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The Beginning and Development of Christianity in Kenya:
A Survey

Zablon Nthamburi

The Portuguese Period

One Saturday afternoon, April 7th, 1498, Vasco da Gama anchored off Mombasa near where Fort Jesus stands today. He had gone round the Cape of Good Hope in the Indian Ocean. Not only had he discovered a new route to India and the Far East, he had also discovered a way by which Islamic forces could be checked. He also felt that he was on the right route to the realm of Prester John, a legendary African king of whom the people of Europe had heard much. Such an alliance with a powerful Christian king at the heart of Africa might be a great help in the long struggle against Muslim expansion in Africa.

Vasco da Gama was part of the grand design of Henry the Navigator who directed all his energies towards expansion. He had earned his fame in his struggle against the Moors (black Muslims) who had threatened Portugal and Spain. Not only did he have a yearning to expand geographical knowledge, he also desired to expand his country's trade. In this expansion, the Muslims were his enemies, and he wanted to find out where their strength lay. He felt that it would help his crusading spirit if he were to find an African ruler who was willing to become an ally in the struggle against Muslims. Privately, he also wanted to spread the Christian faith in Africa as a way of counteracting Islamic faith, and he supposed that it would have a civilizing effect as well.

From Mozambique to Mombasa, Vasco da Gama discovered that he was not welcomed by the Muslim inhabitants who had already established a presence on the east coast. However, he found a friendly reception at Malindi. Part of the reason was that the ruler of Malindi was always at war with his more powerful neighbor in Mombasa. He thought that the Portuguese might be allies. Vasco da Gama erected a marble pillar at Malindi to commemorate the friendly treaty that was concluded between Malindi and Portugal [1]. Malindi was to remain an invaluable ally of the Portuguese occupation, which was surrounded by hostile Islamic forces.

After Vasco da Gama had confirmed that there were extensive gold fields on the east coast which were now in the hands of hostile forces, Lisbon decided to take adequate steps to ensure that the Portuguese would gain a monopoly over those riches. With that objective in mind, Francisco d'Almeida was sent in 1505 with a very large fleet. He had instructions to invade Kilwa in order to secure the trade at Sofala. The Sultan of Kilwa was dethroned and a puppet ruler was installed by the Portuguese, who also built a fort in Kilwa to defend their interests. From Kilwa, Almeida went to Mombasa, but met with stronger resistance than at Kilwa. The town was taken after heavy fighting and was set on fire.

Almeida did not make any attempts at evangelization. Although he left two Fransiscan friars behind to say mass, it was understood that they were chaplains to the Portuguese soldiers and were not necessarily there to spread the Christian faith among the people of the land. In a letter to the king of Portugal dated August 31, 1506, Kilwa reported that he had forty people who wanted to become Christians. Against the advice of the Sultan of Kilwa, the Portuguese captain of Kilwa had the people baptized, much to the consternation of the Muslims [2]. The Kilwa captain sent an envoy to search for an inland route to Ethiopia. This envoy, however, did not get beyond Mombasa, where he was murdered. Another attempt was made from Malindi, but it also failed due to hostile inhabitants in the interior. Eventually two Portuguese reached the court of the regent of Ethiopia and they reported this in a letter to King Manuel of Portugal. In 1513, the Portuguese abandoned Kilwa after they had established themselves at Sofala, as they had effectively gained control over the South African gold trade [3].

Even though Francis Xavier did not evangelize East Africa, it seems that he influenced others to do so. He had worked in Goa and on the coast of China. It was Dom Pedro Mascarenhas, the Portuguese viceroy of India, who gave orders for the construction of a fort at Mombasa. He also instructed that the gospel should be preached to the inhabitants. Four years later it was reported that due to Muslim hostility, nothing had been done.[4] Notwithstanding the friendly relations that existed between Malindi and the Portuguese, it was considered unwise to try to introduce Christianity in Malindi, since such an attempt might antagonize and offend the allies, thus jeopardizing chances for further rapport. The only religious ritual allowed was that the Portuguese residents were permitted to bury their dead according to Christian funeral rites.

John Gray reports that in 1591, John Dos Santos, a Dominican friar who was stationed in the Kerimba Isles, managed to baptize a nephew of the ruler of Zanzibar. The ruler was very angry with the Portuguese, as he considered that what they had done amounted to treachery: he had brought up the young man as his heir, having no sons of his own. The young man was sent to Mozambique for protection, and thereafter he sailed to India. The ruler of Zanzibar did not attempt to take out revenge upon the Portuguese residents over this, although relations were at their lowest ebb. [5]

ln 1585, Mir Ali Bey, a Turk, made an attempt to oust the Portuguese from the Indian Ocean. He preached a jihad against the Portuguese and received enthusiastic support for his mission. On the Island of Pate, a Portuguese man named John Rebello was dragged around the town and pelted with stones for his refusal to give up his Christian faith. He later died from his injuries. Two years later, the Portuguese avenged his death by attacking Faza. Not only did they loot it and raze it to the ground, they slaughtered all the inhabitants, including the women and children. They destroyed the palm trees by cutting them down and set fire to the whole town. [6] This kind of destruction did not reflect well on the Christian faith that they intended to propagate, nor did it improve human relations. On the contrary, it caused an explosive situation that might be blown out of all proportion at the slightest misstep.

Dos Santos gives an account of the personal and ethical behavior of the Portuguese which is hardly Christian and which makes one wonder why their presence on the east coast lasted that long.

"If a chicken belonging to a Moor (Muslim) enters the dwelling of a Christian (Portuguese) and the Moor asks for it, the Christian answers that the chicken entered his house because it wanted to be a Christian, and so he cannot give it back." [7]

Not only did the Portuguese practice such acts of outright theft, but their moral behavior also left a lot to be desired. They were known to keep concubines, and were reputed to be cruel and inhuman. This behavior had a negative effect on their plans for evangelization. People were not attracted to a type of gospel that was not lived out in good human relations. It is true that the majority of the Portuguese there were traders and soldiers, perhaps not the best representatives of their people. Nevertheless, we cannot escape the fact that Christianity was represented by people who portrayed their faith negatively, and they were judged accordingly, which is a lesson for modern missionaries and Christians.

ln 1599, Francisco da Gama reported that the church in Mombasa was nearly completed and that evangelization was in progress. The Augustinians who were responsible for missionary outreach reported that 600 people had been converted. Among the new converts was the exiled ruler of Pemba, who was living in Mombasa, and who had been baptized as Philip. In addition, the Brethren of the Misericordia were caring for the widows and orphans who were converts to Christianity. [8] The Misericordia who needed support for their work were given part of the tribute that Portugal extracted from Pemba. It was quite obvious that most of the people who were converting to Christianity were adherents of traditional religion. As a vicar from Zanzibar reported in 1612, "Kafirs (traditionalists) are not so hard to convert as Moors (Muslims)." [9] There were reports that by 1600 there had been 1,200 baptisms and that there was a Christian community of 4,000 souls. Gradually, the number of baptisms increased to 1,000 a year. The clergy, however, sent back reports on the scandalous lives of their compatriots.

By 1624 there seems to have been four established places of worship in Mombasa. There was the Augustinian cathedral, the Misericordia church, the church inside the walled town referred to as the igreja matriz (mother church) and a chapel inside Fort Jesus. [10] There are no records to show how Christianity was faring at Lamu and Pate, but there was a good deal of literature concerning Faza. At Pate, the ruler, Mwinyi Kombo, had been beheaded because of his great hatred for the Portuguese. There was, therefore, very little missionary enterprise to be expected in the context of such a strained relationship. At Faza, the Liwali was very friendly to the Portuguese. He had assisted in building the church, and had hoped to receive in return protection of the town from the Portuguese soldiers. However, less than twenty years later, the town was razed to the ground and set on fire. Many people died and there was great loss of property. [11] However, the people of Faza continued to be friendly to the Portuguese until the end.

Fort Jesus, which became contested between the Arabs and the Portuguese, was completed in 1595. The architect of this great monument was the chief engineer of India who was an Italian named Giobanni Battista Cairati. After the fortification of Mombasa, the ruler of Malindi was appointed by the Portuguese to govern Mombasa as well. He was a puppet ruler, since all decisions were made by the Portuguese, and although he was distressed by the uneven political arrangements, there was nothing he could do about it. He died in 1609, leaving his son Hasan bin Ahmed to be his successor. In a rather unprecedented provocation, the Portuguese captain demanded that the sultan send out all his grain stock to Fort Jesus. When the sultan refused, the captain bombarded the royal palace with cannon balls. The sultan had to flee to Kilifi, leaving Mwinyi Nasr as the regent. A few years later the sultan was able to resume his power, but by then the relationship was strained. The captain had voiced accusations against the sultan to the viceroy in Goa and word was sent that the sultan should be sent to Goa to stand trial. He refused and fled to the mainland, where he was treacherously murdered as a result of a Portuguese instigation. When his brother was installed as the regent, his son Yusuf, who was a minor, was sent to Goa to be trained by the Augustinians.

