In May this year, I traveled to Kenya to work beside one of CBE’s closest partners–the Ekklesia Foundation for Gender Education (EFOGE). Our first task was to visit schools using a version of CBE’s curriculum, Called Out, contextualized for East African readers. Thanks to a regional partnership with the Anglican Church in Kenya,Called Out (East Africa) is the first Christian curriculum to be used in the Bondo public schools.Students who participate in the weekly Christian Union education program receive a free copy of Called Out. Prior to utilizing the resource, teachers received provisional training, an experience they greatly enjoyed.
Though the staff at Kenyan schools was limited due to heightened security risks, I met with students, faculty, and administrators at two public schools, the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga School and the Kapiyo School. I immediately observed the pressure both educators and students face due to limited resources. Yet, I have rarely seen such faithful stewards of even the smallest gift. Passionate to educate students despite a scarcity of books or technology, communities, families, and churches stand in the gap where government resources are minimal.
Meeting with a principal and faculty, I was deeply moved to observe the Called Out training manual beside other educational manuals, easily accessible to faculty and administrators alike. In conversation with the heads of these schools, I found that they recognized the need to build confidence in the abilities of female students, given the pressures of patriarchal culture. For example, after returning home from their typical eight-hour school day, girls can be seen gathering wood and fetching water, walking the significant distance home to prepare the evening meal and clean up afterwards. Unlike the boys in the family, who after reaching puberty are given a simba or small hut as a quiet place to study, girls move into the kitchen–their simba–where homework is completed only after serving the family’s needs.
CBE’s curriculum offers biblical vision for equal value, gifting, and service of males and females, a reality that impacts family and cultural life. EFOGE works beside devoted administrators who, month by month, equip their schools as centers for learning and empowerment. Despite limited resources, these engaged principles and teachers demonstrate an inspiring and earnest commitment to the well-being of their community’s students.
The support of educators and the school system is clear–Called Out (East Africa) has won their respect and confidence. The students also exhibit avid engagement and appreciation for an opportunity to hear God’s voice say something new to girls and their families. The Called Out resource is intended to create space and support for female leadership, study, and use of unique gifts in all spheres beside their brothers. The impact of this curriculum in shaping a new praxis will be assessed at the end of the school year.
Difficult as it was to end our tour of these remarkable learning centers, we next turned our attention to a new task: launching a public lecture on dowry.
Sponsored by EFOGE, Okullo College of Theology, and the Anglican Diocese of Bondo, clergy and lay leaders were invited to a full day of public lecture on the impact of dowry on gender based violence. CBE distributed, at no charge, hundreds of resources to participants. I was honored to read a paper titled, “Dowry Payment from the Western Perspective and its Status Today” as a part of the “Dowry Payment for Marriage as a Religious and Cultural Practice in Africa–Its positive and negative impact on women and society” event.
Each paper received a rigorous critique from the moderator and participants. Speakers were expected to respond thoughtfully to questions. When challenges were answered well, the audience erupted in praise and dance, an African tradition I have observed several times. Thankfully, this response was the case at least once during these public lectures.
The history and perceived benefits and disadvantages of an ancient system–dowry–were considered by competent spokespersons. Some attendees were very personally impacted by the system, practiced by many in the room. My task was to consider the history of dowry practices in the West, and the transactional relationships which have replaced the more formal traditions of dowry. In my presentation, I compared these to the egalitarian teachings of Scripture in which Christ died in the ultimate transaction for human redemption, exemplifying the truth that, regardless of gender, Christians may also carry a cross in serving one another. And, as is the practice for lectures in Africa, the day’s presentations were summarized, after which gracious thanks were distributed liberally to all who worked so hard in preparing their papers or hosting the conference.
We invested our final days in Kenya visiting other local projects focused on women’s economic empowerment, having dinner with friends and those who will participate in CBE’s LA conference, and finally in the baptism of Mary Mimi Omolo, our goddaughter. I had the great honor of preaching at her baptism, a five-hour church service that included both breakfast and lunch, readings of Scripture and liturgy, a homily and baptism, the presenting of a goat to our presiding bishop, song and dance of local Christian students, and an opportunity to meet the women affiliated with the Mother’s Union–wearing their blue and white dresses. Five hours passed quickly worshipping beside such a devoted Christian community. I also had the privilege of meeting the women dressed in white, a group of prominent evangelists responsible for bringing Christian faith to rural Kenya as part of the East African Revival. Now nearly one hundred years of age, these faithful Christian leaders joined in the baptism of a nine-month baby girl. Together as a Christian community, we bound ourselves together as her Christian family, devoting ourselves to her in prayer and modeling the best of Christian thought and practice in hopes that she will have all that is needed to become a great Christian leader.
Returning home, I carry in my heart dear friendships from along the Nile, spanning its beginning at Lake Victoria in Kenya to its end in Alexandria, Egypt. May every inch along the way become a fertile place for God’s beloved daughters and sons, created in his image and ordained for shared service in his family, where every tribe is welcomed and every tongue sings and dances in praise of the Savior.