Birech, Ezekiel Kiprop

1910 to 2000
Africa Inland Church

Ezekiel Kiprop Birech built a lasting legacy through his selfless service to the Africa Inland Church and his Nandi people. His influence continues to be felt significantly all over Kenya. He served at different levels of leadership in the AIC, and most prominently as bishop from 1980 to the end of 1996. His integrity, gentle spirit, and deep devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ enabled him to serve effectively as the leader of Kenya’s largest Evangelical church for about sixteen years.

Early Life, Conversion, and Education

Ezekiel Kiprop Birech was born in 1910 in Kaptel village in what was then Nandi District (now Nandi County) [1] to Tibing’ot Kibirech araap Chemai, a Nandi chief. He received the given name Kiprop, according to Nandi naming customs. However, his son Nahor K. Cheptileh claims that his late father’s national identification card bore the year 1918 as the date of his birth. He believes this to be the correct date as it was probably given to the authorities by Birech himself and so would be more reliable. [2] Birech’s father was a chief who sued the Africa Inland Mission for keeping his daughter and refusing her to be circumcised according to Nandi customs. This daughter’s name was Leah and she eventually became the wife of Reuben Seroney [3].

On January 14, 1926, there was an eclipse of the sun that caused many people to believe that the end of the world had come—an event of which the Christians had spoken. [4] This eschatological interpretation of the eclipse led many to believe that the Gospel was true and so some gave up their indigenous religions to follow Christ. In the same year, Birech first heard the Gospel from a Luhya Christian, Wanyama, who was a cook on a European settler’s farm in Eldoret where Birech worked leading oxen. [5] Under these circumstances, he was converted and decided to read the Bible for himself so he could be well placed to share the message of the Gospel with his people, the Nandi [6].

That same year, Birech left his employment on the settler’s farm to respond to the deep conviction he had in his heart. He began his journey of education at the Africa Inland Mission station at Kapsabet at the age of sixteen. After his elementary studies there, he joined the Government African School, now known as Kapsabet Secondary School. He left Kapsabet for a while and joined the catechism class at Moiben in 1930. He was baptized in 1932 and then received the name Ezekiel. [7] He completed his primary school education at the GAS in 1938. During that year, he was circumcised as was the practice of his people. [8] It must be noted however that the Nandi circumcise their boys when they are between the ages of fifteen and eighteen. Birech was not circumcised at the proper time because he was pursuing his education at the AIM Kapsabet station. According to Mathew Kipchumba, a Nandi tribesman, this led to him receiving the derogatory nickname ng’etet (uncircumcised) among his age mates. He was eventually circumcised at the age of twenty-eight. [9]

Birech performed well at this primary level of education and qualified to join Alliance High School in Kikuyu, then the most elite secondary school for Africans in Kenya. However, due to the lack of teachers, the missionaries at the AIM Kapsabet station requested that he stay and serve as a teacher. He consented and began his career as a teacher in 1939. He was later promoted to the post of supervisor for AIC schools in the North Rift Valley area. [10] His success as a teacher led to many people calling him mwalimu (teacher) even into his later life and ministry. [11] Later, he enrolled for secondary education. He was then sponsored by the church to pursue theological education at Scott Theological College (now Scott Christian University) in Machakos. He was a student there from 1975 to 1976. [12]


Birech served the Church in various capacities over a protracted length of time. He began his ministry as a teacher at the AIM Kapsabet School. In the 1950s, the need arose to produce a new translation of the Bible in Nandi, for wider use by the Kalenjin peoples. This project gave him the opportunity to work with Christians from other Kalenjin subgroups such as the Kipsigis and Marakwet. He was appointed secretary to the translation committee that worked from 1954 to 1963, and released the final translation in 1969 after updates and revisions. [13] In addition to Bible translation, Birech was involved in the revision of the Kalenjin hymnal as well as a personal project to translate John Bunyan’s classic Pilgrim’s Progress. [14]

During this time he was also actively involved in pastoral ministry in AIC Kaptel, the local church of his home village. His steadfast dedication to service at the local church level led to his election as secretary of both the Nandi District Church Council and the Rift Valley Regional Church Council in 1960. [15] After his graduation from Scott Theological College, he was ordained as an AIC minister in 1977. He then returned to continue his pastoral ministry in Nandi. He graduated from the post of secretary of the District Church Council to that of chairman after the death of Rev. Samuel Gimnyigei. [16] In February 1979, he was elected chairman of the North Rift Regional Church Council and the following month he was elected assistant bishop of the AIC. In November of that year, Bishop Wellington E. Mulwa went to be with the Lord. In the resultant elections in March 1980, Birech was elected bishop of the AIC and served for four terms. This long tenure was a productive one for the AIC as he led the church in the establishment of several institutions.

Birech secured his place in the history of the African Church during his sixteen years in office. His legacy is strongest in two main areas: missions and education. Birech contributed to the broad area of missions through his translation work. At the time of his birth, the Nandi were a largely unreached people group. For this reason, it was urgent to translate the Bible into Nandi. When this was done, the Nandi Bible needed to be revised in order to make the language more generic in order to ensure it usability among other Kalenjin groups. His translation of the Scriptures, of hymns, and of Pilgrim’s Progress were key contributions towards the evangelization and discipleship of the Nandi community. His revision of the Nandi hymnal was also significant as hymnody contributed to the translation of biblical and theological concepts and truths into local idioms and expressions that allowed the Nandi to interact more deeply with God’s Word. This was also the goal of the translation of Pilgrim’s Progress.

The second significant contribution Birech made in the field of missions was the establishment of the AIC Missionary College in 1985. This school, based in Eldoret, was set up to train cross cultural missionaries who would be used by God in the evangelization of unreached people groups. The establishment of this school was fueled by Birech’s intense passion for evangelism that had driven him to go to school and to go into ministry. [18] The Bishop Birech Foundation was begun after Birech’s death to continue the work of evangelism, especially among the Nandi.

