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Poor in possessions, rich in spirit: Visitors blessed by Kenyan church

Mombasa, Kenya, provided me with some of the most moving experiences of my adult life. Our last Sunday in Mombasa, we worshiped with the Mshmoroni church, where we experienced a true Kenyan church that inspired and gave us a clearer understanding of the phenomenal growth of African Churches of Christ.
We arrived on the typical dirt road in a typical neighborhood of one- or two-room “houses.” A group of men waiting at the road welcomed us and helped our party up the steep trail to the church building where all were assembled and singing vigorously. Pat and Ken Beckloff, Robbie Leftwich, Christopher Lemmons, Sean-Brendan Lemmons, Brandon Wheeler, Joyce and I made our way up the dirt trails, into the building and to the front rows that had been saved for us.
The music was rich and vibrated with elements reminiscent of tribal chants and refrains. The distinctive beat was accompanied by hand clapping or hand movements. In true Kenyan style, the principal part was sung by a single woman with the rest of the church echoing. The music continued for nearly an hour. Then a group of teenagers came down the center aisle to the stage where they sang three songs that honored the Lordship of Jesus. (All the songs were in Swahili, and so I only knew the meaning because Ken would give me simple translations.)
Then a group of women moved forward and sang songs they had created about their inspiration and fellowship at a women’s workshop in Nairobi. Next, a group of youths (Kenyans usually marry only after they are near 30) sang songs about the joys of salvation and life in Jesus. Then came a time for testimonies: A half-dozen people reported on ways God had worked in their lives. Ken gave me only a one-sentence description of the testimonies, which included healings, reunion with family, baptism of family members and employment.
Then there was a time for people to come forward for prayers. Ken and the youth minister, Martin Solo, stood at the front and prayed with each of the dozen people who came forward. Six had been baptized the week before when the gospel Chariot, a mobile preaching ministry from South Africa, visited the area.
Then it was time for preaching. With a minute’s notice Ken was asked to preach. One of the leaders translated for him, but most of the time, Ken lapsed into Swahili, so it was the visitors who needed a translator. After about a 40 minute sermon on God’s overwhelming love (From 1 John), more singing followed. I was suddenly called on to make comments for communion. I knew from previous worship services that I was expected to spend about 10 minutes stressing the importance of the bread and wine to the people. Since I had to be translated, it took another 15 minutes. Then the church filed forward to take the bread and the wine from a beautiful basket and hand-carved tray.
After another round of songs, we had a closing prayer. The worship lasted more than three hours, but I never thought about time until we were standing for the last song. I now realize that the novelty of the service was intriguing, but more important than that was the total involvement of the church in honoring God. Passion and devotion characterized all that was being done. I could hear it in the singing and see it in the faces around me. I saw deep emotion in each face as people came forward to take communion.
We left the building only a few minutes before we were scheduled to meet again for Bible study. So we grabbed a quick lunch and came back for another session. Joyce and some of the women took all the children to another building for a study of Elijah. Joyce was impressed by the young children and their eagerness to learn. She was discouraged that there was so little material available for teaching children.
After all the formal sessions, the church leaders invited Ken and me to meet with them in the tiny building they use for an office. Four of church leaders at Mshomoroni are recent graduates of the Mombasa Educational Institute, and they have planned systematically for 2007.
The Christians at Mshomoroni are rich in spiritual gifts – love, peace, joy, patience and long-suffering. They are among the poorest people in the world, but they are rich for God.
This church is not a Bible Belt transplant, but a Bible-inspired African church.
CONTACT [email protected].

Filed under: Insight

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