Bulali Stephen Shitandi
Like his master, Jesus, Bulali Stephen Shitandi attracted both friends and enemies by his exceptional yet brief life. His friends, relatives, and colleagues attest to a life of selflessness, generosity, and great humility. Testimonies abound of the many lives he bettered and impacted in western Kenya, especially in Samia, Bunyala, Butere and Malaha. It is astounding to imagine that such a life was lived in the full glare of the inhabitants of Ebukara village yet almost none benefited from his work as did people from afar. Just like Jesus, Shitandi’s witness was ridiculed among his own people. It was not until his funeral services that the sons and daughters of Ebukara come to terms with the influence of their son outside of his ferocious neighborhood. His sacrificial love for God and his people caused him to empty himself into many lives both by word and deed.
1952 to 2011
Shitandi, affectionately referred to as “Chebuche” by his peers, was born on October 6, 1952. He was the second born but the first son to Samson Bulali and Joyce Opala of Ebukara village, Shibembe sub-location, Butere district in Kakamega County. He was from the Abafofoyo clan of the Marachi dialect of the Luhya tribe. His academic journey began in 1961 at Shiatsala primary school, where he satisfactorily passed his C.P.E exams and joined Mwihila Boys Secondary School, one of the highly coveted schools of the day. After his O Level exams he joined Mosoriot Teachers College where he graduated as a P1 Teacher. It was at Mosoriot that he gave his life to Christ in 1973 and later received a miraculous healing. This opened his eyes and heart to a miraculous work of God in himself, a conviction that he stayed true to throughout his life. Shitandi was a tall and ably built man, a stature that favored him in his favorite hobbies: volley ball and basket ball. He played both of these sports in school teams at the secondary school level.
Shitandi’s standards of Christianity and morals were so high that one would wonder if any daughter of man would ever qualify for his companion until Phyllis Dorothy Awino came along in April 1975. Afterward, he became the father of twelve children: six boys and six girls. It was amazing to note that most of his children ended up in some kind of teaching career like their father. “In class you could rarely notice we were his children, he treated us as like the rest of the pupils,” commented his son, Shadrack Bulali.
After graduating from Mosoriot teachers college as a P1 Teacher with specializations in Math, English and Christian religious education, Shitandi began his career at the Namboboto Boys’ Primary School in Samia Busia. It was in Namboboto that he taught the nephews of his soon to be good friend and brother, Christopher Ofunja. These boys kept telling Shitandi: “You preach like our uncle and he is also a teacher like you.” In 1974 Shitandi began to share the gospel aggressively, house to house and one on one, resulting in the establishment of the first Pentecostal church in the area. He declined to be the pastor, however. This new church, which was in Emuberi village in the home of a widow and her sons (the Kadima family), attracted many people. It also attracted persecution from the Anglican “padri” (the village way of referring to the Anglican pastor) Stephen Emuria from Uganda. Though they shared their first name and religion, Emuria stood in stark contrast to Shitandi. Emuria led an established church with defined leadership structures and did not see why a mere member of his church could enjoy the respect and honor that Shitandi enjoyed.
In the attempt to explain the source of Shitandi’s persecutions Bishop Ofunja said, "My brother preached a gospel that met the needs of our people: people were saved indeed and turned away from witchcraft, drunkenness, immorality, there was true forgiveness and finally true Christianity was here in Samia. I remember one day, as it was a custom in the village, when someone dies the family will request a pastor to go encourage the bereaved family the last night before burial, this particular night as Shitandi spoke words of comfort to the couple that had lost their small daughter, he moved near the coffin/casket as he explained the resurrection and he said, 'The resurrection is needed while we are in this world even in this home.' As stressed this point, the little girl turned in the casket prompting people and even Shitandi himself to run away. This act caused people to skip services in the Anglican Church to attend house fellowship where my brother and friend was sharing the word."
Shitandi had the privilege of heading several primary schools and consistently turned down offers for promotion to more senior positions. He did this in the interest of the gospel: he could not take on a responsibity that robbed him of the privilege of influencing masses of students and their parents and teachers including their families. For Shitandi, teaching was more than a career; it was a vocation and calling to further the mission of God. When he moved back to teach in his home district in the early eighties, Shitandi developed a close relationship with Harrison Oulo, who had fallen into a thirty-foot-deep latrine pit while working in Thika town and who became completely crippled as a result. The two men spent quality moments in prayer and searched the scriptures together. Shitandi and other brethren frequently pushed Oulo in his wheelchair from market to market in order to preach the gospel.
