we were grateful every nigh to have a place to rest and recover. After we checked into our rooms we went to town and began to drive around and see what we could see.
On the map Garissa looked like a big town but we were able to circle around the town and through it in about 30 minutes. Thank the Lord for Google Maps it works great. We decided that we would look for one of the churches that had a sign board in town. We drove in the direction of the sign and got down inside of town and ended up finding a different church than what we were looking for, but none the less a church called Agape Church. Pastor Fred welcomed us inside and we were able to have our first meeting.
We introduced ourselves to Pastor Fred, shared our purpose for being in Garissa, and then proceeded to ask him some questions about the area. He gave us good information and enlightened us a little to the spiritual condition of Garissa town. His congregation is composed primarily of workers from various parts of Kenya who work in Garissa town. He himself lives on the other side of the river in a village called Madogo.
Pastor Fred shared with us that Garissa town is primarily Somalis then on the other side of the river near Mororo and Madogo is composed of Orma, Munyoyaya, Warde, and Malakote. His church is hoping to start a school to reach into the community, but currently they were not reaching the locals. He shared that the Somalis were hostile toward Christians and when a Muslim converts to Christianity they must leave the area or not publicly profess because they will be killed. He said there was an underground church in Garissa but their pastor had been killed in 2013 so he was unsure of the status of the believers.
Another valuable piece of information from Pastor Fred was the number of churches in the area. He said there were around 33 churches in the area but that only 6 were actually in Garissa Town the others were across the river. He said there was a Pastors Association that met every Thursday. He gave us the contacts of two of the pastors to include the Chairman of the Pastors Association. We prayed with Pastor Fred and thanked him for his time and for sharing.
One of the contacts that Pastor Fred gave us was with Pastor Eliud of the Africa Inland Church. We called pastor Eliud and went by to see him. The AIC Church in Garissa was attacked in 2013 and 17 people died and more than 50 injured when terrorist threw a grenade in the church while the church was meeting for worship. Pastor Eliud was not the pastor when the attacks occurred he was the one who came in afterwards. He was pastoring in his home area of Mwinigi and felt that God called him to Garissa. He and his wife accepted the post after much prayer.
Pastor Eliud began our meeting by sharing the story of the attacks that took place in 2013 and his calling. He also told us about the most recent attack that took place at the university, which is a quarter mile from the church. He said he and his family locked themselves in their house and could hear the gunfire all day long. The church's compound is not a walled compound so they are very exposed and Pastor Eliud and his family live in fear because of the history and the most recent attack being so close. Pastor Eliud’s resolve to follow the Lord even in light of the recent attacks was inspiring.
Pastor Eliud shared that his congregation was people from other areas in Kenya that were in Garissa working also just like Pastor Fred and the Agape Church. He did say that since the university attack attendance has been cut more than in half with people being afraid and many that had left town. He said that the same thing about Muslims that get saved in Garissa, they either leave or are “silent” Christians. He did mention to us about an underground church in Dadab. Pastor Eliud said that many Somali’s say that they know the Christians are telling the truth, but they can’t profess they’re saved out of fear.
Pastor Eliud also told us that the church is only allowed to worship on Sunday’s from 9-12 because the government has restricted them. There are guards posted during any gatherings and if the services run late the soldiers rush them. He said the government officials are Muslim so they are sympathetic to the Muslim population. He also shared some of the speculation about the university attack and investigations the government is doing into the head officials of Garissa and their part in the university attacks. He said that we were not welcome or safe in Garissa Town, but that on the other side of the river in Mororo and Madogo we would be welcome and that Christians have more freedom there.
Our time with pastor Eliud was sobering and challenging. It was sobering to know that Christians had died in the very building we were standing in and challenging to see Pastor Eliud and his wife’s faith to continue the ministry. Pastor Eliud had a sweet spirit and was very helpful. He has only been in Garissa for the past two years and they have been two years of turmoil so we had to take that in to account with all that he said.
We went back to our hotel after our meeting with Pastor Eliud because we had to be in before 6:30pm due to the government imposed curfew on Garissa Town. The curfew has been in affect since the University attack last month. We were able to make an appointment for the next morning to meet with Pastor Joseph Mwema who is the pastor of Church on the Rock and the Chairman of the local Pastors Association. We got his contact from Pastor Eliud.
