Joyce Risper Chuma Were was born on June 1, 1934 to Wanyungu Wabuliba and Rebecca Nabwire. She was a sister to Jacob Khuyira, Leonida Makokha, Sellah Nanzala and James Wambutsi in Lubinu, Elusheya ward, and Mumias East sub-county within Kakamega County, part of former Western province, known as North Kavirondo under British East Africa Protectorate. Rebecca was a second wife to Wanyungu, whose first wife Luso had died leaving him with three children; Jacob Khuyira, Okutoyi and Boyi.
Dada Joyce experienced a tumultuous childhood. At the tender age of three years, her peaceful happy family was traumatized by the death of her father. Her elder sister was five years old, while her younger sister was only one. As was the tradition at that time, her mother, who was still young, remarried to Mzee Ochanda from a different clan. Her mother had to relocate to Ochanda’s home in Ebukalama, two kilometers away with her three children. It seems the young Joyce did not feel at home in her new environment and would occasionally leave the home to go and stay with her elder brother Jacob, who was married and had relocated to Ekhabakaya four kilometers away. As a result, she grew up being taken care of by her mother, stepfather, and her brother.
Like many girls of her time, Dada Joyce didn’t have the opportunity to excel in education. As a child, she was admitted at Lubinu Primary School in standard one, where she progressed up to standard three before dropping out due to a lack of school fees. During those days, most parents and guardians were only interested in educating boys, since they had limited resources and believed that a girl’s primary responsibility was marriage and child rearing. However during her short stint at school, young Joyce extinguished herself as a talented singer and led her class during the music festival when they sang before the colonial administration in Kakamega. Joyce’s choir emerged as winners, and her song remained a hit that was heard on the Voice of Kenya program for a long time. Thus, her talent and her powerful voice were evident quite early in her life.
One of her greatest regrets in life was her failure to pursue education. Her inability to speak, write, and understand English limited her knowledge, exposure, and her contacts, all of which frustrated her on many occasions. Despite her low level of education, Joyce’s life illustrates that education is not limited to literacy. Mama Joyce showed remarkable wisdom, knowledge, and understanding in her ability to reason with others more educated than she. Her eloquence and method of presentation of the gospel of salvation to congregations was unparalleled.
A Born Again Christian
Dada Joyce married the love of her life, Isaac Were Osundwa, a teacher by profession, in a colorful wedding at the Lubinu Anglican Church in 1956. It was one of the first church weddings in the larger Mumias East sub-county and the first one in her new village; Mwisasia. Although Dada Joyce had grown up a healthy child, her health challenges started immediately after she got married. Throughout her marriage, she suffered from a multitude of diseases such as stomach ache, ulcers, cancer, arthritis, high blood pressure, and gallstones, among others. She had a total of seven operations in different hospitals in the country and beyond.
It was these sicknesses that contributed to her turn to Christianity. Joyce’s life was transformed on January 30, 1958 when she accepted Jesus Christ as her savior while she was a patient at Mwihila Hospital, in Kakamega District. She heard the message of salvation at a time when there was great revival in the entire East Africa region which had started in Rwanda. She was led to Christ by an evangelist from the East African Revival Fellowship (Tukutendereza) who used to visit patients in the hospital, praying for the sick and preaching the gospel.
It is from that time that she earned the title “dada” before her name. Dada is a Swahili word meaning “sister,” a title that is used for adult Christian women by fellow Christians. Thus Joyce came to be referred to as “Sister/Dada Joyce” by all who knew her. Upon her conversion, Dada Joyce made it clear to her non-Christian relatives and neighbors that she would no longer participate in their traditional practices, such as initiation rites like circumcision, sacrifices to the ancestors, birth and funeral rites (such as eshikalo, olubeko, amakumba, tsing’anyo, obukoko and lisabo), among others. It was a total turn-around. The revivalists (balokole) believed that, once you buried your dead relative, that brought to an end all contacts and associations with him or her. It was a form of idolatry to meet after a burial in honor of the deceased. Her people accepted this testimony and never bothered her about her decision.
A Powerful All-around Missionary
Before long, Dada Joyce became a team leader in the East African Revival Fellowship, exhibiting exemplary leadership qualities. For the majority of her life as a Christian, she attended and testified in East African Revival Annual Conventions in Kenya and beyond. In these capacities, she quickly distinguished herself as a Bible teacher, a preacher, an evangelist, a counselor, an intercessor, a worshiper, a role-model, a disciplinarian, and a mentor. Besides these roles, she emphasized the Holy Spirit and often spoke in tongues.
