Whose Church? Ethnicity, Identity, and the Politics of Belonging in the Adventist Church in Kenya — Part 4

Written by: 
Published:
November 18, 2019

Editor’s Note: In this six-part series for Spectrum, journalist Godfrey Sang explores the current tensions in the Adventist church in Kenya through the lenses of ethnicity, identity, and politics. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

The battle goes to Nairobi Central Church

While the poll debacle for the Asanyo group played out, and having lost the property sale, new developments were shaping up at Nairobi Central in which they were to play a new role in their battle for the church. In October 2016, Nairobi Central created a nominating committee to oversee the selection of leaders to serve in the period 2017 to 2018. The Nominating Committee of 24 were selected by the Church Business Meeting and comprised of Alex Onyiego, Ann Chege, Billy Apola, Brenda Akedi, Carol Omaroro, Chris Mureithi, Cleophas Okioi, Debby Amadi, Don Bosire, Elias Ochola, Eva Masinde, Herman Tambo, Irene Omari, John Ombengi, Joseph Kongoro, Joshua Orwa, Lamech Nyariki, Lora Mokaya, Mabel Omolo, Maureen Ochola, Monyangi Lumumba, Neema Oriko, Njeri Mogaka, Paul Odira, Pius Mutai, and Rhoda Ochira.[1]

The Nominating Committee, which stands disbanded after making its recommendations, is usually selected from the members during a Church Business Meeting. Names are randomly suggested while the Clerk records them until they have the appropriate number. The Church Manual insists that they have to be members in good and regular standing and have their names in the church register. After the Nominating Committee members are selected, they propose names of the church workers for the coming period. As soon as the names are received by the Clerk, they are passed and presented to the Church Business Meeting for ratification, a process that takes three consecutive Sabbaths. As soon as they are passed, the Nominating Committee stands dissolved.

The Nominating Committee proposed the name of Dr. Enock Kinara, a former Postmaster General, to serve as the Head Elder. This is the most powerful position in the church after the pastorate. Elder Kinara was now elected to lead a team of 84 elders and began his duties in January 2017 for a two-year term to expire at the end of 2018. In the course of 2017, Pr. Gerald Mochoge was transferred to Ngong district and in his place came Pr. Vincent Okong’o.

Pr. Maywa goes to Nairobi Central Church

On May 15, 2018, Pr. Okong’o died suddenly. He collapsed while getting ready to board a vehicle to Nairobi at Migori after attending the funeral of the father of one of his members. His assistant, Pr. Peter Nyaga, filled in while a suitable replacement was sought. Now, due to its sheer size and membership, the pastoral needs of the Nairobi Central SDA Church usually get immediate attention from the CKC. To replace Okong’o, the CKC then settled on Pr. Jean-Pierre Maywa who had been the senior pastor at Karengata SDA Church situated along Langata road south of Nairobi. Early in 2018, he had applied for a study leave to pursue a doctorate in New Zealand, but a last-minute visa hitch saw him unable to take up the position. The CKC had by then sent Pr. Stanley Muchoki to replace him at Karengata so he could not go back there. Pr. Maywa now seemed the appropriate person to go to Nairobi Central.

Not everyone welcomed Pr. Maywa. When he arrived just two weeks after Pr. Okongo had died, some members complained to the CKC that it should have waited until they had mourned their fallen pastor. But his coming was to shift the balance of power within the church and it was not long before he ran into serious headwinds. Three months after his arrival, it was again time to carry out the nominations exercise.

In October 2018, the Church Business Meeting instituted a Nominating Committee to carry out nominations for the workers of the years 2019-2020. As stated, the process of selecting the Nominating Committee is designed in such a way that nobody can predict who will be nominated there. There are really no stringent rules guiding the process, other than that the member being nominated to the Nominating Committee should be a member of the church in good and regular standing. A number of those proposed to the committee could not find their names in the register and were dropped from consideration. Twenty-four names were proposed and presented to the church clerk. These were: Moses Nyankuru, Isaac Ratemo, Cleophas Okioi, Hezron Okioma, Dan Oriko, Washington Ayiemba, George Onyango, Jennifer Oroko, Josephine Buruchara, Lora Mokaya, Lucy Machera, Marreen Ochola, Millicent Onyonyi, Lilian Miduda Awich, Happynet Angasa, Diana Ocholla, Patricia Kalundu, Chris Mureithi, Sullivan Soi, Nico Opiyo, Thabita Njalale, Lamech Nyariki, Fred Mwachi, and Geoffrey Nyamasege.

The names above were passed to commence the work, but halfway through their term it became apparent that certain interests had hijacked this team when some of them withdrew their participation.

On October 11, 2018, Pr. Maywa received complaints that the Nominating Committee was “skewed towards one tribe.” He dismissed the concerns, but the Kisii members felt disaffected, wary of the other ethnic community feeling that they could use their numbers to sway the outcome of the elections. As constituted above, there were 10 Kisii in the Committee, nine Luo, two Luhya, one Kikuyu, one Kamba, and one Kalenjin. Pr. Maywa was at loss, wondering why the Kisii community would feel disaffected by this matter. But there was an avalanche that was to follow.

Meltdown at Nairobi Central

There was a determined effort to undermine the work of the Nominating Committee and it became almost impossible for it to carry its mandate. On December 8, 2018, Head Elder Enock Kinara convened an emergency meeting to discuss the conduct of Pr. Maywa. Out of over 80 elders, only about 24 were in attendance at the meeting. Elder Kinara moved to pass a vote of no confidence in Pr. Maywa. This immediately drew contestation among the attending elders stating first that the meeting did not form a quorum and even if it did, the subject was not exactly an emergency and, in any case, even if it was, the subject was not within their mandate to discuss. Other elders disagreed with this position. Elder Kinara was still determined to proceed and drew a resolution that the elders had no confidence in the two pastors and that they should vacate their office immediately. Most of the elders including the pastor were away in Gem for an evangelistic campaign and the construction of a church.

