Kato, Byang Henry (A)
Dr. Byang H. Kato was the first African General Secretary of the Association of Evangelicals in Africa and an outspoken critic of the dangers of syncretism and universalism in the African Church.
Kato was born on June 23, 1936, the firstborn of Heri and Zawi in Sab Zuro clan, Kwoi, in Kaduna State, Nigeria. His father dedicated him to a local deity, Pop-ku, as was the custom then. He was instructed in the practices of this deity as a young child and participated in the rituals.
He went to a SIM mission school close to his home in 1948 and was baptized that same year at the age of 12, receiving the baptismal name Henry. Afterwards his father withdrew him from school so that he could assist him on the farm. Fortunately, Kato’s teacher, a missionary lady, asked his parents to allow him to continue his studies and he returned to school after a year’s absence. But when Kato’s father learned of his conversion to Christianity he refused to pay his school fees. Missionaries then offered Kato a part-time job to enable him to pay for school and buy supplies.
Kato worked hard, helping his father on the farm early in the morning before school as well as after school. During his last three years at the primary school, he was at the top of the class. After attending a church conference in Kwio which focused on missions, Kato was deeply moved and went forward to give away one of his two shirts. At the age of 17, he felt called to missions. Two years later, he enrolled in Igbaja Bible College, graduating in 1957. During his last year of Bible College, he married Jummai Rahila and they had a daughter and two sons. Kato took a three-month course in Child Evangelism in Paris, France.
After graduation Kato was assigned to teach in a small Bible College in Kwoi where he was in charge of the Boy’s Brigade. Two years later he joined African Challenge Magazine, now Today’s Challenge in Lagos as a counselor. His desire for studies prompted him to take the General Certificate of Education by correspondence from Britain in 1961 and an Advanced Level Certificate in the next two years. He taught at Zabolo Kwoi before going to study at London Bible College from 1963 to 1966 where he earned a Bachelor of Divinity Degree. He then taught at Igbaja Theological Seminary and was elected General Secretary of the Evangelical Churches of West Africa (ECWA) moving to Jos, ECWA’s Headquarters. He was ordained in 1968. After serving in various capacities, he spent four years at Dallas Theological Seminary where he received a Master’s Degree in Systematic Theology and a Doctorate in Theology in 1974.
In 1973, he was unanimously elected General Secretary of the Association of Evangelicals in Africa (AEA), the first African in this position, and was also appointed Executive Secretary of the Theological Commission. He promoted evangelical theology studies for a new generation of African leaders and his outspoken attacks on the syncretism and universalism taught by liberal theologians earned him enemies among members of the World Council of Churches.
On a visit with President Jean-Bedel Bokasa of the Central African Republic, Kato explained his vision for an African Evangelical Graduate Theological School to provide theological training relevant to the African context, underlining the importance for African theologians to be trained on African soil. Before he left, the President gave the AEA a choice seven-acre site near the university, with the access to the university library, for the first Francophone Graduate School of Theology, Bangui Evangelical School of Theology (BEST), founded in December 1997. Kato’s vision also led to the founding of the Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology (NEGST).
During his tenure, the AEA set up a fund, supervised by the Theological Commission to ensure the encouragement and promotion of higher theological training and education for Evangelical Africans within the African context. At the meeting of the AEA Theological Commission just before he died, he requested that an Accrediting Council be set up and the Council has since established standards for Theological Colleges and Seminaries throughout the continent.
While on a family holiday in Mombasa in December 1975 Kato drowned in the Indian Ocean under mysterious circumstances.
Williams, student, interview, Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology, Nairobi, Kenya.
Kato, Byang H. Theological Perspective in Africa: A Collection of Papers and Addresses. Achimota, Ghana: African Christian Press, 1985.
——–. Theological Pitfalls in Africa. Kisumu, Kenya: Evangel Publishing House, 1975.
Breman, Christian M. The Association of Evangelicals in Africa. Zoetermeer, Netherlands: Uitgeverij Boeken Centrum, 1996.
This story, submitted in 2000, was researched by Dr. Francis Manana, Professor of Evangelism and Missions and DACB Liaison Coordinator, Pan African Christian College, Nairobi, Kenya.