Yusuf apparently distinguished himself as a good student and was converted to Christ, assuming the name of Dom Jeronimo Chingulia. [12] He was married to a Portuguese noblewoman and was crowned ruler of Mombasa, Malindi and Pemba. He received the honor of being knighted as a Knight of Christ by the king of Portugal and was sent back to Mombasa. He probably returned in the year 1626, to a tumultuous welcome and much pomp. [13] His reign began with an incident however, as he was apparently insulted by the Portuguese captain, Marcel de Macedo. He had not forgotten what the Portuguese had done to his father, and he complained to the viceroy at Goa about the mistreatment by the hand of the Portuguese, but to no avail. He eventually reverted to Islam in secrecy. Word went out that he was in the habit of visiting his father's grave, where he prayed using Islamic rituals. The Portuguese commander intended to arrest Yusuf and send him to Goa, but when Yusuf heard of the plan, he decided to strike first.

It was the day of the feast of the Assumption of our Lady, August 15, 1631, when Yusuf entered the fort as if he was paying a courtesy call to the commander. Accompanied by his bodyguards, he killed the Portuguese commander and the few Portuguese soldiers that were inside the fort. When word went around about what had happened, the Portuguese sought refuge in the Augustinian monastery. Yusuf requested that they come out, saying that he would spare them if they were willing to become Muslims. They rejected his offer and were killed. Many of the Portuguese women were drowned in the sea.

Even though attempts have been made to ascertain whether this was martyrdom, it seems that this was a colonial uprising which had little to do with religion. A number of people may have died in their refusal to accept Islam, but they might have refused because they did not want to become servants of another master. The contest was not so much a conflict between Islam and Christianity as it was a contest for dominance between the Arabs and the Portuguese.

It has been suggested by Richard Reusch that what provoked Yusuf (Dom Jeronimo) was the attitude of the Portuguese commander in attempting to take one of Yusuf's wives as a concubine. [14] While there may be something to it, this has been emphatically refuted by Freeman-Grenville for lack of evidence. He believes that since it is not mentioned in any document that he has been able to retrieve, it should be dismissed as mere propaganda. [15] What we know about the Portuguese during this time could certainly confirm Reusch's investigation, but we cannot confirm it, for lack of documentary evidence.

The struggle for dominance and the political rivalry between the Arabs and the Portuguese continued long after Yusuf's rebellion. Yusuf ran away to the Arabian peninsula, from where he continued to scheme for the ouster of the Portuguese from the east coast. In 1652, there was a general rebellion of the Arabs along the east coast Vessels from Oman raided Zanzibar, killing the Portuguese settlers. The Portuguese continued to send punitive expeditions but it was clear that their power was waning. In 1696, a fleet from Oman besieged Fort Jesus for thirty-three months. At the end of the siege, only six Portuguese remained. In 1727, the special fleet from Goa was able to expel the Arabs from the island. They were able to capture Mombasa and Pate, but only for only a short time. On April 25, 1729, the last attack on the Portuguese in Mombasa was made. Many of them were killed, while those who were in the fort were besieged for five months. In the end, they were glad to accept an offer of two dhows that were to take them to Mozambique. Thus on November 26, 1729, the Portuguese flag was lowered for the last time. [16] They were no longer inclined to challenge the supremacy of the Arabs.

There is no record of any Christian presence in Mombasa after the Arabs regained control. Although there was a handful of Christians, they were not indigenous people but mostly people from Goa. The Portuguese occupation of the east coast left no significant mark. Their interests were mainly commercial although they also sought political supremacy. By vehemently denouncing Islam they inevitably created opposition, which slowed their evangelization. As we have noted, the Portuguese missionaries baptized many people, but prepared few leaders to carry on the work. There was a thin veneer of Christian faith which could not hold in the midst of the storm. No attempt was made to indigenize the church and to integrate it within the indigenous culture, and without the tutelage of the missionaries, the church quickly disintegrated. The ethical behavior of the Portuguese did not substantiate the Christian faith, and their moral laxity gave a distorted image of Christianity. While Christianity had a chance during this period, that chance was Iost through cruelty, oppression and indulgence in selfish passion. [17] When the first modern missionaries arrived, there was no trace of Christianity.


The Protestant Missions

By 1856, when Livingstone returned to England after his first exploratory journey, European interests were concentrated on the island of Zanzibar. Sultan Seyyid Said of Muscat had made Zanzibar an important trade center when he moved his capital there. By encouraging the cultivation of cloves, he had ensured that Europe and North America would be encouraged to participate in direct trade. While Zanzibar exported ivory, spices (including cloves), cowry shells, and slaves, she was in dire need of imports such as cloth, firearms and hardware. European and American commercial activities were thus concentrated along the east coast and there was no incentive to venture into the unknown interior. In 1937, the United States had appointed a Consul in Zanzibar. Great Britain soon followed suit, and a British Consul was appointed in 1841, and France also appointed one in 1844. [18]

If Western powers partitioned Africa during the Berlin Conference (1884/ 85) it is obvious that Christianity came to East Africa forty years before colonialism. It has been suggested that the European invasion of Africa was prompted by economic factors that were brought about by the second industrial revolution. Although this is largely true, we ought to distinguish between the motives of merchants and traders and those of missionaries and philanthropists. They did not share the same objectives, for the missionary was motivated by the desire to preach the gospel, with its liberating effects, but the trader was to a large extent influenced by the profit motive. Although the explorations of such pioneers as David Livingstone gave a new impetus not only to the missionary cause but also to colonization, Christian explorers were more concerned about opening up opportunities for evangelization. If commerce and civilization were to accompany such a noble venture, these were seen as a Modus Operandi, and not as an end in themselves.

John Ludwig Krapf was the first missionary to East Africa. Born in 1810 in Germany to a peasant farmer, Krapf started school when he was thirteen years old. Even as a child, he was convinced that he wanted to go to a far country to preach the gospel to the "heathens." After a conversion experience, he offered to be trained as a missionary in Basel. [20]

Krapf was first sent out to Ethiopia as a missionary of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in 1837. He spent five years there trying to reach the Galla people, whom he estimated to number between six and eight million. As it turned out later, he was mistaken about their number. He was also mistaken about their ability to reach out to others if they were converted to Christianity. In 1842, Krapf left Ethiopia to meet his bride, who was in Egypt. After the marriage, the two attempted to return to Ethiopia but were refused entry. Frustrated in his attempt to reach the kingdom of Shoa, he sought permission from the home committee to attempt to reach the Gallas through a circuitous route. After obtaining permission from Seyyid Said, Krapf landed in Mombasa in 1844, beginning a new era for Christianity in East Africa. Except for Fort Jesus and some remnants of the buildings that had been erected by the Portuguese, there was no trace of Christianity. [21]

Krapf settled at Rabai Mpya. Within two months of their arrival, his wife Rosine and the newborn baby were dead. With great perseverance, Krapf continued his sojourn and intensified his efforts at evangelization. With the arrival of John Rebmann, who joined him in 1846, Krapf studied the local languages and produced a Swahili dictionary. He set himself the task of Bible translation, and in two years, the whole of the New Testament had been translated into Kiswahili. He had also learned other local languages, including Kiduruma and Kigiriama. He explored the interior, where he thought the mission would flourish under healthier conditions, but his colleague Rebmann opposed this move. They were soon joined by another missionary named Erhardt in 1849. Krapf left the CMS in 1853, and went back to Europe. Apart from his linguistic work, he could not boast of any other success. He had been able to baptize only one person, a dying cripple named Mringe. There was another Giriama outcast, Abbe Gunja, who remained a faithful disciple. [22]

Back in Europe, Krapf wrote his famous book, Travels, Researches and Missionary Labours. Through this book, the Methodists were inspired to start work in Kenya. Krapf offered to help the Methodists with their initial beginnings. As a pioneer, Krapf cherished the idea of creating a chain of missions between East and West Africa. He felt that it was necessary to venture into the interior in order to make that ideal possible. But since the CMS seemed to be procrastinating, Krapf encouraged the Methodists to seize the opportunity while the climate was favorable. [23]

Krapf returned to Mombasa in 1862 in order to help Thomas Wakefield, the first missionary of the United Methodist's Free Church, to establish a mission station at Ribe. Along with Wakefield came Woolner, who stayed for only eight days before he was interned because of poor health. Krapf had bequeathed to Wakefield his obsession with the Galla Mission. The mission among the Mijikenda was seen as just a stepping stone to a more lucrative mission beyond. Nevertheless, Wakefield opened other mission stations in Ganjoni (Mazeras), Jomvu, and Chonyi. The establishment of the mission station at Jomvu in 1878 was a daring venture, since it was in the middle of a Muslim community. The Arab-Swahili slave owners were a constant threat to the existence of meaningful Christian presence there.