In this ministry, her passionate testimony of Christ was constantly on her lips. Her decision to follow Jesus did not only revolutionize her life but that of the entire village and beyond. She lived the Great Commission by teaching the gospel to all those she came across, in her own family, church, parish, diocese, and East African revival fellowship at Lubinu, as well as in the neighboring churches.
Her preaching encouraged many people, several of whom accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. These conversions began within her immediate family and close associates, such as Mama Grace Shilingi (in 1958), Isaac Were Osundwa, her husband (in 1960), her sister in-law Peninah Webukha Nyarotso, and later Eunice Alwoka. Her neighbours who committed their lives to Jesus Christ include Monica Okacha, Eriya Wanyama, Mical Wanyama, Dorcas Manyasa, Selina Wetaba, and Abisaki Akwabi, just to mention a few among thousands. Back in her own father’s house she won her mother Rebeccah Nabwire, her sister Sellah Nanzala, her brother Jacob Khuyira, along with Jacob’s wife Pricilla, among others.
Her firm defense of Christ was demonstrated during the time of the persecution of the East African Revival Fellowship (Tukutendereza) in the western region because they (the revivalists) had refused to comply with traditional religious beliefs and practices. Dada Joyce and her associates were commanded by the then-chief to denounce Christ or die. Although they were surrounded with a multitude of people armed with pangas (swords, knives) and rungus (maces), she never wavered in her faith and chose the way to the cross. Due to her stand and that of her Christian coworkers, the same chief who was persecuting them was converted later and received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. He later served in the Anglican Church as a lay-reader and evangelist until his death.
As her faith grew, so did Joyce’s family. In their marriage, Isaac and Joyce were blessed with ten children: Dr. Mary Washika Nasibi, Jerida Oronje (deceased), Esther Achieng Were, Genevieve Opayire Asomba, Pamela Amakobe Otsyula, John Osundwa Were, Sospeter Renson Were, Francine Nabwire Nyongesa, Lilian Masakhwe Were, and Daniel Ateya Were.
Mama Joyce and her husband Isaac raised their children in the church . Most of them were attracted to Christianity because of the way their parents portrayed Jesus. Joyce and Isaac talked of the love of Christ and showed it in their lives and interactions with their neighbors, relatives, and fellow church members. These actions impressed their children significantly, as one of Joyce’s children described her as humble, caring, patient, insightful, unshakeable, and forward-looking.
The family lived well and happily. In spite of his limited salary, Isaac was able to provide for the family beyond their expectations. Dada Joyce worked hand- in -hand with her husband, as she was also a great entrepreneur and encouraged both her brethren and relatives to do business for the upkeep of their families. She believed that humanity needs empowerment economically as well as spiritually, such that a woman should not simply stay home waiting for the husband to meet all the family’s needs. Accordingly, Dada Joyce pioneered what is now Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) at Shianda market, where she sold salt, fish, vegetables and clothes. She was among the first second-hand cloth sellers at the market near her home. Her business at times took her far afield, selling her goods as far as Mumias, Emalaha, and Nambacha, and partnering with business men who were not from her ethnic community like Maina and Mburu from Central Province. Her vegetable business took her to Kapsabet, Eldoret and even Nairobi, about 450 kilometers away from her home. Dada was also development conscious, and most of the land the family eventually acquired apart from the ancestral land was because of her initiative. She was a hard working farmer and grew sugarcane, maize, beans, potatoes, groundnuts and cassava. She carefully harvested enough and her granary so that her family had enough food throughout the year.
With the income from her business, she helped Isaac meet the demands of their family. Eventually, they divided their duties so that Mama Joyce would provide for food and clothing for the children while her husband would pay their school fees. In this way, the children never lacked food, clothing or education. As one of her daughters concluded: “They took care of us well, protected us, loved us equally and gave us all they had.” Besides helping provide for her family, Dada Joyce also used her businesses to help fund local ministries.