Birech also made significant contributions in the area of education. He believed each community should have a local church, a kindergarten, a primary school, and a secondary school. [19] His seminal contribution in this field was his own teaching career, but his most significant contributions came during his tenure as bishop. In 1989, he began Bishop Birech Girls’ Secondary School in the Tilol area of Uasin Gishu district (now Uasin Gishu County). Previously, he had emigrated to the Tilol area from Kaptel in Nandi. [20] He also established the Nyayo Teachers’ College in Konza, Machakos district (now Machakos County) to train teachers for effective service. Birech developed a close relationship with the former president, Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi, who was a member of the AIC. This relationship proved beneficial to the church as Birech sought the former president’s assistance in acquiring land for churches and schools. After Birech’s retirement from office, his efforts in the encouragement of education were recognized and honored when a new AIC sponsored Bible college was named after him. This college, Bishop Birech Bible College, opened in 1998.

Despite his many successes in adding a missional and educational emphasis to the AIC, Birech faced several challenges in his ministry. The first was the challenge of dealing with church leaders who lacked personal integrity. He was a lifelong campaigner against corruption and laziness in the pastoral office. Another major challenge he faced as bishop was the lack of funds for ministry purposes. Many local churches were poor and their giving was often low. Sometimes moneys given at the local church level reached the bishop’s office as only a fraction of the original amount because corruption and high administrative overhead consumed much of the giving. [21]

Personal life

Birech was a devoted family man even though he was continually engaged in ministry. During his teaching ministry at Kapsabet, he met Milcah Cheplel Birech whom he married in 1943. [22] Together they had eight children. One of his sons described his late father as a quiet and reflective man. He hardly spoke about church affairs in detail within the confines of his home. [23] He was a man devoted to prayer. He never missed a mid-week church prayer meeting, and was keen on personal prayers in the morning and family prayers in the evening. It is said he was so committed to prayer that whenever church leaders, relative or refugees approached him with a difficult matter or need, his first response was always, “Have you prayed about it?”[24] He was known to stop and even adjourn meetings so that prayers could be made.

He retired from the bishop’s office after four terms in charge. He then lived a quiet life with his wife on their farm in Tilol, Kipkabus area of Uasin Gishu. Three years after his retirement he went to be with the Lord and was buried on November 30, 2000 at the AIC Missionary College in Eldoret. [25]


Birech achieved many positive changes during his long tenure of office thanks to his unquestionable character and pastoral approach to issues. Birech labored for the Lord with the hope that his own church would grow in spiritual depth and evangelistic reach. He had a heart for missions and education was a tool for achieving that goal. Without a doubt, Ezekiel Kiprop Birech made an indelible mark on the AIC in Kenya and in African Christian history.

Allan Muchiri Njoroge


  1. Bishop Birech Foundation, The Legacy,, (accessed on June 20, 2014).
  2. Nahor K. Cheptileh, interview by author, Nairobi, June 30, 2014. Note: The latter date (1918) seems improbable given the dating of other events in Birech’s early life.
  3. Richard J. Gehman, From Death to Life: The Birth of the Africa Inland Church in Kenya, (Ann Arbor, MI: Richard J. Gehman, 2013), 157.
  4. Adam K. Chepkwony, “Birech, Ezekiel Kiprop,” in Holy People of the World: A Cross Cultural Encyclopaedia, ed. Phyllis G. Jestice (New York: Phyllis G. Jestice, 2004), 125.
  5. Chepkwony, “Birech, Ezekiel Kiprop,” 125.
  6. Chepkwony, “Birech, Ezekiel Kiprop,” 125.
  7. Chepkwony, “Birech, Ezekiel Kiprop,” 125.
  8. Chepkwony, “Birech, Ezekiel Kiprop,” 125.
  9. Mathew Kipchumba, Interview by author, Nairobi, June 23, 2014.
  10. Bishop Birech Foundation, The Legacy,
  11. Cheptileh interview.
  12. Chepkwony, “Birech, Ezekiel Kiprop,” 125.
  13. Bishop Birech Foundation, The Legacy,
  14. Chepkwony, “Birech, Ezekiel Kiprop,” 125.
  15. Bishop Birech Foundation, The Legacy,
  16. Bishop Birech Foundation, The Legacy,
  17. Chepkwony, “Birech, Ezekiel Kiprop,” 125.
  18. Chepkwony, “Birech, Ezekiel Kiprop,” 125.
  19. Cheptileh interview.
  20. Cheptileh interview.
  21. Cheptileh interview.
  22. Chepkwony, “Birech, Ezekiel Kiprop,” 125.
  23. Cheptileh interview.
  24. Cheptileh interview.
  25. Chepkwony, “Birech, Ezekiel Kiprop,” 125.


Bishop Birech Foundation. The Legacy. (accessed June 20, 2014). Gehman, Richard J. From Death to Life: The Birth of the Africa Inland Church in Kenya. Ann Arbor, MI: Richard J. Gehman, 2013. Chepkwony, Adam K. “Birech, Ezekiel Kiprop.” In Holy People of the World: A Cross Cultural Encyclopaedia, ed. by Phyllis G. Jestice, 125. New York: Phyllis G. Jestice, 2004. Cheptileh, Nahor K., son. Interview by author, June 30, 2014, Nairobi. Kipchumba, Mathew. Interview by author, June 23, 2014, Nairobi.

This articla, received in 2018, was written by Rev. Allan Muchiri Njoroge, originally as a assignment for African Church History (HS 505), a course offered in Jan-April 2014 at Africa International University for the Church History Masters’ program, under the supervision of Professor Mark Shaw.