Towards the close of the 1860s, philanthropic attention in Europe had clearly been focused on the East African slave trade. For a long time, attention had been given to the Atlantic slave trade, much to the negligence of what was happening on the east coast of Africa. Soon, the CMS and the Methodists found themselves having to deal with rescued slaves who needed resettlement. When Sir Bartle Frere was appointed as a special emissary in Zanzibar, he encouraged Christian missions to concentrate on the settlement of freed slaves. The CMS began a large settlement of freed slaves in Freretown, at Kisauni. In addition to the slaves who were bought by British warships, there were a large number of slaves who had escaped from their local slave owners, which became a source of irritation and conflict between the missionaries and the Arabs. At times, these settlements were governed with an iron rod. It was not uncommon to see visible evidence of severe beatings and scourging at the hand of the missionaries, as they tried to keep discipline. [24] For instance, Streeter, who was a lay superintendent at Freretown, was accused of misusing his powers, as culprits were either denied their ration of food or were tied up, thrashed and imprisoned. It is clear that the missionaries who administered such settlements ruled by decree.

At this time, Frere's criticism of missions was that they offered a bookish type of education, with no practical ramifications. The only settlement that he found to have a practical solution was the Bagamoyo settlement that was founded by the Holy Ghost Fathers. The Bombay Africans who were the African mission agents were dissatisfied with the menial role they had to play under the tutelage of the Europeans. Some of them, like George David and Ishmael Semler, considered themselves equal to any European missionary. They resented the racial condescension and stereotyping which was becoming increasingly characteristic of European thought about Africans, particularly when it came from their colleagues in mission. The problem of the relationship between missions and their African empIoyees, as exemplified by the situation at Freetown, did not engender a proper working relationship. Many missionaries regarded Africans as essentially and racially different from themselves. They were treated as little children who had to be guided and patronized in every way. [25]

Even at this initial stage there were outstanding African evangelists such as David Koi, who was the first martyr in East Africa (1883). Others included William Jones, who was ordained in 1885, Ishmael Semler, George David, John Mgomba, Thomas Mazera, and Stephen Kireri.

Perhaps we should mention W.H. During, who pioneered the Methodist Mission to the Galla (Orma) people in 1883. During came from the Waterloo Church in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and was an ordained minister when he came to East Africa under the auspices of the United Methodist Free Church. [26] On the Tana River there was the Neukirchen Mission, a German evangelical mission which started work among the Wapokomo in the early 1890s. The work prospered along the Tana River and new stations were opened. The work was later given to the Methodists during World War II, when German missionaries were interned.

The partition of Africa by the Berlin Conference (1884/85) had implications for the pattern that missions later followed. Missionary societies tended to respect their nation of origin, as they perceived the need to have maximum protection. The granting of the Royal Charter to the Imperial British East Africa Company (I.B.E.A.C.) in 1888 had a direct bearing on the expansion of Protestant missionary activities. Sir William Mackinnon, the company's director, encouraged the missions to extend their work into the interior, particularly where the company could ensure their safety. Being a Scotsman himself, Mackinnon encouraged the establishment of the East African Scottish Mission. He assisted in securing the services of Dr. James Stewart, Livingstone's successor in Lovedale, Nyasaland (Malawi). Despite the fact that he was nearly sixty years old at the time, Steward accepted the challenge enthusiastically. [27]

Steward left for the interior on September 19, 1891 with a party of seven missionaries and 273 porters. The original purpose was to go as far as Kikuyuland, but due to turbulence among the Gikuyu, he decided to settle at Kibwezi. In Kibwezi, the mission encountered numerous misfortunes. Not only was the mission decimated by famine, but a number of people were killed in raids. It was decided that the mission should be transferred to Kikuyu forthwith. The Rev.Thomas Watson led the Scottish Mission to Kikuyu in 1898. By 1899, a mission station had already been built at Thogoto. [28]

The establishment of the British East Africa Protectorate and the building of the "Uganda Railway," which was begun in Mombasa in 1895, reaching Nairobi in 1899 and Kisumu in 1901, provided an impetus for other missions to venture into the interior. The railway provided a cheap and safe route across the savannah and a thorn-scrub country inhabited by the warlike Wakamba and Wamaasai. The CMS had already established themselves in Taveta by 1890. Taveta had been an important Arab Swahili trading center, as well as a supply station for caravans about to cross Masailand. [29]

The other primary target of the CMS was the Kikuyuland, for which there seemed to be a strong competition among missions. The other major competitor was the Church of Scotland Mission which already was established at Thogoto. The CMS located itself in Kabete, within eight kilometers of the Presbyterians. In order to limit conflicts, the "sphere of influence" doctrine was enacted. An imaginary line was drawn between the Ngong Hills and Mount Kenya, with the CMS getting the region east of the line, while the Scottish mission got the area west of the line. The CMS spread to Kihuruko in 1901, Weithaga in 1903, Kahuhia in 1906, and Mahiga in 1908. The Church of Scotland went to Nyeri and to the southern part of Meru. There was contention between the CMS and the United Methodist Free Churches Mission over the territory of the Embu. Apparently the governor had offered the Embu to the Methodists, while the land commissioner, Colonel Montgomery, a member of the local governing body of the Anglican Mission, had it given to the CMS. The conflict delayed the missionary occupation of Embu for almost a year. It was finally resolved in favor of the CMS, and the Methodists were appeased by being given leave to occupy Meru. [30] What is amazing is that "spheres of influence" meant the negotiation of religious boundaries, with little regard for the wishes of the Africans. For example, the Anglicans were able to prevent the expansion of the Consolata Fathers into the trans-Tana region for some time, arguing that this was in the interests of Britain and favored the cause of Protestantism.

The English Society of Friends began an industrial mission on the Island of Pemba, but his mission did not grow. In 1901, the American Friends organized the Friends Africa Industrial Mission in western Kenya, led by W.R. Hotchkiss. He was one of the pioneers of the African Inland Mission, and was convinced that what was needed was a practical mission, rather than just preaching. He organized the Friends Africa Industrial Mission with a center at Kaimosi in 1902. He resigned from that mission after six months, preferring to organize a new mission, the Lumbwa Industrial Mission, with its center at Kericho. The Friends Mission at Kaimosi developed fairly rapidly with schools, a teacher training college, a Bible institute, and a hospital. It eventually became the largest mission endeavor of the Friends.

The Africa lnland Mission was established as a "faith mission," with a basis that resembled that of the China Inland Mission or the Sudan Interior Mission. It began its ministry in Kenya in 1895 under the direction of Peter Cameron Scott. The mission was interdenominational, and was comprised of many Baptists, some Methodists, Presbyterians and Anglicans. The mission was started in Ukambani, but after a number of incidents, C. E. Hurlburt moved it to Kijabein in 1901. [31] In 1907, a station was opened at Kapropita among the Tugen people. The Mission became independent from the parent body in 1943.

The Gospel Missionary Society was a Pentecostal group within the Africa Inland Mission that constituted itself into a different mission in 1902. Under the patronage of a missionary settler by the name of Krieger, it opened its first station on Kambui Hill with the help of Rev. and Mrs. Knapps, who were their first missionaries. In 1905, the mission founded another outpost at Ng'enda (where Dr. Henderson worked), and started a girl's school. From 1940 to 1945, the Gospel Missionary Society was actually trying to wind up its activities, as it was a small mission. It had found it hard to exist, and the church and the missionaries had decided where to go. One missionary went back to the Africa Inland Mission, but the church decided to join the Church of Scotland Mission which was to become the Presbyterian Church of East Africa. The Africans apparently felt that there was more freedom of expression in the P.C.E.A. than in the A.I.M. [32]

Missionaries from the United States started the work of the Church of God in western Kenya, in 1905. One of their first missionaries was a black man from South Africa by the name of Yohana Mbila. He introduced modern hoes [for agriculture] and was an outstanding evangelist at Kima. The proclamation of the gospel went hand in hand with social services, such as education and medical services. At Kima, a hospital, a Bible school and a teacher training college were built. The church endeavored to produce local evangelists and missionaries to further the work in the outlying areas. The Pentecost Assemblies of Canada also began their ministry in 1921. The Church had grown rapidly, particularly in western Kenya and Nairobi, and it has a Bible College at Nyang'ori, as well as a printing press called Evangel Publishing House that publishes Christian literature.

There are a number of other Protestant societies that began their work recently. The Southern Baptists began their work in Kenya in 1956. With their extensive staff, they are able to expand to many areas at the same time. The German Seventh Day Adventists started work in the Mwanza area in 1893. In 1906, they moved into Kenya and have concentrated their work in western Kenya, particularly in Kisii and south Nyanza. Seventh Day Adventists stress the imminent return of Christ, and believe that food laws and Sabbath laws of the Old Testament should still be followed by Christians. Not only do they forbid the drinking of alcohol and smoking, they also stress abstinence from tea and coffee, and there are some who do not eat meat. They have engaged not only in pastoral ministry but also in social ministry (schools and medical work). They have opened the University College of East Africa, the only church sponsored university college in the country.

The Salvation Army is another established church that started work in Kenya in 1921. It opened a number of stations, including Nairobi, Thika, Malakisi, and Embu. It is well known for its charitable work, such as the school for the blind at Thika and schools for the physically handicapped. The Wokofu African Church split from the Salvation Army in 1966. The Salvation Army does not practice water baptism or Holy Communion. The Pentecostal Assemblies of God Mission, which was the work of the Apostolic Faith Mission of Iowa (U.S.A.), opened up its work at Nyang'ori and spread to the outlying areas.

