In a patriarchal society, the role of women often goes unnoticed. While she may not have attained wide scale notoriety, Sarah Luchetu is a true matriarch of the Assemblies of God in Kenya. As part of the four founding families of the Kenya Assemblies of God (KAG) in 1972, Luchetu and her husband John Luchetu contributed much to the church and to the body of Christ in Kenya. Those who knew her have referred to her as being loving, caring, compassionate, diligent, dedicated, strong, friendly but firm, compassionate and punctual. These qualities were forged in her from her upbringing as an orphan and from her strong faith.
Upbringing and Education **
Sarah Muganzi Anduku was born on November, 22, 1947 in Mogomari village (now Mogomari sub-location), Bukuzi sub-location, Kakamega district in Kenya’s Western province. She was born into the Bukuzi clan of the Isukha community, part of the greater Luhya Bantu people. Her parents were Mr. Henry Anduku and Mrs. Safeli Muchese. She was the third born child in a family of six siblings (four girls and two boys). The family was deeply religious and fellowshipped with the Holy Spirit Church in Western Kenya. The doctrines held in this church would later contribute significantly to the path that Sarah and her family followed.
In 1956, at the age of nine, Sarah enrolled at Mogomari Primary School to begin her formal schooling at primary one. In 1958, following the death of her mother (her only surviving parent), her maternal aunt, Mrs. Leah Mutola, adopted Sarah and brought her up until she was married. At her aunt’s home, she attended Shitoto Primary School then moved to Lwanda Primary School where she completed her primary education, sitting for her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) in 1963.
After this, Sarah attended New Nyanza Commercial College to do secretarial studies in 1966. After a brief period, she moved to Nairobi and enrolled at New Era College to continue with her secretarial studies. In 1974, while in Nairobi, she undertook training with the Nairobi City Council in sweater tailoring. Thereafter, while working as an untrained teacher at the Bahati KAG nursery school, she attended training in Montessori education.
The death of her parents at such a young age and her adoption by her aunt were key turning points in her childhood. The Holy Spirit Church in which they fellowshipped did not believe in western medicine. They held that by prayer and fasting the sick would be healed. It is because of this belief that her two parents succumbed to malaria, an illness that could have been easily diagnosed and treated. Her father passed away in February 1956 and her mother followed two years later in July of 1958. Following her adoption, Sarah joined the Friends Church (Quakers) where her adoptive family fellowshipped. It is here that she spent her formative teenage years and early adulthood.
Marriage and Family
Mr. John Luchetu met his future wife in December of 1964. Their courtship lasted just over two years culminating in their marriage on February 7, 1967 in a traditional ceremony. In May 1967, she moved to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to join her husband who was stationed there, working with what was then called the East African Railways.
In Dar es Salam, their daughter, Caroline Mugoyia, was born on May 7, 1969, the first of four children. In July 1970, the family relocated to Morogoro where the second born, Edwin Khamati, arrived on October 8, 1970. The migrations continued throughout the early part of their marriage life with a move to Mwanza in March 1972 and then finally to Nairobi in July 1972. The family stayed in Nairobi until 1999 when they relocated to Kiserian following the retirement of Mr. Luchetu. Life was not so smooth though. Luchetu had difficulty conceiving after the birth of the second born and required a procedure to clean up her womb. Other than ordinary maladies, this was the most significant illness throughout her married life. Their third and fourth children were born in Nairobi: Samuel Shichenje on November 3, 1978, and Eunice Khamusali on May 21, 1981. All her children survived her and at the time of her death had provided her with eight grandchildren with an additional two twins, arriving thereafter.
Having been raised an orphan, Luchetu appreciated the role her extended family played in her upbringing. She took an active part in the welfare and education of her siblings. The Luchetus adopted two nephews, one who is currently in the US army and the other who is a primary school teacher (2013). Luchetu was known for her patience and hard work, was always keen to listen, get to the root of the problem, and provide solutions to those around her. Her brother, Titus Mukeya said of her, “She bought me so many clothes, shirts, suits trousers and shoes and made sure I was doing well.” Her eldest daughter in recognition of her influence on the extended family stated, “Perhaps the family upcountry suffered more from the death of our dear mother than us. They had a close relationship and she took care of them. It may be why they were a bit angry and disappointed over the sudden death and the lack of information on her failing health.”