On Tuesday May 12 we met with Pastor Joseph at Church on the Rock. After our introductions and sharing the purpose of our visit to Garissa pastor Joseph shared a little about his back ground and how long he had been in the area. He actually grew up in Garissa. His father was in the government and later he was in the government but had returned to Garissa as a pastor in 2001. He was able to give us some history about the area as well as how he saw the current situation.
He confirmed some of the things we had already heard about the underground church and it’s pastor of 22 years being killed in 2013. He did add that he believed there were at one time 70 believers in this underground church but since the death of the pastor they no longer meet. He shared like the others that if a Muslim converts to Christianity they are killed, must leave, or be “silent” Christians. Pastor Joseph also shared with us the term “Gala” and about the funeral ceremony that is done by a family for a person if they convert from Islam to Christianity. They are considered dead to the family and are chased away if not killed literally.
Pastor Joseph also said that his congregation is the same as the other two churches we visited and was composed of workers and people from other parts of Kenya working in Garissa. He said they had converts to Christianity from the community but they had to leave immediately after converting. He shared that his church has never been attacked because they are near the Administrative Police camp so there are always soldiers around the church. They also only meet on Sundays with guards present. The attendance at the church was nearly half what it was before the university attack. He said if believers come and see no guards they turn around and go home. He also said that it was not safe to openly walk in town carrying a Bible.
Pastor Joseph said that the first church in Garissa was a Pentecostal church that came in around 1982. He spoke a little about the attack at the university and about a meeting held last week among the Christians and Mulsims in Garissa. He said the Muslim leaders say that those that attacked were not Muslim but Pastor Joseph said that most Christians do not believe them. He specifically said you could trust no one in Garissa and that they live in fear waiting for the unexpected. He said it was impossible to know who was Al Shabab and who was not so to consider everyone as Al Shabab. He estimated that 80% of the Somalis have guns in Garissa including Muslim teachers.
We asked him about Americans and if we were safe or welcome. He said that when the Somalis see Americans they assume we are spies, Christians, or CIA and they do not like us. He said it takes many years before being accepted or for any type of effectiveness. Pastor Joseph himself and many of the other pastors in Garissa town moved across the river to Madogo after the university attacks fearing their safety. Pastor Joseph also shared the speculations that officers received money before the university attacks happened. Corruption is a big problem in the area.
Pastor Joseph shared contacts with us for two other pastors in the area for us to meet with. One is actually a missionary from Tanzania named Tobias Johnson who is working on the other side of the river among the Orma, Pokomo, Munyoyaya, and Malakote. He is educated in the Koran and speaks ten languages. Pastor Joseph said that Tobias is also trying to use farming to reach into the villages along the Tana from Garissa down to Bura. This was a big contact for us especially for Clayton. While we were still with Pastor Joseph he called Tobias, but unfortunately he was in Nairobi and would not be returning during our visit. We did get his contact info so we could talk to him another time.
The other contact that we got was for Pastor Sammy of the Upper Room Baptist Church on the other side of the river in Mororo. After our meeting with pastor Joseph we prayed with him and thanked him for his time then went to visit Pastor Sammy on the other side of the river.
Pastor Sammy met us on the other side of the river in Mororo then we went by foot interior to his church. He has been in the area since 2008. He is working with the Kenya Baptist Convention. It was very clear that by crossing the river we had entered a very different enviroment to that of Garissa town. Pastor Sammy said that they had more freedom on the Mororo side of the river and they did not have guards posted during worship time. He said that he walks freely in Garissa and does not get threatened or anything. He said that it is true that Somali’s hate Americans, but that we were safe because they usually do not randomly attack it. It is well planned and specific when they attacked. He also assured us that the hotel we were staying in was safe because it was owned by a Somali and Somali’s would not attack a place own by another Somali. However he did say that any big group of Christians is a potential target so there is always a threat.
Pastor Sammy gave the same testimony of his congregation that we got from others, that his church is composed of people from other areas of Kenya and not the locals. Although he did have one man attending that was a Somali but that was it. Pastor Sammy said he had ten preachers in the church that he was training and that one thing they all needed was training in how to reach Muslims.