We should perhaps mention once again the Methodist Church, and its endeavor to move into the interior. Having procrastinated for far too long on the coast and on the Tana River due to limited resources, the mission (now the United Methodist Mission), moved to Meru in 1912, where it established the first station at Kaaga. It soon opened many outstations and schools, culminating in the opening of a hospital at Maua, but the mission worked mainly in central and northern Meru.

Kenya has been called a haven for missions. In recent times, there has been a conglomeration of many small missions there, who all feel that they have a mandate to communicate the gospel. Some of these groups, like the Mormons, have strange doctrines that orthodox Christianity would find unorthodox. There are also para-church organizations such as the African Evangelistic Enterprise, World Vision, Campus Crusade, the Navigators, the Y.M.C.A. and the Y.W.C.A. These organizations are inter-denominational and supplement the efforts of churches in the propagation of the gospel. Let us now turn to the Catholic missions.

Roman Catholic Missions

Roman Catholic missionary outreach in East Africa was begun by the French Congregation of the Holy Ghost among the ex-slaves of Reunion. The initiative was taken by bishop Maupoint, who established a permanent station in Zanzibar in 1863, with two priests, Anthony Homier and Edward Baur, and two brothers. [33] At the height of the abolition of the slave trade, the Congregation went to the mainland at Bagamoyo, where they established another station that served as a resettlement village for the liberated slaves. Such was the success of this enterprise, that when Sir Barde Frere inspected the station, he was full of praise for what was being done for them. While his main criticism of other stations was that they tended to be too bookish, he saw a ray of hope in the endeavors of the Holy Ghost station. The Bagamoyo station at that time was an estate of eighty acres that was run by four priests and eight lay brothers. There were also twelve sisters of the "Filles de Marie" order. There were 324 freed slaves (251 children and 173 adults), who were given not only literary education but who were also taught skilled trades and manual work.

When Zanzibar was raised from the rank of prefecture to that of vicariate in 1883, John de Courmont was named as the vicar apostolic. He immediately started to expand the work of the society by starting a station at Kosi, on the Tana River. The station lasted less than a year, and was moved to Mombasa in 1890, under the supervision of Le Roy and Charles Gomneginger. [34] In 1891, the society opened a station at Bura, near Voi.

It is bishop AlIgeyer who is credited with taking the initiative to move into the interior of Kenya. In 1899, immediately after the railway line reached Nairobi, the Holy Ghost mission moved there. The St. Austin Mission was established, developing the first large plantation of Arabica coffee in Kenya. The St. Austin Mission became a center for industrial training, and opened other outstations: Kabaa in Ukambani, Gatanga in Murang'a, and Rioki, in Kiambu.

The Congregation of the Holy Ghost accepted assistance from the Consolata Society of Turin. [35] The first Italian Fathers arrived in June of 1902, and were stationed at Kiambu. The Consolata mission was born out of the spiritual enthusiasm of Father Allamano, who was inspired by the memoirs of the Capuchin mission in Ethiopia. He inaugurated a missionary training institute (Institute Mission Consolata), which was responsible for training its missionaries. From Kiambu, the work spread to Limuru (1903), Manglu, and Thika (1906). It was in 1905 that the Zanzibar vicariate was divided between the Holy Ghost and the Consolata missions. The latter were given the whole of the Mt. Kenya area, and the Society recorded its first baptisms in 1907. Before long, however, there was friction between the two missions, because the boundaries they had set for themselves were imaginary, and they found themselves infringing on one another's territory. The conflict was not resolved until 1931.

The Society spread to Murang'a, with Tutho as their base. The Nyeri vicariate was formed in 1909, with FiIippo Perlo as its first vicar apostolic. Their large mission at Nyeri was Mathare, where they established an estate of one thousand acres. This estate is still in existence as part of the Nyeri diocese. They used the large plantation for the support of their missionary outreach. Between 1911 and 1913, the Consolata Mission established four stations in Meru. In 1922, Father Maraviglia opened outstations at Baricho and Kianyaga. Meru became a prefecture in 1926, under the leadership of Monsignor G. Balbo. The Society attempted to enter Embu, but they were stopped by the government authorities until the 1930s, when permission was granted. In the early 1920s the Consolata Fathers from Kenya moved to Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, to open new work there, and they also spread to the southern highlands. [36] While the Holy Ghost missionaries were used to comfortable quarters and built complex structures, the Consolata were used to simplicity, often beginning with humble and makeshift buildings until they were able to afford permanent buildings.

The Mill Hill congregation was the only British society working in Kenya. While the Holy Ghost missionaries were predominantly French, the Consolata missionaries were wholly ltalian. The Mill Hill group was English and Dutch. They came to Kenya via Uganda, where they had established their work. The railway had reached Kisumu in 1901, and the first Mill Hill missionaries were sent to Kisumu in 1903, spreading to Mumias in 1904. [37] Van den Bergh opened the first station in Kakamega in 1906, and within three years, there were four stations operating in western Kenya. In 1908, Plunkett opened another station in Nakuru to cater to the Catholics who were working in the railway station there. Kisii station was opened by Father Brandsman in 1910, and in 1911, a new station was started at Nyabururu. During the same year, John Biermans was named vicar apostolic. [38]

We should mention that the Roman Catholic missionary outreach was augmented to a large degree by numerous orders of sisters. The first to arrive on the scene were the Daughters of St. Vincent, in 1903. By 1918, the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters was formed as an African congregation. It was elevated to the status of a religious congregation in 1927. The first African Mother superior, sister Giulia Wambui, was elected in 1946. The Fransiscan Sisters of St. Mary were part of the Mill Hill congregation and started working in western Kenya in 1902. Since then, there has been an outburst of congregations of sisters who have been a major factor in the physiognomy of the new churches and the related social services, as there are normally more nuns than there are priests.

Indigenous Christianity

David B. Barrett has looked at the continent-wide movement, and has made an exhaustive survey of the indigenous church movement, identifying the factors that are responsible for the emergence of these churches. He recognizes that American traditional culture, American religion, missionary paternalism, the colonial legacy, and the conditions of modem society are factors that have been responsible for the proliferation of indigenous churches. [39]

The development of the indigenous church movement in Africa started during the colonial period, and has not been brought to an end, even with the attainment of political independence. Historically speaking, the movement began in 1862. At present, it is estimated that there are more than seven thousand indigenous churches in Africa, with a total membership of about 35 million Christians. It is also recognized that these churches are growing much faster than the historic or mission-founded Churches. In Kenya, the majority of the indigenous churches are located in western Kenya, among the Luo and the Luhyia peoples. The area which was formerly called Kavirondo was part of the Uganda Protectorate, and was transferred to Kenya in 1902, the year that the first Christian missionaries reached the area. The Anglican Church in Nyanza, however, remained part of the diocese of Kampala until 1921, when it was transferred to the Kenya diocese.

Missions that settled in both Nyanza and Kavirondo were the CMS, Catholic Missions, the Seventh Day Adventists, the African Inland Mission, the Friends Mission and the Church of God Mission. In 1924, a later arrival was a Canadian Pentecostal Mission which was established on the borders of the Luo and Luhyia territory. It is surprising to find that the proliferation of indigenous churches took place in an area where missions were so well received, and where the response to mission teaching was positive. All or most of the mission churches had a large following in the area by the 1920s, and their influence was increasingly felt in the grassroots communities. As time went on, however, it soon became evident that all was not well in the rank and file of the mission churches.

The first group that heralded the secession movement was Mumboism, which was a politico-religious movement introduced by Onyango Dunde. Even though the movement never made a major impact, it set a precedent for secession. The first indigenous church in Kenya came into being in 1914, when Johana Owelo, who had started as a Catholic seminarian, left the CMS mission to form the Nomiya Luo Mission. Two years later, Alfayo Odongo started the Roho movement, which later became the Roho Musanda church. Another movement broke away from the Friends Mission to form the Dini ya Roho, or the Church of the Holy Spirit.

In 1952, from within the Roman Catholic Church, there appeared a prophetess, Miriam Ragot, who denounced the Church of Rome and the white race. Although the movement was suppressed, it soon reappeared in 1963, through another Luo prophetess, Gaudencia Aoko, who started the Legio Maria Church. [40] The Church of Christ in Africa was another major church that broke away from a mission church, and that break was related to the revival within the Anglican Church. The revival movement in East Africa started in Ruanda in 1927, but did not reach Nyanza until 1938. While the attitude of the missionaries towards revival was calculated ambivalence, they were able to contain the revival within the church. In 1952 however, there were two main factions within the revival: the Joremo (people of blood) and the Johera (people of love). The Anglican Church tended to lean towards the Joremo, which tended to be aligned with the establishment, while the Johera movement tended to be regarded as out of step with the Church. After failing to be reconciled to the Anglican Church, the Johera movement broke away and formed a new church under the leadership of Matthew Ajuoga, who was an Anglican priest.