During her life, Joyce served the church in a variety of roles, including as a teacher, an evangelist, a counselor, a singer, a leader, and a worshiper. It is perhaps this final role that pervaded her life, as Dada Joyce loved to sing. She knew many songs per heart in Kiluyiah (a local language) and in Kiswahili (the national language). Her greatest joy was when she was singing in praise and honor of God and Jesus. In the fellowship and in church her melodious voice could be heard clear above everyone’s. She was a gifted singer and was very quick to learn new songs and teach others. She sang with great joy and enthusiasm regardless of her physical state. In sickness she sang and in good health she sang.
Besides singing, she prayed with great consistency throughout her life, such that many who knew her described her as a prayer warrior. Throughout her Christian walk her prayer life had a pattern. She would open the day early in the morning with prayers and close the day at night with prayers. At all times, she followed the biblical pattern and the Anglican order, where she would start with the Lord’s Prayer, then intercession, and lastly the grace of our Lord. Apart from these two, Dada Joyce would continually plead her cases before God according to the needs of the time and day. There was no problem she would solve without first seeking God’s counsel through prayers. Whenever any of her children was traveling she would pray throughout until the person arrived safely to the destination. In her intercessions she would pray for her church, her fellowship, relatives, brethren, family and the country in general and the leadership– the President of the day, peace, etc. There was no event she would be involved in without seeking the face of God. Even on her deathbed, prayers were constantly on her lips. She lived 1 Thessalonians 5:17 by praying without ceasing.
This biblically-based approach to prayer points to the role the Bible had in Dada Joyce’s life. All of Dada Joyce’s children agree that she read her Bible consistently, and that it was a source of strength to her. Her favorite Bible passage was Philippians 2:3-4, and her children unanimously agree that Dada Joyce valued the Word of God more than anything else because she believed that it could refresh, recreate, and sustain her.
The pursuit of holiness was central in Dada Joyce’s life. As mentioned earlier, she drew a distinction between her former life and her new life as a born-again Christian upon becoming a Christian. She lived a life of holiness and total devotion to God, realizing that she had been called to holiness and had to flee from all uncleanness according to 2 Corinthians 6:17-18, which states : “‘Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.’ 18 And, ‘I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.’” She passionately spoke and warned all brethren to completely separate themselves from all uncleanness, idle talk, ungodly company and practices, and all nature of sin.
According to one of her sons, Daniel, who walked closely with her in salvation, Dada Joyce never tolerated sin and would rebuke it regardless of the status of the offender. Owing to her attitude and hatred of sin she developed a strong intimacy with God and grew to become one of the strongest and stable lay women leaders in the church.
In addition to pursuing holiness, Dada Joyce sought to practice her faith through generosity of time, space, and resources. Her home became a center of Tukutendereza fellowship in western province where brethren would meet occasionally for fellowship. There were also other local fellowships which occurred monthly. Generally her home would be full of family, relatives and fellow believers. All those who came to her home could not go away without eating something or taking some tea, and at times also carrying away something like maize, beans, maize-meal, sugar, and even money. Even when she was sick and people would come visiting her, the first instruction would be to give them something to eat. At times, she would even give others her own food if there was delay in preparation or if she felt the visitor needed it more than she. Dada Joyce always said that visitors are a great blessing to the family. She often preached that “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35. She treated her visitors equally regardless of their age, gender and class.
Her love extended to her spiritual parents in the local church at Lubinu and to her East Africa Revival fellowship parents and siblings. During her prime years and even in her old age, she ensured that her Padre (Parish priest) at St. Paul’s Lubinu church had enough provision, sending her children to deliver food to the minister. Throughout her life, she would command, remind and advise her son John Sospeter and the rest of her children to take care of the servants of God. One day in 2018, I overheard her advising members of the Tukutendereza fellowship to take care of the servants of God because if they didn’t, then they “would never get the best from them [the ministers]”. She believed that the clergy had to be taken care of by the Congregation because the word of God says: “the laborer is worthy of his hire” (Galatians 6:6).
Apart from giving to individuals in need and the pastors, Dada Joyce was also a great giver to the church. She wholeheartedly gave tithes, offerings, thanksgivings and other giving towards church growth and development. She would even go to the extent of making tablecloths for the altar and pulpit, as well as buying seats, tables, and cooking utensils for the church.
When the present modern church at Lubinu was being constructed, she mobilized and encouraged her family to contribute funds generously towards the construction. This commitment to giving to church has inspired her children to be among the top givers at the St. Paul’s Lubinu church and parish. In fact, her sixth born child Sospeter is the chairman of both St. Paul’s church and Parish Development Committees, rallying and inspiring Christians to do great development work. Through Joyce’s inspiration and mentorship, Sospeter has led the Christians at Lubinu to put up the most beautiful and magnificent church structure in the Anglican Diocese of Mumias. Her generosity has inspired many others in the community and in the church to give.
