Mukwambo, Isaac Jacob
Jacob Isaac Mukwambo, the great oral historian of Wanga, was born on November 28, 1932, in Butobe village of Buchifi sub-location, South Wanga division in the current Butere-Mumias district, western province of Kenya. He was the third child of the family but his mother’s first and only son. His parents were Isaac Kumbe, son of Mukwambo, and Salome Odongo, daughter of Mutondo. Mukwambo’s birth brought great joy to Kumbe’s family because, as members of Abamakoya clan of the Luhyia tribe, they believed that sons held special positions as they continued the family line and took care of the home. His father, Isaac, the first convert of lay-reader Thomas Musiko from Butobe village, was an evangelist.
Since Jacob’s parents were devoted Christians, they brought him to church as a baby. He was baptized as an infant but later on learned catechism (referred to in those days as the “church commandments”) before he was accepted for his second baptism and confirmation in 1952 as a full Christian. He grew up under strict Christian discipline in the Anglican church at Enyapeta and Butobe. Also, due to his parent’s discipline, he grew up a well-behaved boy.
Jacob was among the first people from Wanga community to receive good formal modern education. In mid 1946, after nursery school, he was enrolled in standard three at Butere Sector School where he studied until the end of 1948. In January 1950, he was enrolled in standard six at what was then called C.M.S. Maseno High School, finishing in December 1954 after sitting for the Kenya African Secondary School Examination (KASSE). While a student at C.M.S. Maseno High School between 1950 and 1954, Jacob played a leading role in the development of Sunday School Centers in the villages around the school. Among his fellow students at Maseno was the former assistant minister and member of Parliament (M.P.) for Mumias, Dr. Elon Wameyo. Later Jacob took a two year correspondence course from Rapid Results College London to get the Cambridge School Certificate.
On May 20, 1957, he married Phoebe Sheunda, daughter of Enoch Achami, in a Christian wedding. God blessed them with fifteen children.
Jacob took various training courses both in the public and private sector, covering public administration in local government, sales and marketing skills, from basic to advanced levels, in Nairobi (Kenya) and Nigeria (West Africa). His fields of training covered, among others, the supervisory and industrial fields as well as public relations and training of trainers (TOT).
Jacob had very diverse work experience ranging from teaching, clerical, sales and marketing, and public administration. In his public work, Jacob was chairman of the Wanga/Abaluhyia association in Nairobi, Eldoret and Mombasa, of the Kakamega County Council, of BOG Musanda and Buchifi secondary schools, and of the Land Disputes Tribunal, South Wanga division. He served the community of Mumias as a member of Mumias Outgrowers company board of directors. He also worked both as a sales manager with East Africa Breweries Ltd. and as sales and marketing manager with East Africa Industries Ltd.
In 1974, Jacob and his wife, Phoebe, donated land to the church. On that site, Jacob helped to build a permanent church, ACK St. James Butobe, as well as the pastor’s house, a clinic, and a church hall. Seeing his great commitment to church work the bishop of Maseno North, James Mundia, commissioned him as a lay reader in the Anglican Church in 1976 at Musanda parish. Jacob was then elected member of the synod in the diocese of Maseno North, representing Musanda parish.
Jacob had first became a committed Christian during his school days but he later renewed his commitment to Christ and to church work in July 1977 when he accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of his life. He says, “I have never retreated, looked back nor admired life without Christ.” Between 1983 and 1992, Jacob served as honorable diocesan treasurer, a position he held until the diocese of Maseno North was divided into three new dioceses: Butere, Mumias, and Maseno North. While still under the diocese of Maseno North, Jacob represented the diocese in the provincial (national) synod and in other committees including the board of finance and Church Commissioners for Kenya (CCK). He helped to create the diocese of Mumias in 1993 and, despite his age, he has continued to be an active member on most diocesan boards and committees including the Diocesan Synod/Standing Committee, the Board of Finance, and the Building Committee.
Jacob continues to play a leading role in church growth and development. He encourages holistic church development and his vision focuses on people’s physical, spiritual, social, and economic development. He strongly advocates the simultaneous healing of spirit, soul, and body as is biblically expounded, and argues that “holistic gospel requires us to reach out and assist those who are in need of food, water, clothing, shelter, and education.” He is committed to farming and encourages the church and individual Christians to establish their own sugarcane, maize, and cattle farms. He takes a keen interest in church development work and makes sure that funds raised or donated for church, schools, and medical centers are fully utilized for that purpose.
Jacob has helped establish many churches, schools, and dispensaries in western Kenya. He has been instrumental in ensuring that many children throughout the Luhyia community receive a good education and has encouraged them to turn to church work. He encourages people to seek training in order to better serve the church. He has encouraged and supported many young people who have gone into the ministry through his influence including the author of this present article.
As a result of Jacob’s hard work, he was honored by the diocese of Mumias and made a lay canon during the diocesan synod held at Bishop Hannington Memorial Cathedral Mumias, December 9-11, 2004. Jacob Mukwambo, Salome Wanyangu, and Shadrack Nyarotso thus became the first lay canons in the Anglican diocese of Mumias.
Jacob facilitated the translation of the entire Bible into the central Oluluyia language-a language spoken and understood by almost all the Luyia people-as chairman and coordinator of the Oluluyia Bible Translation project management committee. He was also involved in writing church histories of some of the Anglican churches in the diocese of Maseno North and the diocese of Mumias.
Jacob will go down in history for his faithful work for Christ not only in Wanga land, but all across Western province and throughout Kenya. A charismatic personality, he firmly believes in the power of the Holy Spirit and all his sermons emphasize the importance of complete dependence on God. Though a layman, he is a powerful and effective communicator, and an excellent bible expositor, characteristics which have made him popular both among the educated and illiterate, the young and the old.
Although now weak due to old age, Canon Mukwambo has no regrets about his service for the Lord, and he continues to influence young people to commit their lives to Christ.
Jacob lost his wife, Mama Phoebe Sheunda, in January 2002. Even though old and retired from administrative work, Jacob is one of the few whose daily routine and schedule has not changed (2005). He still works closely with church and government authorities as an advisor. Due to his wisdom, humility, uprightness, love, and respect for human dignity, he is welcomed and respected by all.
Alfred S. Keyas
Mukwambo, Jacob I., interview by author, February 20, 2005.
“Church History of St. James Church, Butobe,” [compiled by] church elders, 1977.
“Church History of Emmanuel Church, Enyapeta,” [compiled by] church elders, 1983.
This story, submitted in 2005, was researched and written by Rev. Alfred Sheunda Keyas, a priest in the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK), diocese of Mumias, serving as a missionary in Mwingi, Eastern Kenya Province, and DACB Project Luke fellow (2004-2005).