The Africa Israel Church Nineveh is another important indigenous church in western Kenya. It emerged out of the Pentecostal experience under the inspiration of a charismatic leader, Paul David Zakayo Kivuli. He had been associated with the Pentecostal mission at Nyang'ori and became a member of the Pentecostal Church. In 1932, through a serious illness, he received the spirit. From that moment, Kivuli started to preach from village to village, gathering a large number of adherents. Kivuli named his church the Africa Israel Church Nineveh, denoting its independence from mission control. In general, the church adopted a puritan ethic, prohibiting polygamy and the use of tobacco and alcohol. Spiritual healing is common, and dreams are regarded as an important source of revelation. [41] The church has been able to make a smooth transition, even after the death of the founder. The Africa Israel Church Nineveh is a member of the World Council of Churches, and of the National Council of Churches of Kenya.

The indigenous church movement in central Kenya is identified with the cultural nationalism that swept the country in 1920s and 1930s. While there were other areas of conflict between mission churches and the socio-religious traditions of the Agikuyu, the renunciation of the practice of female circumcision (clitoridectomy) was the last straw in an already volatile situation. From the beginning, the missions came out strongly against the practice. [42] The issue reached a crisis stage in 1928, when a strong challenge to the missionary attitude towards circumcision was made by the Kikuyu Central Association at a conference in Nyeri. It was made into more than a religious issue, becoming a political one as well. The Christian Church came to be regarded by the Agikuyu as being swayed by imperialist motives.

To missionaries in Kikuyuland, female circumcision was simply barbaric, and from a medical standpoint, abhorrent. To people like Arthur, Philip, or Hooper, it was simply a disgusting ceremony that was not compatible with Christian teaching. In 1920, the Church of Scotland Mission tried to make it a rule that baptized church members undergoing the operation, or allowing their daughters to undergo it, ought to be disciplined by being suspended from church membership. [43] The missionaries failed to see the social implications of their injunction. To the concerned community, it was necessary to have initiation ceremonies as a way of marking graduation from adolescence to adulthood. Circumcision was the outward sign that pointed to the deeper cultural and religious values of the community. While the physical operation was not the most important aspect, it was nonetheless essential as the culmination of instruction and as a gateway to initiation into womanhood. It was the duty of the community to prepare its members to become trustworthy persons, and circumcision fulfilled this role mentally, spiritually, and physically. [44]

For the Agikuyu, it was their culture, and not Christianity, that was at stake. What appeared to be stubbornness or the "work of darkness" to the missionaries was in fact a legitimate attempt to prevent the disintegration of their culture. By 1929 and 1930 the matter had reached a crisis point, as the people had started establishing their own schools. The Kikuyu Independent Schools Association (KISA) and the Kikuyu Karing'a Educational Association were formed with the sole purpose of providing education in direct opposition to mission education, which had enjoyed a monopoly until that time. When some of the mission schools closed their doors to those who refused to conform, the only alternative was for the people to start their own schools. Many people who were opposed to the missionary type of Christianity still wished to retain their Christian faith, which explains why the emergence of independent schools was accompanied by the founding of independent churches. The Africa Independent Pentecostal Church came out of KISA. Karing'a founded an association out of the African Orthodox Church, which later became the African Greek Orthodox Church, originating from Uganda. Both churches found themselves in trouble during the period of emergency that was declared in 1952 as a result of Mau Mau nationalism. The two churches began functioning once again after the emergency, and at the end of colonial era, in 1963. The African Greek Orthodox Church (or the Orthodox Church of Kenya) is part of the Greek Patriarchate of Alexandria, and is in communion with the worldwide Eastern Orthodox churches. There are other smaller churches which have separated themselves from both of these churches, mostly on leadership grounds rather than because of any doctrinal issue. The National Independent Church of Africa broke away from the Africa Independent Pentecostal Church, while the Independent African Orthodox Church broke away from the African Greek Orthodox Church. [45]

There are other churches that emerged because of dissatisfaction with the leadership and paternalism of the churches that had been founded by missions. For example, the African Christian Church and schools, which were formed in 1947 by the members of the African Inland Mission in the Murang'a district, had a dispute that was mainly about the mission's policy towards education. They broke away in 1947 in order to have their own schools, as they were an important factor in their community. Another body which parted company with the same mission over the mission's reluctance to allow African Christians to exercise leadership gifts was the African Brotherhood Church in Ukambani. This Church, which was founded in 1945, has continued to be strong and well-organized, with unsurpassed missionary zeal.

There were other, smaller churches that came out of a Pentecostal orientation. In the 1940s in Murang'a, there arose the "Dini ya Kaggia" or Arata a Roho Muthern (Friends of the Holy Spirit) Church. The Apostolic Faith of Africa and the Holy Church of Evangelistic Apostles Faith are charismatic churches that came out of the Revival Fellowship.

There are other spiritist churches such as the Akurinu, the Aroti (dreamers), and the Anabii (prophets). Sometimes these are aIl caIled the "Andu a Iremba" (turban people) because they all wear turbans to cover their heads. In the 1930s, the colonial administration caIled them "Watu wa Mungu," (people of God). These churches have features and practices that are similar to those of the Roho churches found in western Kenya. The churches that trace their origin to the late 1920s rejected western education, western culture, western medicine and other western things. They aIso rejected their Kikuyu traditions, and sought guidance from the scriptures and the Holy Spirit. They are mainly influenced by the Old Testament.

After independence, when many of these groups were registered as bona fide churches, they took various titles, such as: the Holy Ghost Church of Kenya, the Christian Holy Ghost Church of East Africa, the Kenya Foundation of the Prophets Church, the Holy Spirit Church of Zayun, the African Mission of [the] Holy Ghost Church, and the God's Word and Holy Ghost Church. [46]

It is estimated that there are about one hundred and eighty indigenous churches in Kenya. These Churches are generally not founded by theologians or clerics. They are largely founded at the initiative of lay people who are concerned about the authenticity of the church. Many of them struggle to indigenize Christianity by incorporating African traditional religious world views. They resent the decadence that they feel traditional Christianity tolerates. They look for a spiritually buoyant church that is truly a reflection of African spirituality, and they attach great importance to community life and human relations. In the face of strained extended family systems, they provide a welcome alternative. They also give women a prominent place in the hierarchy of the church in a way that the mission-founded churches do not. The worship of these churches is so lively and meaningful that it challenges the older churches to do something about their archaic and somewhat dull services. These churches have experienced tremendous growth because they are so relevant to their adherents. As more theologians from indigenous churches endeavor to systematize and standardize their teaching and doctrine, there will continue to be a strong and spirit-filled church contribution to the Christian witness in Africa.


The movement towards cooperation and unity came out of the comity arrangement that the various missions initiated at the beginning. Very soon, the missionaries discovered that in their endeavors to evangelize, their paths would ultimately cross. Although missions had informally marked out different spheres of influence for each mission in the early years, it soon became evident that due to the movements of Christians searching for employment, it was difficult to confine evangelistic work to one's own sphere. The CMS was the first Protestant mission to establish work in major cities such as Mombasa, Nairobi, Nakuru, and Kisumu. Soon, other missions were interested in following their adherents, who were moving to urban centers. While the Catholic Church was not part of the comity arrangement, Protestant missions felt that it was scandalous when two or more missions were engaged in outward rivalry.

As time went on, other pastoral problems arose which called for cooperation between different missions. For instance, when catechists were dismissed from one mission for misbehavior, they would be engaged by another mission just a few miles away, often at a higher salary. [47] Christians who were disciplined by one mission would transfer their allegiance to a different mission, which would be eager to have them. J. J. Willis, who was the archdeacon of Kavirondo (part of the diocese of Uganda), and who later became bishop of Uganda, felt very strongly that there was a need to avoid unnecessary differences and double standards among the various Protestant missions. He felt that it was expedient for all missions to recognize a common standard for membership, a common code of discipline, and a common attitude towards African customs. He thought that there needed to be a uniform standard for the training of church members, and ultimately for the training of African clergy. This is the idea that Willis presented to other colleagues with the help of Dr. Henry Scott, who was in charge of the Church of Scotland Mission. [48]

The first meeting for the missionaries who were working in the Kavirondo area was held in 1908 at the CMS headquarters at Maseno, and was attended by the Africa Inland Mission, the Seventh Day Adventists, the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and the American Friends (Quakers). The initial meeting was more concerned about local problems that hindered effective evangelistic efforts than it was concerned about unity. [49] In 1909, a similar conference was held for the Kikuyu area at the Africa Inland Mission headquarters at Kijabe. It was attended by all the abovementioned missions, plus the United Methodist Mission and the English Friends Mission in Pemba. Willis read a paper entitled "The desirability of a single native church in British East Africa." [5O] Even though the discussion following the paper aroused interest, the two Quaker missions and the Seventh Day Adventists withdrew. Representatives from all the other missions were appointed as members of the standing committee which ultimately drafted the Kikuyu proposal.

The first fully pledged conference on the unity of the church took place at Kikuyu in 1913. The proposal, which was for a united native church, implied that spheres of influence would be abolished. It made it hard to dispel the logical conclusion that Christians would be encouraged to seek communion within other denominations. To the Anglicans, to admit such a principle was to call into question the whole basis of the episcopacy of ordained ministry (apostolic succession). Apparently, this was the impression that was created at the Kikuyu meeting, when the bishop of Mombasa administered Holy Communion to all the delegates at the close of the conference. [51] This impression was given credence by the hasty manner in which bishop Weston accused the bishop of Mombasa of propagating heresy and committing schism, a false charge which was rejected outright. While the division within the Anglican Church somewhat halted the momentum, it did not kill the initiative.

