Mwasi, Edward Mwamba

1946-2010
Nairobi Pentecostal Church
Kenya

Throughout the church in Africa, there is emerging a cadre of Christian laymen who, although not in conscious emulation and not necessarily in an organized manner, are exhibiting the noble ideals, patterns, and practices of the heritage of the Clapham Sect or historic Evangelicals of the late 18th and early 19th centuries like William Wilberforce. While holding high profile positions in society, they are deeply committed Christians who are active in the work of the church. They are emphatic in their insistence on the primacy of the Christian experience of the new birth, they exhibit an exemplary life of holiness and integrity in day-to-day practice, they project Christian witness in the wider society through the promotion of the social and moral well-being of those around them, and they are centrally involved in Christian evangelism and outreach. [1] Of the many people in the Kenyan context who now share this stance and who shared it in the past, Edward Mwamba Mwasi stands out as a classic example. From the time that he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior when he was a student at Shimo La Tewa High School, to the time of his death in 2010, Mwasi followed and served Jesus Christ as a Christian layman par excellence. [2]

Early Years

Edward Mwamba Mwasi was born on October 13, 1946, at Kwen Mwandundi, Teri Sub-location, in the Sagala area of Taita, in the coastal region of Kenya. He was the fifth child of his father, Jackson Mwasi, and his mother, Samba Mwasi. His siblings were named Eunice, Josephine, Caroline Walongo, Valentina, Nelson, Elizabeth, Monje, and Wanjala.

Edward received his early schooling in his locality when he went to Teri Primary School for Standards 1 to 4, in the years 1954 to 1957. Upon passing the nationwide Common Entrance Examinations (CEE) in 1957, he was chosen to join the best school in his area, Wray Intermediate School, for Standards 5 to 8, which he attended from 1958 to 1961. It was here that he sat for the Kenya African Preliminary Examinations (KAPE) in 1961. On the basis of his outstanding performance in the examinations, he was selected to pursue his education at the prestigious Shimo La Tewa High School for his secondary school studies. At the time Shimo La Tewa was not only the best school in the coastal region of Kenya but was also among the top schools in all of Kenya. Securing a place there on a national competitive basis was an indication that Edward was among the best students in the country. He entered Shimo La Tewa in 1962.

It was at Shimo La Tewa that Edward began developing into what he was to become in later years. Indeed, when he sat for the “O” Level Cambridge School Certificate Examinations (CSCE) in 1965, it was clear that academically speaking, he was destined for high achievements. His results were so excellent that he joined the “A” Level stream in the same school on high academic merit for 1966 and 1967. Throughout his schooling at Shimo La Tewa, from Form One in 1962, to Form Six in 1967, he distinguished himself as a brilliant student in all of his academic endeavors.

Endowed Leader and Talented Artist

In addition to his prowess in the classroom, Edward made a positive and wholesome contribution to many other aspects of life in the school. First, he was a leader upon whom others relied to shoulder leadership responsibilities in various clubs as well as in the school community as a whole. Secondly, he unleashed his talent in drama and the fine arts, notably in sculpture. Also, the logo which he designed while at Shimo La Tewa High School in the 1960s is still in use today, and testifies to his skill in design.

A Vibrant and Fervent Christian

He experienced a life-changing transformation while he was a student at Shimo La Tewa. This took place when he was saved and came to know Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. In many respects, this drastic change in his spiritual life was to shape and determine the quality of the life that he led in later years. In the same vein, it was this inner transformation that molded him and enabled him to make his greatest contributions within his family, in the various spheres of employment in his career, among friends and associates, in the church and Christian circles, and in society generally.

A Pillar in the School Christian Union

It was in fact at Shimo La Tewa that the tremendous spiritual impact he had wherever he went became evident. Once he was saved and had accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord, his life was completely transformed. As a result of what had transpired in his life, he wanted to help others in the school to experience the same transformation. Then, when they were beyond this initial step of salvation, they went further and sought ways to deepen their spiritual lives. As they steeped themselves in the life and activities of the Christian Union (C.U.) at Shimo La Tewa, they discovered the road to spiritual nurture and maturity. The nourishment that they found in the protective atmosphere of the Christian Union enabled them to lead fulfilled and victorious lives while preparing for fruitful life beyond the school. By the time he left the school in 1967, Mwasi was already renowned as a fervent and vibrant Christian.