Alfred Wetindi, who worked closely with Shitandi and Oulo, later said:
Harrison was in his house at night listening to audio cassettes taped by Shitandi in a T. L. Osborn’s crusade. In the middle of the night as he sought God, whom they had grown to believe can do all things, he responded to one of the commands of Osborn, “Thou cripple rise and walk.” Alone in the room Shitandi’s friend and comrade lifted himself up and began to walk. He knocked on his mother’s door but the mother screamed as one who heard a ghost, saying, “My son is a cripple he cannot walk.” It took the intervention of Shitandi for the mother to open the door, only to see her own son standing on his two feet praising our wonderful God. This happening shook the little village of Ebukara that many Christians travelled from far and near to come and witness this divine visitation in Ebukara the unknown village.
In his teachings, Shitandi lashed out at busybodies and encouraged believers to work. He never encouraged preachers to burden Christians. Instead he set an example for the preachers by working his own land and encouraged his followers to do the same. Provisions from widows, orphans, and persons from humble backgrounds, whom he taught to work hard, supplied all of the meetings he organized. He thanked God for everything in his life.
In 2004 while visiting the Gate of Light chapel in Mombasa he said:
I took my wife to hospital at St. Mary’s mission hospital in Mumias. She was in a critical condition, a situation that threatened the life of my wife and the baby she was carrying. After a series of tests, the doctors looked at me and said; "Mr. Shitandi, we have never seen this situation and do request that you go home and come back on Monday. We will read books and see what may be done." But I told them I will also go home and read "The Book" and see what he said and did about this type of cases. It being a Friday I came back on Monday only to meet astonished team of doctors who could not explain the sudden positive change in my wife. He who called my world into existence knows what should be done in his world, how it should be done and when.
When Shitandi visited some of his sons and daughters he was known for his emphasis on hospitality. “The Lord is going to bring Mombasa to your door steps if he is convinced that you can provide some bread for this hungry city,” he stated humorously. His concern for couples was evident and I remember the last time I visited with my family on December 31, 2010 he remarked, “Oh my time is far spent, if I had another gathering, I will emphasis the need of brethren giving more attention to families.” In his prophetic moments he could envision a community that had all trades: teachers, police officers, drivers, farmer, lawyers, engineers his list was endless. No wonder he raised responsible students and people in those careers and professions.
Shitandi took an early retirement and embarked on farming but also took leadership at the constituency level in overseeing construction of polytechnic and water projects that gave him an opportunity to confront the kind of corruption that often occurred in such government projects. Opala Shitandi emphasized her father’s focus as one of Shitandi’s key values.
Like his savior Shitandi knew his time of departure had come. This was the central theme of his powerful sermons that marked his last days in Samia, Bunyala, and Muyundi. All places where he had helped build strong Christian communities. While visiting his good friend a week before his death, he said, “Mama Elizabeth you and Phyllis are going to be widows” (Elizabeth is Ofunja’s wife and Phyllis was Shitandi’s wife). To his own daughter Salome he said, “Now those who have parents must learn to live like orphans, learn to work hard and avoid being a busybody.” The most emotional service was the Muyundi fellowship where he bluntly stated that nobody ever dreamed his departure would be so soon: “I am going now; whom am I leaving behind?” This question provoked deep and uncontrollable emotions among the members who were present. It was not long before he complained of a sharp headache that ushered him to the other side of life during the afternoon of February 2, 2011 in the afternoon.
As the Swahili saying goes, “Every long road has its sharp bend.” Shitandi was human. In his own words reflecting on a happening where someone tried to bewitch him by placing charms at his doorsteps: "I bought a new razor blade and took the charms in my hand and said, even as this razor cuts through these charms so do I cut the life that is behind this act and immediately I heard cries of death in the neighborhood a man who had done it just dropped dead. Be careful how you use the power of God he added with tears in his eyes."
In a generation that was not familiar with or even at home with critical thinking, Shitandi was viewed as a critic and his boldness to confront ethical lapses sometimes went to the extreme. His clear and firm belief in the humility of Christ made him too harsh to upcoming liberal and flamboyant bishops that abused Christian freedom and hospitality. Though he faithfully served the church, he did not identify with any one denomination, a stand that his close associates struggled with. Bishop Ofunja recalls: "The one thing that I did not manage to convince my brother and friend about was the issue of him being a member of a particular church. He kept on saying, 'I am a seed bed. I will remain a place where others will take what I have tenderly nurtured and plant in their own gardens. My pleas of asking him to have a demonstration plot for his seedlings always fell on a deaf ear."
Alfred Wetindi, grappling with the same issue, reflected on the social-spiritual implications this may have had on Shitandi’s children:
My brother’s children lived in highly charged spiritual environment, with people of all kinds flooding their home: the sick, the mentally challenged, widows divorced, destitute and everybody else that one would think was living on the margin. Children missed a natural growing environment where they could experience a normal Christian fellowship with other children in the church, hence the challenge of trying to practice Christianity in a world of fantasy at the expense of real practical social Christian life.
