Paulo Saburi Kilonzo, a Pare (Asu), was born in 1890 at Suji-Gonjanza. An outstanding spiritual leader among Adventists in Tanzania and Kenya, he is one of the first two Tanzanians to be ordained a pastor in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
His father’s name was Kilonzo Mrekwa and his mother’s Kahindi Kajiru. As Kilonzo’s father came from a ruling family, he was appointed a traditional high priest and he officiated in major religious ceremonies. He also took care of the affairs of the god of war, Murungu wa Gu, and whenever there was war he would lead a company of warriors to protect the god from enemies.
Two of Kilonzo’s brothers, Yohana Bwelela Kilonzo and Sangiwa Eliamani Kilonzo, became evangelists of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Kilonzo was baptized on June 27, 1914 and faced much opposition from his father. He was called to work as a teacher in February 1916 at Ntambwe. During World War I, he was interned by the British in August and September 1917 with a group of Pare teachers, but they were subsequently released and secretly continued their church activities. Teaching was resumed in 1919, when the British permitted it, and Kilonzo was selected to teach church members’ children at Suji.
Kilonzo married in April 1920. At this time, he was already a trusted church leader because, in 1921, Pare Adventists, who had been without a missionary since 1919, sent him to Gendia, the denominational headquarters in Kenya with Ezekiel Mbwana, the senior church elder of the four organized Adventist congregations in South Pare.
In 1922 and 1923, Kilonzo served in an adult education project for church members, and in 1923 he was ordained a church elder in the Mamba church, the strongest Adventist congregation in the Pare Mountains at that time. In 1924, he opened a new school at Mamba-Myamba. In 1925 he began pioneer missionary work in the Usambara Mountains, mainly among the Pare who had settled there. With a group of eight others, he was among the first Pare Adventists to graduate with a Grade III government teacher certificate from Suji Training School in 1927.
After being licensed for the ministry in 1928, Kilonzo was appointed publishing department director of the East Tanganyika Field–a responsibility which indicated that he had become the most able leader in this young church. In this capacity, he was part of a team of four who attempted to reach out to Zanzibar by selling religious literature. They sold hundreds of books and tracts for three days and caused a considerable stir in the Muslim community. Some demanded that the books be prohibited, while others showed interest in the Christian message. Apart from this Zanzibar venture, Kilonzo also sold books at Tanga, Morogoro, Dodoma, Singida, Lindi, Arusha, and in the Moshi area until 1933. These activities were quite unique in East Africa during that early period.
In 1929, Kilonzo was sent to Dar es Salaam, where he sold books together with Esikia Wandea Kirekero until 1931. However, the market was soon saturated, and the goal of establishing an Adventist community in the capital did not work out. Only one convert was made, Jim Mkonkwe, who ultimately returned to his native Malawi. Kilonzo returned home early because his wife was having health problems.
Kilonzo was ordained in 1932 with Elisa Manongi Kilonzo, nine years before other Tanzanians were ordained Seventh-day Adventist pastors at Lake Victoria, another region with Adventist congregations. His service as a minister in the Pare Mountains from 1934 to 1939 also included special assignments such as exploratory trips among the Maasai and in the Moshi area, where missionary leaders wished to initiate activities. His ability to deal with such challenging tasks probably contributed to his appointment as acting mission director at Mbeya in 1939 when German missionary Rudolf Reider had to return to Germany because of the war. Kilonzo, however, was reluctant to serve in such a remote area and only accepted the task in 1940. He worked there until 1943 and was then transferred to Utimbaru near Lake Victoria, where he served among the Kuria and Luo until 1947 and participated in opening ten branch congregations.
After this missionary experience in Tanzania, another period as a pastor of Suji and the western part of the South Pare Mountains, and a short interlude as a publishing secretary of Tanganyika Mission Field in 1951 and 1952–he was the first African to hold such a nation-wide responsibility–Kilonzo ran Adventist work among the Kipsigis of western Kenya, from 1954 to 1958. By 1955, he was in charge of 341 members in two churches in addition to more than 100 in each of the hearers’ and baptismal classes. At the end of his service, the number of churches had increased to six.
By 1959, he was supposed to retire but chose to continue in active service to God. The church sent him to direct Changamwe Mission near Mombasa, which had been established in 1934 but had never had much success. Through his service, membership increased from five to twenty-five. In 1961, Kilonzo was called to direct the work in the Kamba District of central Kenya where he solved serious internal problems.
In 1963 he worked at a newly opened station at Moshi. There he led the way selling Christian literature, working with Lutheran pastors and establishing good relations with Bishop Stefano Moshi. During his service there until 1967, fourteen Sabbath School groups emerged in this district which included the Moshi and Arusha areas. His final appointment was at Makanya and Hedaru, at the foot of the Pare Mountains, until 1972.
Kilonzo’s long ministry makes him the representative of two generations of church leaders. With several other early Tanzanian Adventists who also served as missionaries to other regions in Tanzania and beyond, he represents the first generation of Tanzanian Adventist leaders and the missionary vigor that flowed out of the youthful congregations of South Pare. With a few other leaders sharing Tanganyika Mission Field departmental responsibilities in the 1950s, Paulo Kilonzo belongs to the first generation of national Adventist leaders. They gave the denomination an identity that went beyond a local Adventist folk church in character and which was no longer dominated by European patterns. His enthusiasm for service and willingness to work even far away from home must be particularly recognized.
Works by P. Kilonzo:
Paulo S. Kilonzo, “From Our Mail Bag,” in Southern African Division Outlook, Vol. 53/14 (August 1, 1955), pp. 6-7.
——–, “God’s Marvellous Leadings in Mombasa,” in Southern African Division Outlook, Vol. 58/5 (May 15, 1960), p. 6.
——–, “My Life and Work,” ms., [1970s], available online at http://semkae.8m.com/saburi.
A. F. Bull, “The Message Enters the Islands of Zanzibar and Pemba,” in Advent Survey, Vol. 2/2 (February 1930), pp. 5-6.
K. B. Elineema, Historia ya Kanisa la Waadventista Wasabato Tanzania, 1903-1993 (Dar es Salaam: By the Author, 1993).
Stefan Höschele, “Christian Remnant - African Folk Church: The History of Seventh-Day Adventism in Tanzania, 1903-1980,” Ph.D. diss. (University of Malawi, 2005).
Esikia Wandea Kirekero, a retired pastor more than 100 years old at the time of the interview, interview by the author, Bwambo, July 19, 1999.
Spencer G. Maxwell, “What We Found in Tanganyika,” in Missionary Worker, Vol. 25/21 (November 16, 1921), p. 1.
Minutes from the following files: South Pare/East Tanganyika Mission Field Minutes, 1923-1932; Tanganyika Mission Field Committee, 1933-1948; Tanganyika Mission Field Committee, 1949-1954; all part of the Suji Materials, located at North-East Tanzania Conference, Same (Tanzania).
*Seventh-Day Adventist Church: 75 Years in North East Tanzania, 1903-1978 *(Morogoro: Tanzania Adventist Press, 1978).
This story, sent to us in 2005 by Dr. Hudson E. Kibuuka, DACB liaison coordinator for the SDA East Africa Division, was written by Dr. Stefan Höschele, of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a lecturer in Systematic Theology at Friedensau University, Friedensau, Germany (email: [email protected]; Web: www.stefan-hoeschele.de or www.thh-friedensau.de).