Conversion, ministry and work life
Luchetu grew up in deeply religious households right from birth. However, it was while in Tanzania that she and her family left the Quakers and joined the Tanzania Assemblies of God (TAG). At that time she made a personal commitment to Christ and became a born again believer. As the husband tells it, this was initially out of necessity since the church they belonged to did not have a congregation in Tanzania so when a young pastor invited them to church, they accepted. This transition was not simple due to doctrinal differences such as the use of musical instruments (especially the guitar) in worship. This was not permitted in the conservative Quaker congregations at home. However, once she was settled, Luchetu devoted her time and energy to the church.
In Mwanza, Tanzania, Luchetu worked closely with two white missionary ladies as a translator from English to Swahili. One of the ladies was Rev. Turner’s wife, an Assemblies of God missionary in Tanzania. They carried out evangelical campaigns in factories and local businesses, and visited homes and colleges. A key component of their evangelism involved counseling the ladies on various aspects of family life and Christianity. This was to form an important part of her ministry training as she later took on a counseling ministry as an important part of her service. The ladies also provided basic medicines, mainly anti-malarials, and community education in basic hygiene, for example.
Following their transfer to Nairobi in 1972, their TAG colleagues connected the family to Assemblies of God missionaries stationed in Kenya and together they set about founding the first church plant, the Kenya Assemblies of God (KAG) at Bahati, Nairobi. The entire congregation consisted of four families: Rev. Steven Wanyoike, his wife Pauline and their three children, missionary Kingsrighter and his wife, Rev. Absalom Mwakiusa, his wife, and their three children from Tanzania, and finally the Luchetus with their two children. The entire congregation was made up of a total of eight adults and eight children. The church grew mainly through its children’s ministry, which drew adults and other seekers. In 1974, Luchetu assisted a missionary team from the U.S., working as an interpreter and coordinating their logistics in Kenya. From these humble beginnings the KAG grew to become one of the largest Pentecostal denominations in Kenya with over four thousand churches and over one million members.
Luchetu’s involvement at KAG Bahati kindled the flame of her ministry and her passion for early childhood education. In 1975, she joined Bahati KAG Nursery School as an untrained teacher. She served there until 1982 while undergoing training in Montessori education. This time was not without its challenges. Favoritism due to tribalism and church politics led her to resign from the school. She then joined Kabete Nursery School where she taught until 1984. At this point she decided to start her own school.
Her first nursery school was the Golden Gate nursery school at the Golden gate estate in Nairobi. The school was so successful that two branches were opened in the Lunga Lunga Industrial area and Donholm estate. The success of these ventures helped pay for the education of their children. However, this venture had to close down when the facility they were renting for the school was co-occupied by the property owners’ fabrication business. The environment was too noisy and polluted for a school to operate there.
Luchetu then turned her attention to making clothes to supplement the household income. She bought clothes from Nairobi and distributed them to clients all over the country. Due to the low profits, the need to keep operational costs low, and age and health implications, the business also had to close. She then opened a food kiosk (shop) at Matumbato estate and, when they relocated to Kiserian on her husbands’ retirement, she opened an additional food kiosk. However, in the year 2000, she went back to her passion and opened a new nursery school in Kiserian called the Sajos Academy. She ran this school until her illness and sudden death.
Mrs. Mary Beggs, wife of Rev. Jimmy Beggs, founded the women’s guild of the KAG under the name “Wanawake Wa Kristo” (WWK). This loosely translates to “Women for Christ.” It is through this ministry that Sarah served the church directly and enriched the body of believers. At its inception, she was one of the founding members at KAG Bahati. After a short time, due to her compassion for others, love of and experience in counseling, and her leadership skills, she was soon holding a leadership position. Under Pastor Mwakiusa, Luchetu served as the assistant chairlady to Mrs. Mkubwa. She then deputized for Mrs. Ngunyi and Mrs. Carmela Hinga in the late 1990s. When the Hingas left to open a new church, she acted as the chairlady until the 1999 Bahati WWK elections when she was promoted to head the Bahati WWK. She served in this position until her death.
As a leader of the Bahati WWK, Luchetu initiated several projects for the women and the needy in her community. She introduced the women to the energy saving cooking basket which she sourced and supplied to them, she taught them soap making which they used to supplement their incomes. She worked closely with the elderly in her church to meet their unique needs and to give them a sense of belonging. Her daughter Carol remembers the many people who brought them gifts to express their gratitude for her mother’s help. When pupils had problems paying fees, she allowed them to continue in class while also meeting the financial needs of her employees so that their salaries did not suffer.