The second conference took place in 1918. Consideration was given to the possibility of aiming at organic union as the ultimate goal. When Bishop Weston presented his proposal for a united church, C.E. Hurlburt, speaking on behalf of the Africa Inland Mission, felt that they could not subscribe to ecclesiastical control that limited personal liberty. The African Inland Mission had by now realized that communion with the Church Missionary Society would involve communion with the Universities Mission to Central Africa, a high Anglican mission that they accused of modernism. The Africa Inland Mission was asking for liberty to be able to re-baptize Anglicans who were attending Baptist Churches should they desire it. They also requested that non-teetotalers be excluded from full membership of a united church. After failing to set up the basis for union, the missions conceded the formation of an alliance of missions. [52] It was desirable that missions co-operate in their missionary endeavors, particularly in education, theological training, medical work, and general evangelistic outreach.

Another meeting of the alliance of missions was held at Kikuyu in 1922 and again in 1924. It was deemed particularly expedient to form a united missionary council that would liaise with the International Missionary Council in Britain. In March of 1926, the Alliance High School was opened at Kikuyu with G.A. Grieve, a missionary of the Church of Scotland, as the principal. [53] There were moments of frustration when it seemed that there was unnecessary procrastination that endangered even the little ground that had been gained. Calderwood, for instance, thought that Africans were not prepared to face up to the possibility of giving up their idiosyncrasies in favor of wider unity. [54]

In 1943 the Christian Council of Kenya was formed, even though it functioned alongside the Kenya Missionary Council. Rev. Capon was the honorary secretary of both bodies. In 1944 the resolution to wind up the Kenya Missionary Council was passed with an overwhelming majority, thus paving the way for the strengthening of the Christian Council.

The search for organic unit y did not die completely. In July of 1962, a conference on the quest for Christian unity was held at Limuru. Christians from Kenya and Tanganyika representing Anglican, Evangelical Lutheran, Moravian, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches were seeking ways in which the churches could come together to a realization of organic union. The 1965 conference at Dodoma, Tanganyika was a watershed in the process of developing East African Church Union consultations. An interim basis of union was produced, and churches pledged to continue to seek unity. [55] Other meetings were held in February of 1967, September of 1967, January of 1968 and July of 1969. A united liturgy and a united catechism were produced for use by participating churches. It seems that the momentum was lost however, because of the parochial spirit existing in some of the churches.

Nevertheless, there bas been a spirit of cooperation in the Catholic and the Protestant Church. The Protestant Churches formed the Protestant Churches Medical Association, which deals with matters of mutual concern in medical work. The Christian Churches Education Association has been a coordination body for church involvement in education. Together with the Catholic secretariat, common religious education syllabuses (syllabi) have been produced for both primary and secondary schools. The same cooperation has been exercised through joint chaplaincies in universities. The Bible Society of Kenya offers churches another opportunity for cooperation. Since the Bible Society is charged with the responsibility of the translation, production, and distribution of the Scriptures, it is imperative that the churches cooperate by supporting the work of the Bible Society, and by showing interest in the important work that is undertaken by the Bible Society on behalf of the churches.

Other modes of cooperation have come in the form of Christian ministry to students. The Kenya Student Christian Union has been a factor in the development of Christian ministries in schools and colleges. Allied with it is the Fellowship of Christian Unions (FOCUS), which coordinates the Christian unions in institutions of higher learning. While these organizations are inter-denominational and autonomous, the support they get from churches is crucial to their well-being. The churches recognize that such bodies are extensions of the churches' evangelistic work, and welcome such ministry as a necessary augmentation of the churches' own ministry.

Cooperation in theological education has had a long tradition in Protestant Churches. St. Paul's United TheologicaI College in Limuru, which was duly constituted in 1955 after five years of experimentation, is a good example. The college trains pastors for Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Reformed Churches. Other churches too, are welcome to send their students for training. The African Brotherhood Church, the African Church of the Holy Spirit, the African Israel Nineveh Church, and the African Christian Church and Schools are some of the indigenous churches that have had their pastors trained at St. Paul's College. The Association of Theological Institutions in Eastern Africa, which was founded in 1960, has become an umbrella body under which theological institutions in Eastern Africa have cooperated in ensuring that theological education is relevant to the aspirations of African churches.

In the early 1960s it was hoped that churches would cooperate more in the towns by having united congregations. The Lavington United Church was formed as a manifestation of such a desire. The congregation, which is a united effort of Methodists, Anglicans, and Presbyterians, has continued to function as a united church under the sponsorship of the Methodist Church. It is hoped that we shall see more united churches formed, particularly in towns where joint Christian witness is crucial to the credibility of the Church.


The early 1960s signaled the end of missions. What this meant is that the juridical autonomy of the local church was being established hand in hand with the "Kenyanisation" of the highest positions of leadership. The prevailing aim of this policy was to establish national churches to which "missions" were somehow subject. This was inevitable, since the nation was in the process of becoming autonomous. Many missions, however, did not seem to be in any hurry, for while the achievement of autonomy itself was relatively easy to acquire, the relationships with the former missionary societies was something that had to be negotiated. In some instances missionary societies wisely handed over their property and responsibility from the beginning, thereby avoid friction. In other cases, this was not possible, and an uneasy relationship or partnership existed sometimes, with severe consequences and ramifications for the human relationships. [56]

The country became independent on December 12, 1963. Before that date, few churches had become autonomous. The Presbyterian Church of East Africa, which seems to have set the stage, became autonomous in 1956, but did not have African leadership until1961, when Charles Muhoro was elected the first African moderator. John Gatu became the first general secretary in 1964.

Within the Africa Inland Mission, there was a very gradual shift. It was in 1943 that the mission became the Africa Inland Church, although missionaries continued to be decision makers. In 1971, in a symbolic gesture that occurred in Machakos, the director of the Africa Inland Mission handed over the responsibility for mission work in Kenya to the new church leader, Rev. Wellington Mulwa. In 1972, a new constitution was drawn, giving the church autonomy and jurisdiction over the mission work. The Africa Inland Mission still exists side by side with its sister church as a mission within the church, and has kept the major station, Kijabe, as its property. In this type of ambivalent relationship, there are bound to be strained relations. They will have to dissolve the mission so that it is absorbed into the church, and missionaries will have to work under the discipline of the local Church. [57] The difference between the mission and the national church was exacerbated in 1966 when the Africa Inland Mission voted to sever all connections with the National Christian Council because of their too open and liberal ecumenical approach. When the leaders of the Africa Inland Church were approached to consider taking the same position, they turned it down, as they had no intention of withdrawing from the NCCK. As a result, the Africa Inland Mission did not do so either. [58]

The Church of the Province of Kenya (Anglican) became autonomous gradually. It was in 1921 that the first diocesan synod drew Africans and Europeans together to discuss the ministry of one Church. In 1955, the first African bishops of the Church were consecrated in Uganda by the Archbishop of Canterbury. These were Festo Olang' and Obadiah Kariuki. The following year saw the creation of the dioceses of Maseno and Mt. Kenya. Another diocese was created for the Rift Valley area, named Nakuru, while Mombasa was subdivided into Mombasa and Nairobi. In 1960, the Anglican Church in East Africa became a province, thus becoming an autonomous body with Leonard Beecher as its first archbishop. The Church of the Province of East Africa incorporated Anglican dioceses in Kenya, Tanganyika, and Zanzibar. In 1970 the province was divided in two, with Kenya and Tanzania. Festo Olang' thus became the first Archbishop of Kenya.

The Methodist Church ceased to be the Methodist Missionary Society in 1955. It then became the Methodist Church in Kenya, even though it continued to be an overseas district of the British Conference. The Church became autonomous when the Deed of Foundation was signed in January of 1967 at the City Hall, thereby inaugurating the new conference. With the new conference, the first presiding bishop, Ronald Mn'gong'o, was appointed with Lawi Imathiu as the secretary of the conference. Later on, districts were formed with district synods meeting annually.

Catholic dioceses can never be said to be autonomous in the same sense as other Churches are. They all have to be under the authority of the Pope, hence, all important decisions affecting the religious life of the Catholic people must be decided in Rome. Catholic dioceses, however, can be said to have a certain measure of independence in the sense that the bishop of a diocese makes decisions that affect his diocese and is responsible only to the Pope. In Catholic circles, a diocese or a church is independent in so far as it is self-sufficient in personnel and financial support. [59] Generally the Catholic Church refused to be stampeded by the arrival of independence. Even though the first Catholic bishop, Maurice Otunga, became assistant bishop of Kisumu in 1957, by 1968 there were still nine white bishops compared to two African bishops. By 1973, when there were thirteen dioceses, there were still seven white bishops and six African bishops. In 1971, Maurice Otunga succeeded John McCarthy to the post of Archbishop of Nairobi. In 1972, he was made a cardinal, the highest honor within the Catholic Church.