Shitandi was a humble and honest man who referred to people as “brother” and “sister.” James Oyula must be a proud man for mentoring a man of Shitandi’s caliber and influence. There is no building, not even one, in the places he served that bears his name yet the many he mentored have constructed remarkable structures and lives that have borne great witness to God’s power and grace.
Benea Alukwe Amakhungu
1. Phyllis Dorothy Bulali, interview by the author, May 15, 2013, Lugari, Kenya. Phyllis Dorothy Bulali is the widow of Bulali Stephen Shitandi.
2. Shadrack Bulali, interview by the author, June 26, 2013, Mombasa, Kenya. Shadrack Bulali is the son of Bulali Stephen Shitani. He is currently pursuing a business management degree at Nairobi University, Mombasa campus.
3. Christopher Ofunja, interview by the author, May 18, 2013, Samia Busia, Kenya. Ofunja was perhaps Shitandi’s best friend and confidant next to his wife Phyllis popularly known as mama Joel (Joel is Bulali’s first born presently teaching at a secondary school in Bunyala place where his father is highly regarded). Ofunja is the founding Bishop and pioneer of Saints celebration churches with head quarters in Sio-port.
5. Phyllis Dorothy Bulali, interview.
6. Alfred Wetindi, interview by the author, June 26, 2013, Nairobi, Kenya. Wetindi is one of the most trusted generals of Bulali and looked to Bulali as an elder brother. Wetindi is the pioneer and founder of the Muyundi fellowship. He happens to be the one who led the author to the Lord. Currently the Bishop of Tumaini churches with its headquarters in Nairobi.
7. Salome Masatsi, interview by the author, Kakamega County, Kenya. Masatsi is the daughter of Bulali Stephen Shitandi and is currently pursuing a bachelors degree in Education at Masinde Muliro University in Kakamega county.
8. Christopher Ofunja, interview.
9. Margaret Kigamwa, interview by the author, June 10, 2013, Kakamega County, Kenya. Margaret is the wife of the author and she narrates a testimony that was given in a Sunday service where Bulali Stephen Shitandi preached in August 2004 at the Gate of Light Chapel Likoni Mombasa where the author currently serves as the senior pastor.
11. Bulali Stephen Shitandi, interview by the author, December 31, 2010. When we did the usual end year visits to our father and mentor. This was the last time we talked and a month later Shitandi went to be with Lord.
12. Alfred Wetindi, interview.
13. Martha Opala, interview by the author, June 26, 2013, Kakamega County, Kenya. Opala is Shitandi’s daughter and is currently in her final year at Masinde Muliro University.
14. Elizabeth Ofunja, interview by the author, May 18, 2013, Samia Busia, Kenya. She is the wife of Christopher Ofunja.
15. Salome Masatsi, interview.
16. Eric Anene and Joseck Isanda, interview by the author, February 2013. Anene and Isanda are leaders in the Muyundi fellowship.
17. Cited from the eulogy read during the funeral service on February 12, 2013 at Shibembe primary school by the family.
18. Narration by the author Benea Alukwe.
19. Phyllis Dorothy Awino, interview.
20. Bishop Christopher Ofunja, interview.
22. Alfred Wetindi, interview.
Anene, Eric and Joseck Isanda. Interview by the author, February 2013.
Bulali, Phyllis Dorothy. Interview by the author, May 15, 2013, Lugari, Kenya.
Bulali, Shadrack. Interview by the author, June 26, 2013, Mombasa, Kenya.
Kigamwa, Margaret. Interview by the author, June 10, 2013, Likoni, Kenya.
Masatsi, Salmoe. Interview by the author. Kakamega County, Kenya.
Ofunja, Christopher. Interview by the author, May 18, 2013, Samia Busia, Kenya.
Ofunja, Elizabeth. Interview by the author, May 18, 2013, Samia Busia, Kenya.
Opala, Martha. Interview by the author, June 26, 2013, Kakamega, Kenya.
Shitandi, Bulali Stephen. Interview by the author, December 31, 2010.
Wetindi, Alfred. Interview by the author, June 26, 2013, Nairobi, Kenya.
“Euology.” February 12, 2013.
This article, received in 2013, was written by Benea Alukwe Amakhungu, an MDiv student at Africa International University (formerly Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology), under the supervision of Dr. Mark Shaw, senior lecturer in the department of Historical Studies, and Mr. Babatomiwa Moses Owojiaye, Ph.D student and instructor in African Christian History at AIU.