Civil Engineering Studies at Nairobi

Having completed high school at Shimo La Tewa, there was the usual interval before he began studies at university. During this period of waiting, he busied himself in two ways: he worked as an untrained teacher at Dr. Aggrey High School in his home area of Taita Taveta, and he took up temporary employment in the Bamburi cement factory. Apart from keeping him meaningfully occupied during this period of waiting and anticipation, these jobs also gave him some much-needed financial income. All the while, Mwasi kept his Christian torch shining through participation in the church and in related Christian meetings and activities. In the Mombasa area, one of the churches through which his faith was sustained and nourished was the All Nations Gospel Church, in Makupa.

The fact that Mwasi had completed high school did not mean that entrance to university was a foregone conclusion. Just as for everyone else, his performance in the national Form Six examinations would significantly affect his future prospects. As it happened, his results were excellent, and he was selected on a competitive basis to study civil engineering.

Although the course he qualified for and was selected to pursue was his choice, his father was not in favor of that career, and would have preferred to see Mwasi develop into a politician. In fact, he would have liked for his son to study political science, but once Mwasi settled into his chosen studies, his father reconciled himself to the new reality and gave him his full and enthusiastic support.

Legacy of Intense Prayer Emphasis at Nairobi

The Christian Union (CU) at the University of Nairobi, especially the one at the main campus, where it is known as the Main Campus Christian Union (MCCU), has been in existence there since the inception of the university. Joseph Musembi, who was later general secretary of the Bible Society of Kenya, was the first chairman of the MCCU. Throughout its existence, the CU has been a bulwark in the lives of successive generations of Christian students there. At the same time, it has exercised dynamic Christian witness to the entire university community over the years, while shaping its members for even greater influence in the church and in wider society upon graduation.

During his university days, involvement in the CU was as important to Mwasi as the pursuit of his studies. As a result, the CU contributed immensely to his Christian growth and spiritual vibrancy. He, in turn, plowed this harvest back into the CU by serving it in its various structures, programs, and activities. Even casual acquaintances knew him as an engineering student and as a fervent and dynamic Christian. There is much evidence that he was critical to the life of the CU at that time, and through this position of influence, he was able to make a profound spiritual impact on those he met.

Of all the contributions he made during his student days there, the one that stands out is the emphasis on prayer he brought to the CU. When he was not involved in Christian activities at the university, he participated in meetings at the All Nations Gospel Church in Gikomba, which is affiliated with the Pentecostal Evangelistic Fellowship of Africa (PEFA). Indeed, he drew much of his strength while serving the Christian Union at the university from the church at Gikomba. In those years (the late 1960s and early 1970s), All Nations Church distinguished itself as the only center for intense, fervent, and sustained Pentecostal prayer. Now, all-night prayer meetings, or Keshas, are normal, regular features, although in many churches they are a fad. During that general period, in the urban environment, this feature was more or less unique to All Nations Church for the emerging middle cadre of working Christians in the city of Nairobi. Even after he left the university, Mwasi continued to be a useful link between CU members and All Nations Church. Dr. David Gacengeci, later chairman of the CU at the University of Nairobi’s Medical School, testified that even after Mwasi had left the University, “I remember him walking with us to the All Nations Church, then under Mwatha.” [3]

While he was very appreciative of all the excellent programs the CU offered, he was still not satisfied, and he sought to enrich the depth, breadth, and scope of the spiritual resources of CU members through a heightened emphasis on prayer. Apart from the practice of prayer, he envisaged the need for an environment in which intense, fervent, even loud and prolonged prayer would be promoted. While initiating this type of prayer life within the context of the CU, he looked for secluded areas where this could be carried out. These sessions were held in addition to, and were not supposed to interfere with, the normal CU programs, activities, and functions. They occurred mainly after the university library closed at 9:00 p.m. and before most of the participants turned in for the night, at around 11:00 p.m.