Other major churches that were founded by foreign missions have taken virtually the same road towards autonomy. The Salvation Army, the Seventh Day Adventists, the Church of God, the East African Yearly Meeting of Friends, the Pentecostal Churches, and the Baptist Churches have developed local leadership and indigenous ministry. The Churches in Kenya have been localized while still retaining an ecumenical link with churches from other parts of the world, thus portraying the image of a church that is not only national but universal in outlook.

Church and State Relations

The Colonial Period

The missionaries that brought the gospel to Kenya were of the same race, and in many instances, of the same nationality, as the colonizers, which is why some critics have associated the missionary movement with the colonization impetus. We must bear in mind that missionaries preceded colonizers, and were thus the first Europeans to come into contact with Africans -- if we are to disallow the influence of the Portuguese era. After all, the Portuguese were only seen along the coast, and they did not venture into the interior as the missionaries did.

It cannot be denied that the missionaries welcomed the intervention of European government, and in many ways it was the missionaries that encouraged the reluctant British government to annex East Africa. One of the great advocates of European intervention was Cardinal Lavigerie, founder of the Holy Ghost Mission. He was convinced that to effectively deal with slave trade, European governments had to assume responsibility by introducing legitimate trade and education. The missionaries would then supplement this effort. It was his appeal that greatly stimulated the European governments in getting interested in Africa. The Methodist pioneer missionary Charles New did what he could do to encourage the British government to take responsibility for colonial rule in Kenya. [60] In some instances, the missionaries greatly aided the colonization process at its initial stage. Where there was no government agent, missionaries acted as administrators. In 1905, the commissioner of the East Africa Protectorate justified opening up of more mission stations under these terms:
There are districts in East Africa such as Taita and the Lower Tana in which European influence has hitherto been represented almost entirely by missionaries, but which have made as great progress as the regions which have been taken in hand by government officials. [61]

We are not saying that European intervention would not have occurred without the assistance of missionaries. In point of fact, Europe was already intensely interested in Africa during this period. The missionary, however, has to accept the responsibility of giving colonialism a respectability which it would not have attained otherwise. We must also remember that the missionary in the nineteenth century believed that European powers were the benefactors of Africa. They did not fully realize what the colonial movement, which they welcomed, would become. Domination by European settlers, forced labor, color bar, and assault on African culture were yet to be seen.
Colonialism became oppressive in Kenya after World War I. The settlers were pressing for a policy of forced labor in order to obtain cheap and abundant labor. There were strong missionary protests however, exemplified by missionaries such as Philp and Barlow, of the CMS. In 1919, when the policy of forced labor was promulgated by Governor Northey, the Alliance of Protestant Missions criticized it as being cruel to the Africans. Because of this, the secretary of the Conference of British Missionary Societies, Dr. J.H. Oldham, protested to the British government about the subservient nature of the African in Kenya. Through his protest, the Devonshire White Paper was issued in 1923, declaring that the interests of Africans must be considered to be paramount. [62] The Alliance made other protests as well. It protested against plans to devalue the rupee in order to reduce African wages, and against the arbitrary higher taxes imposed on Africans.

The missionaries did not always protest, and even collaborated with the government in many instances. For instance, in matters related to education, they realized that they depended on the government aid for their schools and did not want to jeopardize this privilege. The missionary enjoyed a position of prestige, and was looked upon as the intermediary between the Africans and the government. For a long time missionaries represented Africans in the Legislative Council. With such a relatively comfortable position, missionaries were unlikely to speak out on social change. When the Mau Mau movement appeared, missionaries condemned it in the strongest terms. The Mau Mau erupted into the consciousness of the wider world in 1952 when chief Waruhiu was killed. By 1955, thousands of people, mainly in the Central Province had been killed, and thousands more were in detention camps. At the time most Europeans, including missionaries, were not prepared to admit that fierce and prolonged struggle could be justified by the deep embitterment of Gikuyu peasants who were desperately short of land. They refused to see that this was a nationalist movement which focused on the land issue aggravated by the color bar. By attacking the Mau Mau, the Church identified itself with the status quo against the weak and oppressed people. [63]

Although we may criticize the Church of colonial times, it would be gross misrepresentation to say that missionaries were colonial agents. From the examples we have seen, it is clear that they did not simply accept the views of the colonial authorities or the settlers. While they were anxious to protect the Africans from injustice, sometimes they did not know how to do it. They were already part of the colonial enterprise, and tried to play it safe, being between the colonial administrators and the Africans. The missionary was often caught in the crossfire of the struggle between African nationalists and colonial governments.

Independent Era

At the time of independence the government ensured that freedom of religion was guaranteed by the constitution. This meant that people have the liberty to associate with any religion and to worship in the manner they feel is most appropriate. What is implied here is that religion is an important aspect of human existence. Christians would say that the Church is divinely appointed by God to admonish, exhort and correct the nation. [64] The Church has been called the conscience of the nation, which means that the responsibility is placed upon it to uphold righteousness and justice. In the same vein, the Church must censure unrighteousness and injustice, even if it is committed by the State.

In Kenya, the Church has cooperated with the State in matters of development. The Church has endeavored to spearhead education, and it was the Church that introduced vocational training institutions, commonly called the village polytechnics. The Church provided badly needed special schools such as schools for the blind, schools for the deaf, and even schools for the physically handicapped. Over fifty per cent of medical work (hospitals and clinics) in the rural areas falls under the ambit of the Church. The Church is also heavily involved in rural development programs that greatly augment the efforts of the government. In such instances the Church is seen as a partner with the government in helping to alleviate human suffering.

The Church supports the government in its role of keeping law and order. There are times, however, when the Church has had to raise its prophetic voice against the State, and there have been such instances in Kenya. In 1968 for example, when the religious weekly, Target, declared that the new party headquarters then under construction was a misuse of resources, churches dissociated themselves from such an opinion. When in the following year the same paper denounced the wave of Kikuyu oath-taking then in progress, it was supported by churches who added their own protest despite governmental condemnation of the editorial. [65]

More recently, the National Council of the Churches of Kenya issued a statement cautioning the State on the dangers of tampering with the constitution, particularly when the powers of the auditor general and attorney general were under discussion in Parliament. The feeling at the time was that such responsible positions should be independent, and not under the civil service. Even though the bill was passed, thus amending the Constitution, churches felt that at least their fears had been voiced. The Church also differed from the State concerning the amendments to party's nomination procedures for political parties, when it was decided that queuing would be the new mode for the nomination of candidates, both for parliamentary and local government. The Church cautioned the State concerning the need to be vigilant about violations of personal liberty and fraud, which such a system could facilitate. It was later conceded that public servants could not participate in such an exercise without compromising their public stature and image.

From time to time, tensions may arise between Church and State. Such tensions are caused either by a particular Church trying to assume the role of the State, or by constituting itself as a political Church. On the other hand, the State may usurp the authority of the Church or deny its citizens their basic human rights. In such instances, every citizen has a duty to protest. Above all, the Church has a prophetic ministry to exercise to ensure that the rights of all people are protected. The Church [should] also be concerned about the moral integrity of its leaders. When all is said and done, the Church and the State are called to work together towards a situation of justice and peace through love, service, and mutual fellowship.