This generous attitude led to another aspect of Dada Joyce’s faith- friendship. Her generosity and friendliness endeared Dada Joyce to so many people across the denominational, religious, class and even ethnic lines. She had the ability to work harmoniously with others and easily made friends even among the elite and politicians. Her kindness and generosity fostered a heightened sense of interdependence and cooperation in the church and the larger social community. These close relationships allowed her to have influence on the lives of those around her. For example, she trained and mentored many leaders, such that at the time of her death she had already prepared and mentored her successor. Additionally, Daniel (her son) shared how she counseled young women and reconciled many marriages that were at the edge of destruction. Her key scripture during such counseling would be Proverbs 14:1 which says: “Homes are made by wisdom of women but are destroyed by foolishness”. Another version states: “The wise woman builds her house, with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down” (NIV).
Later Years and Death
Dada Joyce continued her ministry well into old age. Her husband and she were quite close, calling each other “dada na ndugu” meaning brother and sister in the Lord. When he died in 2000, it tested her resolve to not engage in any of the traditional burial rituals. Nonetheless, she adhered to her earlier decision and never participated in any traditional rituals. There was no lighting of the traditional fire, no slaughtering of animals in the homestead as a sacrifice to the dead and ancestors, no shaving of hair of family members, and no other rituals which followed death. Her daughters never went back in a traditional ceremony known as obukoko, among others. Dada Joyce was never remarried (inherited) as it happens to many widows at the demise of their husbands.
Her health deteriorated after the demise of her husband and became serious in the year 2002. In her last days she complained of kidney pain and later she was diagnosed with low sodium levels and a cyst on her liver. Nonetheless, her last days were full of praise, worship and advice. She sang continuously to her Savior and Lord Jesus Christ with a lot of joy and with deep conviction. For instance, on the night before her demise, Dada Joyce sang and prayed the whole night. In the morning before she left for hospital, she prayed, pleaded for God’s mercy, and asked for forgiveness from God and her family. She was being taken for admission in hospital for further investigations on her liver and how to control the salt level but unfortunately she passed on arrival at the hospital in Kisumu on 3 June 2021.
Mama Dada Joyce was a Christian woman of great influence who led an exemplary life in the home, as a honorable, respectful, and obedient wife, and beyond. She was a peacemaker and a humble servant, living a life of daily repentance and reconciliation. She was a highly respected Christian leader whose faith and ministry inspired many to follow Jesus. She lived a virtuous life, full of joy, embodying God’s love as she offered her life in service to others, including the needy, as a true follower of Christ. She sought the Lord diligently through spiritual discipline such as daily meditating on God’s Word, worship, and prayer. Praying regularly helped Mama Joyce to stay connected with God. In fact, I consider her a special intercessor, and a true advocate of Christ through the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) and the East Africa Revival Fellowship in Lubinu Parish, western Kenya and East Africa. She died as a general in the army of the LORD and as a Friend of God. She was a role-model worthy to be emulated by those who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Alfred S. Keyas
Interviews with Dada Joyce Were’s children:
- Dr. Mary Were Nasibi (Main interviewee, co-author, [email protected], 0722377828)
- Esther Achieng Were
- Genevieve Were Asomba
- Pamela Were Otsyula
- John Osundwa Were
- Sospeter Renson Were
- Francine Were Nyongesa
- Lilian Were
- Daniel Were
- Dada Grace Indeche Shilingi, Mama Joyce’s best friend since 1958. Interview by author. +Hudson Haggai Khuyira, nephew to Dada Joyce. Interview by author.
- Daughters in-law, Linet Osundwa, Evelyn Sospeter, and Wilkister Daniel. Interviews by author.
n.a. Life history of Dada Joyce Chuma Were, n.p. June 2021.
About the Author
This story, submitted in 2023, was researched and written by Ven. Alfred Sheunda Keyas, a DACB Project Luke Fellow (2004-2005), currently serving as the Archdeacon of Lubinu and Chaplain at ACK Lubinu cluster of schools, Anglican Diocese of Mumias, Kenya. Formerly the Chaplain at Booker Academy Mumias, Priest at Mwingi Parish Kitui Diocese.