Because these prayer meetings could be quite loud, Mwasi and his colleagues had to be creative in looking for convenient venues. Eventually, they settled on using secluded basement rooms and similar spaces in residence halls. Whenever appropriate rooms were not available for some reason, and if the weather conditions were favorable, they resorted to using a section of the university playing fields for these regular nighttime prayer sessions.

Many who have found them going on and have benefited from them have never realized that this was one of his greatest legacies to the CU at Nairobi. Since these prayer sessions drastically transformed many who have gone on to render major contributions to the church in East Africa in general, and in Kenya in particular, this was a legacy which had far-reaching implications.

Marriage and Family Life

Through his involvement in the CU, Mwasi met one of the CU members, Mary Eunice Wanjiru Gatura, and began to develop a friendship with her while they both were still in the university. After their university days, that relationship continued to flourish, and it eventually resulted in their marriage, which took place on June 9, 1973.Three children were born to them: two daughters, Samba and Ngina, and one son, Mwasi.

A Career in Civil Engineering

From a review of Mwasi’s life, it is obvious that when he left the University of Nairobi in 1971, he must have set out with two clear goals, among others: to excel in his professional career, and to make an impact for Jesus Christ in the spiritual realm. Although he made outstanding contributions in many other areas, these two goals must have stood out as priorities which defined and guided the details of his life.

The last substantive professional position he held before he retired from public service in 2001 was that of deputy secretary, Road Transport Services, in the Ministry of Transport and Communications of the government of Kenya. He served in that position from 1996 to 2001. To reach that high post, he had steadily risen through the ranks and had worked in practically every level of his particular specialty, which was road engineering. In each area, he distinguished himself for his singular commitment to duty, for his drive and sense of industry, and for his conscientious application of integrity.

Immediately after graduation, he was employed by the government of Kenya as an assistant engineer roads in the Ministry of Works, from 1971 to 1973, and stayed on as a civil servant for a span of about 30 years. In the years 1971 to 1975, he rose steadily through the stages of assistant engineer and deputy engineer to engineer. Then in 1976-1981, he was deployed successively to three provinces as provincial roads engineer. Back in Nairobi in the years, 1981-1996, he held the positions of deputy chief superintending engineer, chief executive engineer, chief superintending engineer, city engineer, chief engineer roads; and general manager, Engineering Services of Kenya Airports Authority. The details of his career, which spanned thirty years, are detailed in the notes. [4]

While serving in these higher echelons and advanced structures of the government, he maintained his radiant Christian testimony and took a central role in Christian affairs in general, and in his church in particular. Under God’s guidance, he was a Christian who played his appropriate role in the public arena. At the same time, he was pursuing and nourishing his deep commitment and devotion to Jesus Christ, in his local church. It is here that his life parallels that of the evangelical laymen of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. While functioning in public spheres, they brought their Christian testimony and witness to bear on all that they were involved in. As Trevelyan has appropriately captured it,

The strongest type of English gentlemen in the new era was often evangelical. The army knew them with respect and India [knew them] with fear and gratitude. Through families like the Stephens, their influence on Downing Street and on the permanent Civil Service and on the Colonial administration was constantly increasing during the first forty years of the Century. [5]

Involvement and Service in Church and Christian Groups

Mwasi spent much of his free time, energy, and resources doing Christian work on a voluntary basis, mainly in two spheres: in his church, and in work related to various Christian organizations in Kenya. He derived much satisfaction from his contributions in these areas, and this involvement enabled him to forge solid and lasting friendships with other Christians from a very broad spectrum of society in Kenya and beyond. Although he belonged to the engineering brotherhood professionally, his Christian base became so wide and deep that it also served as an indispensable fraternity in his life. For those who knew him closely in these circles, he was affectionately referred to simply as “Brother Mwasi,” by all, regardless of church or ethnic affiliations.

After having completed his university studies, Mwasi slowly but emphatically shifted his regular church base from All Nations Church to the Nairobi Pentecostal Church. As soon as the transfer of allegiance was complete, he made sure that he was very faithful in attending the various services and meetings. Through this involvement, he grew and matured greatly in his Christian faith, and his sense of belonging to the church deepened. In time, the door opened for him to serve in the various ministries and organs of the church. In a sense, this was almost like a prelude to his entry into the central leadership of the church where he remained for much of his active life. He exercised leadership in the original mother church, the Nairobi Pentecostal Church (NPC), Valley Road, and continued to do so in the branch church (NPC, Karen), where he was a member of the pioneering congregation. Even in the intervals during which he did not serve actively in the central leadership of the church, he remained a pillar of strength in its operations.