1. John Gray, Early Portuguese Missionaries in East Africa, (London, Macmillan 1958), 3. The pillar was a symbol of the sovereignty of Portugal on the East Coast, and was also patently a symbol of Christianity. See also E. Axelson, South-East Africa, 1488-1530, 15.
2. E. Axelson, South-East Africa, p. 241. It seems that the Portuguese captain at Kilwa was insensitive to the Muslim sentiments. He ruled the town with highhandedness and inconsiderate ethnocentricity.
3. John Gray, op. cit., p.9. Experience had shown that it was more expedient to sail to India from Mozambique, thus avoiding the East African coast.
4. Ibid., p. 12. The Jesuit Fransisco Nonclaro reported that until protection could be given to missionaries wanting go to the interior, nothing effective could be done.
5. Ibid., p.13. cf. Freeman-Grenville, The Mombasa Rising Against the Portuguese 1631. (London: Oxford University Press, 1980), 31. It was the practice of the Portuguese to give converts Portuguese surnames as well as baptismal names. It is therefore not possible to distinguish between African, Goan, Indian, or Portuguese Christians simply by their names.
6. Ibid., p. 14. cf. C.R. Boxer and C. de Azevedo, Fort Jesus and the Portuguese in Mombasa, 1593-1729.
7. Dos J. Santos, Ethiopia Oriental, Book 5, chapter 11. The same trickery was practiced with goats and other animals. The Portuguese were so infamous for their oppression and fraud that such occurrences were nicknamed "Pemba tricks."
8. New converts coming into the Christian community were helpless, having been thrown out by their families for giving up the religion of their ancestors. cf. Gray, p. 18.
9. Freeman-Grenville, p. 25.
10. C. Guillain, Documents sur l'histoire, la géographie et le commerce de L'Afrique Orientale. (Paris : 4 vols. 1856-7), vol. 3, pp. 220-222.
11. J.S. Kirkman, Fort Jesus: A Portuguese Fortress on the East African Coast. (London, 1974), p. 6. Modifications and additions to the fort continued even after 1595.
12. E. Axelson, The Portuguese in South-East Africa, 1600-1700. (Witwatersrand, 1960), 80.
13. The date bas been suggested by Freeman-Grenville, op. cit., with reference to Yusuf's letters to the Pope and to the Father-General of the Augustinians.
14. Richard Reusch, The Struggle of Mombasa for its Freedom. (Dar-es-Salaam, July 1953), Tanganyika and Records, 35.
15. Freeman-Grenville, pp. 41-46.
16. J. Standes, The Portuguese Period in East Africa (1899), transl. and ed. J.S. Kirkman, (Nairobi, 1961).
17. Zablon Nthamburi, A History of the Methodist Church in Kenya. (Nairobi: Uzima Press, 1982), 12.
18. Roland Oliver, The Missionary Factor in East Africa. (London: Longmans, 1952), 2.
19. Erasto Muga, African Responses to Western Christian Religion. (Nairobi: East African Literature Bureau, 1975), 26-29.
20. Basel became an important training institution for pietists. Krapf, like many other German and Danish Lutherans who were recruited by the C. M. S., never received Anglican orders. Rebmann and Erhardt received Anglican orders after an initial training at Islington.
21. Barrett and others, Kenya Churches Handbook, (Kisumu: Evangel Publishing House, 1973), 30.
22. Eugene Stock, History of the Church Missionary Society 1899-1916. (London),vol. 3, p. 58.
23. Nthamburi, op. cit., 17.
24. Oliver, op. cit., 53-54. cf. A. J. Temu, British Protestant Missions. (London: Longmans, 1972). Temu gives a detailed account of life at Freretown and the discontent of African missionary agents who had been trained at Bombay, commonly called "Bombay Africans."
25. Robert W. Strayer, The Making of Mission Communities in East Africa. (London: Heinemann, 1978), 14-28. This is the best account of the relations between African workers and the European missionaries. Many of the educated Africans resigned their positions with C. M. S. and either joined the government service or went to work with the U. M. C. A. in Zanzibar.
26. Stedeford, "Our Work in East Africa," The Missionary Echo of the United Methodist Church, (1911): 176.
27. Nthamburi, op. cit., 57.
28. H.R.A. Philp, A New Day in Kenya. (London: World Dominion Press, 1936), 17. cf. Oliver, op. cit., 171. The mission had tried to purchase a plot of land at Dagoretti without success. In August of 1899, forty acres of land were bought from Munyua-Wa-Waiyaki. In 1901 the East Africa Scottish Mission became the Church of Scotland Mission.
29. Strayer, op. cit., 34.
30. Griffiths, "Our Extension in East Africa," The Missionary Echo of the United Methodist Church, June, 1910, p. 123. cf. Strayer, op. cit., 43-45.
31. Philp, op. cit., 177-78. cf. Oliver, op. cit., 171. The date given in the Kenya Churches Handbook seems to be wrong.
32. William B. Anderson, The Church in East Africa, 1840-1974. (Dodoma: Central Tanganyika Press, 1977), 145.
33. Oliver, op. cit., 18.
34. Kenya Churches Handbook, p. 31.
35. For the best account of how the Consolata Society was founded, see Alberto Trevisiol, I Primi Missionari Della Consolata Nel Kenya 1902-1905. (Rome: Universita Gregoriana,1983).
36. The Prefecture Apostolic of Iringa was created in 1922. The headquarters of the Consolata was at Tosamaganga.
37. Oliver, op. cit., 170.
38. Kenya Churches Handbook, p. 33. At this time "Kavirondo" province was part of the Uganda Protectorate.
39. David B. Barrett. Schism and Renewal in Africa (Nairobi: Oxford University Press, 1968). Here the term used is "indigenous," a more appropriate term than the common term "independent."
40. See F.B. Welbourn and B.A. Ogot, A Place to Feel at Home (London: Oxford University Press, 1966). Also see F.B. Welbourn, East African Rebels (London: SCM, 1961). Another good source is Walter H. Sangree, Age, Prayer and Politics in Tiriki, Kenya (London: Oxford University Press, 1966), 170-223.
41. Welbourn and Ogot, op. cit., Part III entitled "The African Israel Church Nineveh."
42. The following should give a full account of the controversy. Jocelyn Murray, "The Kikuyu Female Circumcision Controversy," (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles,1974); H.R.A. Philp, "Native Gynaecology," Journal of the Kenya Medical Service 1:8, 1924; Ngugi wa Thiong'o, The River Between (Nairobi, 1965); L. S. B. Leakey, "The Kikuyu Problem of the Initiation of Girls," Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 1931, pp. 277-285; Strayer, op. cit., 136-152; Godfrey Muriuki, A History of the Kikuyu 1500-1900 (Nairobi, 1974), 118-122.
43. Strayer, op. cit., 137.
44. Gerald G. Brown, Christian Responses to Change in East African Traditional Societies (London: Friends House, 1973), 12-14. cf. Nthamburi, op. cit., 70-72. Also A. J. Hopkins, "Female Circumcision," a paper written for staff consultation, Methodist Church, July, 1940.
45. Jocelyn Murray, "Varieties of Kikuyu Independent Churches," Kenya Churches Handbook, p. 129.
46. Ibid., 33. Jocelyn Murray suggests that what these churches have in common is their desire to be independent and to become genuinely African Churches. See also the unpublished study by Jocelyn Murray, "The Origins and Spread of the Dini ya Kaggia' Kenya," University of Aberdeen, African Studies Group Seminar, 1976.
47. Oliver, op. cit., 224.
48. Willis had a meeting with Dr. Scott in 1907 where the latter agreed that there was a need to convene a conference of missionaries.
49. Nthamburi, op. cit., 118-131.
50. Report of the United Missionary Conference held at Nairobi, June 77-11, 1909, Nairobi, Advertiser [sic ?] Coy, 1909.
51. See J. J. Willis, Towards a United Church (London: Edinburgh House, 1947), 42. Also see "Ecclesia Anglican - for what it Stands?" An open letter to Edgar, Bishop of St. Albans from Frank, Bishop of Zanzibar (London: Longmans, 1914). See also M. G. Capon, Towards Unity in Kenya (Nairobi: Christian Council of Kenya, 1962).
52. Kikuyu, 1918. Report of the United Conference of Missionary Societies in British East Africa (Nairobi: Swift Press, 1918).
53. Capon, op. cit., 31.
54. R. G. M. Calderwood, "A Note on Church Union and Questions Regarding Unity and Co-operation among Christians in Kenya Colony,"September, 1939.
55. The Ecumenical Review, World Council of Churches, vol. 20, July 3, 1968, 267.
56. Adrian Hastings, A History of African Christianity 1950-1978 (London: Cambridge University Press), 160.
57. John Gration, "The Relationship of the Africa Inland Mission and its National Church in Kenya Between 1895 and 1971" (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1974), 282-342.
58. Ibid., 298-302.
59. Myrtle Langley and Tom Kiggins, A Serving People, (Nairobi: Oxford University Press, 1974), 85.
60. Elliot Kendall, Charles New and the East Africa Mission (Nairobi: Kenya Literature Bureau, 1978), 113.
61. Charles Elliot, The East Africa Protectorate (Nairobi, 1905), 241; cf. J. Kirsop, Life of Robert Moss Ormerod, Missionary to East Africa (London: Andrew Crombie, 1901), 126. Ormerod and Consterdine, who were missionaries, helped the sub-commissioner of Witu, Mr. Anderssen, to promulgate important edicts that grossly affected the Ormas and the Pokomos.
62. J.H. Oldham, International Review of Missions, April, 1919. See aIso correspondence of Secretary of Alliance to Secretary of State, May 20, 1920. Archives of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, Nairobi.
63. Robert Buijtenhuijs, Le Mouvement "Mau-Mau": Une Révolte Paysanne et Anti-Coloniale en Afrique Noire (the Hague and Paris : Moulton, 1971). See also E. N. Wanyoike, An African Pastor (Nairobi: East African Publishing House, 1974), ch. 7. For further reading see Bildad Kaggia, Roots of Freedom 1921-1963 (Nairobi: East African Publishing House, 1975). Harry Thuku: An Autobiography (Nairobi: Oxford University Press, 1970).
64. Henry Okullu, Church and Politics in East Africa (Nairobi: Uzima Press), 17. By the same author also, Church and State in Nation Building (Nairobi: Uzima Press, 1980).
65. John Lonsdale, Stanley Booth-Clibborn and Andrew Hake, "The Emerging Pattern of Church and State Cooperation in Kenya," in E. Fashole-Luke et al. eds., Christianity in lndependent Africa (London: Rex Collings, 1978), 267-284.

This article originally appeared in From Mission to Church: A Handbook of Christianity in East Africa, ed. Zablon Nthamburi, published by Uzima Press (Imani House, St. John's Gate, off Parliament Rd., P.O. Box 48127, Nairobi, Kenya) in 1991. Used with permission.