We asked Pastor Sammy a little about the Dadab refugee camps. He said that he has been there several times with a man from Texas who comes from time to time. He said there is a church in the camps but it is made up of Ethiopians not Somalis. He said right now with all the tension it is not possible to go to Dadab but before he would go from time to time.
We picked up a couple more contacts from Pastor Sammy also. Joan Ward, a Canadian Baptist missionary who recently retired had worked in Garissa for over 20 years. Pastor Boniface was who Joan Ward left in charge of her clinic and home when she left. He had worked with her for 16 years. Joan Ward again is no longer in Garissa, but Paster Bornface was. We got his contact and made an appointment to meet with him in the evening at our hotel.
We had lunch with pastor Sammy then he took us to Madogo to meet Pastor Katiso who is the secretary of the Pastors Association. Madogo is also the area where most of the pastors from Garissa town live. Pastor Katiso was probably our least helpful pastor. He really was just trying to sell us his vision and get sponsorship more then help answer our questions. He had a falling out with the Anglican church in Garissa town so he was trying to go out on his own to establish Emanuel Worship Center and a school.
Pastor Katiso wants to start a school to reach the kids so that in ten years they will make a difference. He told us about Life Ministries (Campus Crusade ministry) that had a school that many kids went to and how they were having some success but not much because they allowed Muslim kids to have Muslim teaching in the school. When we asked him how successful other schools had been he said they have not but his would be different.
We walked to Pastor Katiso’s land where he wants to build a building and some day a school and prayed for him. It was not a bad visit just not very profitable. Pastor Katiso was the least educated of the pastors we visited and least helpful. After our visit with pastor Katiso we passed by pastor Sammy’s house to greet his wife and pray for his family.
We left Pastor Sammy’s and went back to our hotel and met up with Pastor Boniface. After our regular greetings and statement of purpose. Pastor Boniface confirmed what we were told about his work with Joan Ward for the past 16 years and the clinic that he manages. He also told us that he started a church called Cathedral of Praise Ministries in Garissa town four years ago on land that he was given by a government official. He said that the clinic is subsidized by supporters and is ran by Christians to show the love of God in the community. They also go to the refugee camps to do clinics at times again trying to show the love of Christ. He said his congregation was just like the other congregations and was composed of Christians from other parts of Kenya that were working in Garissa.
Pastor Boniface stressed the difference between Somali’s and Kenyan tribes. He also expressed the need for teaching and unity to reach the locals. He said the key to working in Garissa is integrity and sticking with it. He was obviously perturbed with all the pastors that have left Garissa because of the security issues. He said there were way too many pastors and missionaries on the other side of the river. He said the opposite of what some have told us about working in Garissa town. Everyone else has said Americans could not live in Garissa or work, Pastor Eliud even had told us that you would not be able to rent a home because Muslims would not rent to you.
Pastor Boniface was excited and passionate about the gospel and the need in Garissa town. We really pushed him with our questions because he was telling some things that were so different from the other pastors. In an effort to defend what he was saying he said that Joan had worked and lived in the area for many years and that there was a missionary family that lived across the street from him that had been in the area since 2008. This was our first time to hear of American missionaries working in Garissa. He said that the missionary was named Jason and was doing farming along the Tana and that he lived in Garissa with his family. Pastor Boniface visit was very profitable. He confirmed the work of Tobias the Tanzanian missionary working on the other side of the river also. He said he would send us Jason’s contact when he got home. Another big contact that we got from Pastor Boniface was Pastor Bocha’s contact. He is an Orma Christian that is trying to reach Orma. Boniface gave us his contact and told us he was living in Garsen.
We prayed over pastor Boniface and were a little unsure what to think because of the conflicting things we heard from him but we knew if we could talk to Jason it would help us clear up some of what we were hearing. It was a bit odd that no one in two days had mentioned Jason but we still had no contact for him. Later in the evening Pastor Boniface sent us the contact for Jason Witt who is an American missionary working in Garissa. Clayton called Jason and he said he could meet with us on Wednesday and would love to even show us his farm. We originally planned to pull out of Garissa on Wednesday, but we could not pass up meeting Jason and talking to him so we stayed another night in Garissa.
