Musiko, Mayabi Thomas
One of the first converts to Christianity in his area, Thomas Musiko Mayabi was also the first evangelist and lay reader in the Anglican Church in Western province, Kenya. He was the first to plant churches in Wanga, now the diocese of Mumias, which presently boasts thousands of Christians.
Thomas Musiko Mayabi, son of Zakaria Mayabi, was born around 1874 in the present Masinjira sub-location, south Wanga division, and Butere-Mumias district of Western province, Kenya.
He grew up observing all the traditional Luyia rituals of his tribe that prepared the youth for life in the society at large. He went out fishing in the Nzoia river and looked after his parents’ cattle. He became attracted to Christianity while still young, when the first missionaries came to western Kenya and set up mission stations at Maseno and Butere.
Thomas started teaching and preaching as early as 1917 even before he was baptized. In 1918, due to a shortage of clergy and evangelists at the time, Butere church authorities appointed him evangelist in the Nyapeta Anglican Church. After taking different classes at several religious institutions, thirsty for God’s Word, he became a committed Christian leader and was baptized in the Butere Anglican Church in 1919.
As his faith, influence, and commitment to God’s work grew, Thomas planted several churches, including Ematawa (1921), Indangalasia (1928), Butobe (1936), and Eshianje (1946). Thomas worked hard, walking long distances, preaching the gospel all over Wanga and beyond. Thanks to his preaching, the church in Wanga started to grow. His first converts were Isaiah Wambatsa and Yona Mayindo of Matawa, Yairo Milo, Joshua Sutse, Isaya Ebotsa and Nichodemus Ajiba of Indangalasia, Isaka Kumbe, Jason Mutenyo, Ayub Wetindi and Samuel Makokha of Butobe, Yeremia Rupia, Zakayo Musungu, Saulo Olwanda and Yusuf Okelo of Buchifi, Paulo Watsiera, Barnaba Wakhwanga, and Stephano Okingo and Musa Butibisi of Nyapeta. Many more people were later on converted to Christianity through Thomas’ work. Today, the church is very strong in these areas and in all of western Kenya.
Thomas was described as a fiery preacher. In 1921 and 1922, he preached and taught against immorality and drunkenness. It is said that he physically fought people who got drunk and engaged in immoral practices. As a result, he was arrested and imprisoned by the colonial government for six months. His wife died during that time. Later he married another wife, Tabitha Wambachia.
Even while in prison, Thomas preached to his fellow prisoners. On his release from prison, he went to Mombasa, on the Indian Ocean, where he preached and converted many people to Christianity. Among his first converts in Mombasa were Samuel Obuya, Thomas Nobala, and Yohana Koli (these later became lay readers) who went back home and started a congregation at Bujumba, Marachi in Busia district of Western province.
In 1923, Thomas came back from Mombasa and continued preaching and campaigning against immorality, drunkenness, and bad government laws such as taxation, forced labor, and laws which prohibited people from going to church on Sundays. He reported some of these laws to the higher church authorities in Butere and Maseno. The missionaries in Butere and Maseno took up the matter with the provincial administration and those abuses were later abolished. Thomas’s evangelization efforts brought many people into the church in western Kenya.
As a result of his hard work and his passion to serve the church, Thomas was selected for lay leadership training at Maseno in 1935 and 1936. Afterwards he was made a lay-reader and evangelist in charge of all churches under Enyapeta center. In 1941, after some tribal differences in the church at Enyapeta, Thomas moved the center to Butobe church from whence he continued preaching and converting many people to Christianity in the Anglican Church. The churches under Butobe center included Ematawa, Indangalasia, Eshianje, Butobe, and, after 1946, Buchifi. In 1974, the Christians in the Butobe church wanted to build a bigger church. They moved to a new site on a plot donated by Jacob Mukwambo and his wife Phoebe. Thomas helped and encouraged the Christians who put up a permanent church, now a parish center church.
As an evangelist and lay reader, Thomas was able to serve and learn from many church leaders such as, among others, Rev. Canon Harry Leakey, Archdeacon Owen, Bishop Heywood, Bishop Crabbe, the Most Rev. Dr. Geoffrey Fisher (Archbishop of Canterbury), the Most Rev. L. J. Beecher (archbishop of East Africa), and Archbishop Festo Habakkuk Olang’ of Kenya.
In 1970, Thomas retired honorably from active church work but remained a lay reader with bishop’s licence until he died in 1992. He died of old age at the age of 118. He left behind his wife Tabitha Wambachia, who died soon thereafter, and five sons, lay reader Peter Wasiche, Ndugu John H. Mwanza, Daniel Mwati, Truphena Atsieno, Ibrahim Khonje and Moses Okutoyi as well as several grandchildren and great grandchildren. All his siblings are strong Christians, some holding leadership roles in the church.
Thomas was a man of extraordinary ability. Even at the age of 118, he was still able to read well from his Bible, his prayer book, and the hymnbook. Until his death, he attended all weekly church services, walking two miles to Butobe from his home.
Under his leadership, the church experienced phenomenal growth throughout Wanga land, which was under his jurisdiction as an evangelist. He is remembered for his bold messages in which he openly condemned evil and led people to Christ. He never compromised his faith. Thomas is remembered in the history of Christianity in western Kenya for his commitment, his eagerness, and his aggressive spreading of the gospel during his long ministry as an evangelist and lay reader.
Alfred Sheunda Keyas
Jacob I. Mukwambo, church elder, Butobe parish, research and interview by author, January 16, 2005.
Peter Wasiche Musiko, lay reader and Thomas’s son, interview by author, August 2004.
John Mwanza Musiko, Thomas’s son, interview by author, August 2004.
William Keya Okoyo, church elder, Butobe parish, interview by author, August 2004.
“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).