As the chairlady of Bahati WWK–the biggest and most successful chapter in the country– Luchetu was elected to sit at the section level and at the district level where she worked with the presbyter. She supervised and trained churchwomen under her section and in the district to empower them for life and ministry. Her role at this level was greatly appreciated by all and she was always in demand, year round, as many fought to have her included in their programs. The churches in Syokimau and Ruiru benefited the most from her work at a sectional level. Bishop Njiri, Rev. Gitahi, and other co-workers attested to her passion, energy, commitment, and dedication. As a sign of her commitment, she was known to take up to two weeks to prepare her sermons and presentations. She was so committed that she was known to travel many kilometers for fellowship, counseling, and trainings, even when she fell ill.
Illness and death
If Luchetu had a weakness, it had to be her determination not to burden to others with her troubles. This made her able to work without complaining and take everything that came her way with grace. Unfortunately, this may have contributed to her untimely demise. From the interviews, it appears that she never talked of being unwell. Others around her had to figure this out from her appearance and behavior. For a long time she kept her illness from her family and friends and never let them know how much pain she was in.
Over an extended period, she complained of headaches, malaria, and high blood pressure for which she was given medication and sent home. In the last quarter of 2011, she started complaining of joint pains and weakness when walking. She was taken to the Nairobi Women’s Hospital of Ongata Rongai on January 2012 where an X-ray revealed a growth in her lungs. She was also diagnosed with arthritis and high cholesterol for which she was treated. She was then referred to Nairobi West Hospital for scans where they recommended a biopsy. The family sought a second opinion in March when she did not improve. The doctor stated that she lacked calcium and put her on a diet and exercise. Additional medical attention at St. Mary’s Langata yielded no improvement even after medication. When she went back for a follow up a week later, she was still in pain.
Dr. Omondi of Guru Nanak was consulted. He recommended admission to South B Nursing Home for a battery of tests pending admissions to Kenyatta National hospital. Luchetu was admitted on Sunday, April 15. It was then that Dr. Omondi requested documentation from all the tests conducted on her in an effort to reconstruct her medical history. Following a long search, Mr. Luchetu found the results of the scan done in January at Nairobi Women’s hospital. From this report, the doctor concluded that Luchetu had terminal cancer at an advanced stage. This was on Tuesday, April 17 in the morning. After a fitful night, her conditioned worsened at 9.00 am with the doctors having to resuscitate her. They advised that someone always be at her side. She was put on oxygen, allowing her vitals to stabilize while her blood pressure hovered at 56, during which time she conversed with her family. But as the doctor prepared to transfer her to a hospice, she closed her eyes and further efforts at resuscitation yielded no fruits. The doctor pronounced her dead at 1.30 pm. She had passed away surrounded by her family: her first-born daughter, niece, and husband.
Many questions remain. Did Sarah know she had terminal cancer? If so, when did she know? Did she intentionally shield the family from her pain by hiding the truth? If this were true, then it would be in keeping with the kind of person she was, never wanting to be a burden to others.
In the end, she had fought a good fight and had given her all to bring God the glory. She bore her suffering with great dignity to the end. She left behind many healed relationships, successful well-adjusted individuals, and reconciled marriages and families. Her passion for Christian counseling and education will continue to influence generations to come in a Godly manner. Many women are successful wives and mothers living out Proverbs 31 due to her patience, guidance, prayers, and wise counsel. She lived out her faith in intimate service to others to bring to reality the Kingdom of God in earthly families. Her compassion gave her energy to ease the suffering of others. For many struggling single mothers, abused and alone, she was a kind shoulder to lean on. She gave materially and spiritually, and sought jobs for as many people as she could. Her kindness was overwhelming and compelled many to come to Christ. In her praise, it is fitting to close with the words of her favorite Bible chapter, “Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.” (Proverbs 31:31) Amen.
Felix Simiyu Sumba
Eulogy prepared and read at her memorial service at International Christian Center, Nairobi, on April 25, 2012.
Death and funeral announcement, published in the Daily Nation newspaper on April 24, 2012.
John Luchetu, husband, interview by the author on July 8, 2013 in Kiserian.
Titus Mukeya of Kakamega, brother, interview by the author on July 8, 2013.
Caroline Wefila, daughter, interview by the author on July 8, 2013 in Nairobi.
Julia Nyaga, a congregant of KAG Bahati and a member of the WWK at the time Sarah was in office, interview by the author.
Selfa Amakove, a close friend, interview by the author on July 9, 2013.
Mary Mbikiro Joseph, an employee at Sajos Academy in Kiserian, interview by the author on July 9, 2013.
Rev. Gitahi of KAG, a former colleague, interview by the author on July 9, 2013.
This article, received in 2013, was written by Felix Sumba, 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, a Phd student and faculty member at AIU.