Thursday morning we met with Jason and shared with him the reason for our visit and asked him what he could share with us about Garissa. He told us he and his wife and four girls lived in Garissa town along with another American couple with their six month old. They are part of Bethany International. His home church was a Southern Baptist church but he did not come to Kenya with the IMB but through Bethany where he had received his missions training. He and his wife have worked in Garissa since 2008. Jason has worked with many of the churches in the area to include pastor Fred our first contact in town(their relationship ended on a bad note).
Currently Jason has a farm 10 kilometers interior from Mororo along the Tana River. They also run a clinic once a week on the farm. Jason was given 30 acres of land to farm and has been in process of developing 10 of the acres for farming the past 4 years. Jason is not a farmer but is learning. He is working with the Malakote, Pokomo, and Warde. His hope is to use farming and the clinic to build relationship and bridges for the gospel. Jason and his family have hosted 16 different interns for 16 month internships through Bethany international as a part of their degree program. He is obviously one of their outposts for training. The other couple working with him were former interns that have returned to gain experience with hopes to move to South Sudan in the future.
Jason was able to take a lot of the information we heard and filter it for us from an American, christian perspective. He said they have not had any problems living in Garissa. They have evacuated several times for a period of time then returned. They understand the dangers of the area but Jason said it is where God has called them. I asked Jason what he attributes his family's longevity to in such a harsh environment. He said first of all the Call of God, second his wife’s support and belief in the calling, third his organizations leadership, and fourth the internship program that provides fellowship.
After lunch we went out to Jason’s farm and took a look at what he is doing near the river and met some of the men he is working with. Jason has established himself in the community and is obviously respected. In the local language he is called by a name that means, “Beard”. Recently an Assembly of God group came to see the area and Jason agreed to show them around and they ended up buying Jason a tractor and massive diesel pump for his farm. That was just two months ago so it was awesome to see these new tools in action.
We really enjoyed walking around the farm and hearing about Jason’s vision. He has a heart for the people and a desire to reach people with the gospel. He is trying any way he can to make that a possibility. After visiting the farm we came back to the hotel and met Jason’s family and the wife and baby of the other family Jason is working with. It was nice to visit with Jason’s wife, Rebekah a little to hear how she does living in Garissa especially with four little girls. Rebekah has a heart for the ladies and a passion to help and educate. Female genital mutilation is a big problem among the tribes and Rebekah along with others she works with in the community are trying to help educate and stop this practice among the young ladies.
Jason was such a kindred spirit. We enjoyed our visit with Rebekah and the girls as well as meeting their ministry partners wife Emily and her little one. Jason has promised to come see us on the coast in June so I am sure we will learn even more. Jason again provided us a filter and clarification of all that conversations that we had while in Garissa. We went to bed Wednesday praising God for an amazing time in Garissa.
Thursday we hit the road after breakfast heading to Bura and Hola. We heard that the road was bad but we had not idea! We traveled about 5 hours from Garissa to Bura. It was crazy! The road conditions were the worst I have ever seen in Kenya. We stopped off in Bura to see the town. It is built around a huge irrigation scheme sponsored by the government. This town has no churches in it. Back in 2003 all the churches in Bura were burned by Muslims over the arrest of a Muslim cleric and have still not been rebuilt. There was a spiritual void in the area for sure.
We just past through Bura to go down to see the Tana River. We drove deep interior crossing deep water in the Land Rover and finally reaching a cluster of huts next to the river. Some ladies from the village took us to the river and showed us around a little. They told us about the Hippos that are very dangerous and eat all the crops at night. We even got to see the hippos in the river. It was a cool little detour in our trip to see how Malakote folks live along the river.
After our river drive we passed back through to Bura and had lunch. Then we went on to Hola. The road from Bura to Hola was no better than the road from Garissa to Bura. Brother Chad rode on top of the Land Rover a few times to get some relief from the roads and being squeezed in the back seat. We got to Hola and found our hotel. I got the hotel contact from Kleopus. It was not as nice as the Almond in Garissa but it was still good. We got our rooms then we noticed that the radiator was leaking water on the Land Rover.