For many reasons, Mwasi rose to leadership ranks within the church from the very early stages of his full participation and membership. After serving briefly in general leadership positions, he was soon drawn into the critical governing administration of the church at the highest levels. Here, the church tapped into his expertise to the extent that beyond being in the main council or board of the church, he was assigned to such key specialized sub-committees as those of planning, development, and building, often being relied upon as an able and knowledgeable chairman.

In the general life of the church, there were two main areas in which his continuing involvement and leadership left an indelible mark: the Men’s Fellowship and the Men’s Chorale. Because of the seriousness, devotion, and commitment with which Mwasi and others in the group approached the ministry of the Men’s Chorale, that ministry was unique within the Christ is the Answer Ministries (CITAM) set-up in the NPC church in Karen when the core members of the chorale moved to that church.

With the opening of the new church at Karen, when the time came to establish the Men’s Fellowship there, the pastor, Rev. Dennis White, simply turned to Mwasi and appointed him to lead that endeavor in the role of chairman. With his affable and charming personality, he had an effective four-year tenure in that capacity, going about his leadership in the church joyfully, “always smiling and laughing with a characteristic hearty laughter.” [6]

At whatever level he functioned in the church, Mwasi’s Christian life was manifested through concrete deeds of generosity to all in the church. Apart from assisting other church members financially and materially, he mobilized the men in the church to ensure that the welfare of the pastors of the NPC in Karen would be taken care of beyond the normal level administered by the church. The firm and sound basis of his Christian life and its expression has been partially captured thus, in the words of a fellow member of the church,

In spiritual matters, Engineer Mwasi was truly born again. He devoted all his time to serving the Lord. He was a real leader in the church, with a life which was governed by prayer. Moreover, he was a talented singer who reveled in employing well-established spiritual songs in leading others in worship. [7]

Mwasi did not limit his Christian involvement to his church, to CITAM, and to the two branches of the NPC, (Valley Road, and Karen). To begin with, he associated closely with the late Bishop Evans Mrima and his church, the Gospel Outreach Ministries. This was especially true of Mrima’s work in the central province of Kenya. There, Mwasi was “deeply involved in the spiritual revival taking place at the time.” [8]

In a different capacity altogether, when fierce leadership conflicts came to a head in the Full Gospel Churches of Kenya, he was called upon to serve as a neutral arbitrator in the Nakuru Full Gospel Churches of Kenya section, which was at the epicenter of the dispute.

On a broader front, Mwasi served on the boards of various para-church agencies like the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). In his last years, however, the Christian body to which he devoted himself selflessly and unstintingly was the Christian Organizations Research and Advisory Trust of Africa (CORAT Africa), in which he served as the chairman. In his last years, there were a number of factors which helped enhance the intensity with which he threw himself into his role at CORAT. First, he was now retired and therefore more flexible with regard to his schedule. Secondly, because of the practice of rotation in holding positions, he did not have many formal leadership responsibilities in his church. Thirdly, since it was located in Karen, the CORAT headquarters was in the vicinity of both his home and his church. He discussed CORAT affairs with the kind of commitment that might have led one to think that he was in the top management of the organization rather than in its governing structure.

Activist in the Economic and Socio-Political Sphere

For all practical purposes, Mwasi lived and worked in Nairobi all of his active life, apart from work-related residence elsewhere for short periods of time. All the same, the socio-economic plight of the people in his rural home area weighed so heavily on his mind that in a way, Taita was always home to him. It is in this context that more generally, Mwasi was known to be “a philanthropist, a lover of people, and a politician, all wrapped into one.” [9]

His rural home area occupied such a prominent place in his life that he was completely immersed in the economic and socio-political fortunes of the Taita people. Determined to find a way to make the necessary impact, he ensured that he had a high profile in their voluntary socio-economic network, especially in Nairobi. The result was that over the years, he presided over many of their social and development functions as the master of ceremonies.

Hailing from an area where famine is endemic, he played a key role in projects aimed at eliminating the scourge in Sagala and Mbololo, in the Taita Taveta area. He was also the long-standing chairman of Mwakichuchu High School, which was in his home locality of Sagala, in Taita. In that capacity, he steered a number of concrete projects to completion, including the creation of a computer laboratory and the building of water harvesting tanks. These projects ensured that the school could function well and provide a quality education.

Mwasi’s involvement in all of these endeavors was voluntary, and he did it while serving faithfully as a civil servant. Over a long period of time, he would team up with politicians in these projects, often bearing the main burden of the work. When he retired from government work in 2001, he was free to enter into politics unhindered. He acted on this in the 2002 general elections, when he stood as a candidate for parliament for Voi, but he was not successful. He went back to the drawing board but he died before he could try to run again.

Illness and Death

Mwasi had a stroke in March of 2009 and was admitted to Mater Hospital in Nairobi, where he remained for five months, recovering after the initial medical intervention. He returned to his Karen home that August of 2009, to continue with the recovery process. He died at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, March 23, 2010, while traveling to Karen Hospital for a check-up.

Conclusion

From the time that he was saved through his university years, and also throughout his working life, Mwasi projected a vibrant witness for Jesus Christ. In this, he was a true representative of a growing army of Christian laymen throughout Africa who have made the Christian faith their very own. They have taken upon themselves the responsibility of partnering with accredited ministers to serve as purveyors of the Christian message. In so doing, they fit in with the historic position of the church through the ages. This African participation is noble and honorable, and should be fostered even further in the days ahead. [10]

Watson Omulokoli


End Notes:

  1. The Clapham Sect of the late 18th and early 19th centuries bequeathed the church in subsequent ages with a most powerful and enduring legacy with regard to the laity within its circle of Christians. First, there was the fundamental lesson of the limitless potential which arose out of forging a viable partnership and solidarity between the clergy and the Christian laymen who held sway in varied sectors of society. Secondly, the Christian laymen who were under its influence demonstrated the reality that a vibrant and flourishing relationship with Jesus Christ can be embraced, cultivated, and maintained while functioning at the highest levels in the marketplace.

Thirdly, and in projection, the dynamism of their Christian depth propelled these Christian laymen onto the center stage of the life of the church in its day-to-day operations. Fourthly, and most prominently, the explosive strength of their Christian testimony and witness catapulted them into the forefront of their working environment as they discharged and fulfilled the mission of Christ in society. Their posture, achievements, and accomplishments are both an inspiration and a challenge to Christian laymen in the subsequent history of the church.

Alternately referred to as “saints,” and as evangelicals, the Clapham Sect functioned within the church while maintaining its own distinct identity, with its’ positive and enviable hallmarks. In the group itself, the role of laymen was so pronounced that it was readily concluded that at its very core, it was a lay movement, in nature. In a description of the group, renowned historian G. M. Trevelyan puts the laity at the center of this immensely powerful body. In his description of who evangelicals were, he includes their median role in society, their character, what they were engaged in, as well as their key achievements and accomplishments. As he points out, the group was dominated by the laity, and was essentially,

The small but influential evangelical party which had now effected a lodgment inside the church. Its ethos was not clerical… Except Charles Simeon and Isaac Milner of Cambridge, the leading “saints” (as the evangelicals were popularly called) were laymen - Wilberforce himself, the Buxtons and the Clapham “Sect.” (1a) [G. M. Trevelyan, English Social History: A Survey of Six Centuries, (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1942), 496].

  1. The author was acquainted with Eng. Edward Mwasi from the early 1970s in the context of the Christian Union (CU) at the University of Nairobi and involvement in the activities of the Roving Team. In later years, this Christian friendship was strengthened through mutual participation in the life of the Nairobi Pentecostal Church, especially in the early 1980s. Edward Mwasi’s Funeral Program was very well done, with a helpful bio-data. The author relied on it heavily with regard to personal information. This rich information was supplemented by input from friends and acquaintances from the Christian scene, principally from the Roving Team, former colleagues from the University of Nairobi CU, and fellow church members from the Nairobi Pentecostal Church. There were valuable leads which came through Dr. David Gacengeci, who is an acquaintance of Mrs. Mary Mwasi’s sister, Dr. Peninah Nagi. For his church participation, the most useful insights came from members of the Men’s Chorale of the Nairobi Pentecostal Church, Karen. Of particular benefit was a personal reflection on Eng. Mwasi by one of his close associates in the group, Mr. Josiah Mandieka, which was forwarded to the author by Mr. Abiud Omulogoli.

  2. Dr. David Gacengeci, in an e-mail message of November 30, 2010.

  3. Next, he was assigned duties as deputy engineer on the Mazeras-Kaloleni Road Project in 1973-1975, and then as engineer in the contract section, 1975-1976. In the years 1976-1981, he was deployed to serve in three different provinces as follows: provincial roads engineer, in the Rift Valley Province in 1976-1977; provincial roads engineer, in the Central Province, 1977-1979; and provincial roads engineer, in Nyanza Province, in 1979-1981.

Having served his tour on the periphery and made rounds in the provinces, Mwasi moved on to operate from the centers of power in and around Nairobi. First, in 1981, he served briefly as deputy chief superintending engineer, maintenance. If this was by way of introduction to and orientation for higher levels, in 1981-1985, he was the chief executive engineer, in Kenya’s Ministry of Transport and Communications, and then in 1985-1987, he was the chief superintending engineer, maintenance. For a long time, 1987-1993, he was relocated to the role of city engineer for the City of Nairobi, before returning to the structures of the Central Government for his last years of public service.

As already noted, Mwasi retired in 2001, at the end of his tenure of service as deputy secretary, Roads Transport Services, in the Ministry of Transport and Communications. Prior to this, he had held the lofty position of chief engineer roads, in the Ministry of Public Works, in 1993-1994, and then the prestigious and coveted post of general manager, Engineering Services of the Kenya Airports Authority, 1994-1996. It was clear that he was through and through a single-minded civil servant, who, once he had put his hand to the plow, never looked back until he had adequately discharged his assigned duties.

  1. G. M. Trevelyan, English Social History: A Survey of Six Centuries (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1942), 495.

  2. Josiah Mandieka, “What I can recall while working with the Late Brother, Eng. Edward Mwasi, in 1997-2002”: personal reflections.

  3. Ibid.

  4. The Funeral Programme of the Late Eng. Edward Mwamba Mwasi: Celebrating a Life Well Lived, “Life History of Brother in Christ,” D.

  5. Ibid., E.

  6. This would be in keeping with the pivotal role which laymen have played in the life of the church from its very inception. Although their operations were circumscribed in the formal blueprint for deacons seen in Acts 6:1-6, the exploits of Stephen in Acts 6:8 to 8:1 and of Philip in Acts 8:4-40 pointed to broader and more intense participation in church work by the laity. In a very powerful way, laymen complemented the efforts of the sanctioned clergy by engaging in pioneer outreach endeavors on new frontiers. As Stephen Neill has pointed out in this regard,

The church of the first Christian generation was a genuinely missionary church. There were, of course, the whole-time workers, such as Saul and Barnabas, especially set apart with prayer for the prosecution of missionary endeavor…. Apart, however, from these special workers, the church could count on the anonymous and unchronicled witness of all the faithful.

Doubtless there was much coming and going on the great trade routes and the wonderful Roman roads of the Mediterranean world. Some of the Christians were slaves, as we know from Paul’s epistles… Some Christians were probably merchants and traveled in the interests of their trade…. What is clear is that every Christian was a witness….That was the greatest glory of the church in those days. (10a)

[Stephen Neill, A History of Christian Missions (Baltimore, Maryland: Penguin Books, 1964), 23-25].


This article, which was received in 2011, was written and researched by Rev. Prof. Watson Omulokoli, Professor of Church History, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Kenyatta University, Kenya; Adjunct Professor, Akrofi-Christaller Institute, Accra, Ghana; and Chancellor, Africa International University, Nairobi, Kenya., and a recipient of the Project Luke Scholarship for 2010-2011.