Elder Kinara then wrote a letter on the basis of the resolutions and served it to Pr. Maywa the following morning while he was chairing a session of the very same Nominating Committee that was the source of contention. On December 11, the CKC, which had received a copy of the Kinara letter, responded to him stating that the Elders’ Council had overstepped their mandate and it had no powers to cancel or discuss nomination outside the committee. They were also reminded that they could not take a vote against a sitting pastor.

Undeterred, Elder Kinara proceeded with his onslaught. On December 15, all the elders had returned from the evangelistic campaign at Gem in Western Kenya. Elder Kinara called for a meeting of the elders and tried to get consensus on his bid to oust Pr. Maywa. After a five-hour meeting with the returning elders, Elder Kinara tried his best to push his agenda but to no avail. On Wednesday, December 19, 2018, Elder Kinara convened a select meeting of elders to resolve the issues and find a common ground against the two pastors. According to those who attended, the main issues of discussion revolved around the unprecedented state of affairs in the church, the outcome of the nomination process and the conduct of the pastor.  On that same day a select group was chosen to meet with the two pastors Maywa and Nyaga to petition for the nominations to be cancelled. Pr. Maywa, a stickler for rules and procedure, flatly refused. He told them that the Church Manual had no provisions for such a request. After that, the gloves were off.

Immediately, Elder Kinara wrote to the CKC stating that the elders had passed a vote of no confidence in the pastor and also copied the letter to the East Central Africa Division, as well as the General Conference. Elder Kinara then went ahead and wrote to the bank instructing them of a change of signatories specifically stating that Pr. Maywa would no longer be a signatory to the accounts. This was in direct contravention of the procedure that requires a Church Board resolution and minutes to effect such changes. The bank declined to act on that letter.

On Sabbath December 22, 2018, Elder Kinara walked to the pulpit during announcement time and converted the church into a Business Meeting (which requires a Board resolution and which he did not have). He presented to the church the resolution of the Elders’ Council but which, according to those who had attended, was apparently divergent from the actual resolution made.[2] He claimed that the resolution of the Nominating Committee was cancelled by a resolution of the Elder’s Council and that he had been given an extension of tenure of one more year in office ostensibly to help the church heal. This extension of office cannot be granted by the Elders’ Council and would have to be passed by the Board before being ratified by the Church Business Meeting. 

Some of the elders who had attended the meeting immediately protested at the misrepresentation of the facts and the congregation also seemed bewildered by the unprecedented resolutions. An extension of tenure of office had never been done before in such a manner and it would still fall on the same Nominating Committee to consider that. Elder Kinara then moved a motion for the adoption of the resolutions but which was not seconded and worse still, he did not open it for discussion. He straightaway called for a vote and only a few hands in a congregation of nearly 4,000, raised their hands. He did not invite those of a contrary opinion to vote. He then closed the meeting leaving members totally perplexed at what was going on.  

The following day, December 23, 2018, Elder Kinara brought in six men who went on to barricade the pastorate’s offices locking out both Pr. Maywa and Pr. Nyaga. He also changed the normal security guards on duty to allow those that he had selected to take charge. Pr. Maywa arrived the following day to find his office locked and he immediately called the police who reopened the offices and arrested Elder Kinara’s men. Elder Kinara had them released.

On December 29, a group of 32 elders wrote a letter of protest to CKC President Pr. Ngunyi distancing themselves from the actions of Elder Kinara and affirming their faith in Pr. Maywa and Pr. Nyaga.

It was now at this point that the Government security team were involved. They summoned Pr. Maywa and Pr. Nyaga. On December 31, 2018, and on January 2, 2019, the pastors and elders were summoned by Government security agencies to get to the bottom of the matter. Elder Kinara refused to attend the meeting and only the pastors were present. The police commandant who had convened the meetings became frustrated that the dissenting elder would not attend. He then threatened to have him arrested. He did not carry out his threat and Elder Kinara did not record a statement on why he had locked out the pastors and had the security personnel in the church changed.

Meanwhile, the nominating process proceeded and the Nominating Committee presented the names to the Church Clerk. The names were presented at a Church Business Meeting held January 26, 2019. Pastor Maywa, suspecting that the vote might be infiltrated by strangers (non-members), insisted that the vote would be taken by each person writing down their name and having them verified in the membership record. When it was apparent that the vote would not be by acclamation, the dissenters staged a walkout, but the process continued and the names were ratified.

The drama moves to court

Shortly after the naming of the workers on January 26 and the conclusion of the process, the dissenters, led by Humphrey Nguma Macharia and Gerald Kireri Ongoro, moved to the High Court of Kenya, suing Pastors Maywa and Nyaga in their individual capacities as joint First Respondents. They sued CKC president Pr. Ngunyi, Treasurer Peter Kioko, and Secretary Jeremy Marambii, all three being the joint Second Respondents, and the CKC as the Third Respondent. They also sued the entire Nominating Committee as Interested Parties and listed the names of the persons. On February 1, they filed the case seeking leave to commence judicial review proceedings for orders of certiorari and prohibition to quash the Nominating Committee’s Report of January 26, 2019.

The matter was brought before Lady Justice Pauline Nyamweya. Being an Adventist, she recused herself from the case and the matter was heard by Justice John Mativo on March 7, 2019. In response, Pr. Maywa argued that the Report of the Nominating Committee was not binding and that it was subject to ratification by the Church Business Committee. He also stated that if there was a dispute in the process, the Church Manual had mechanisms to address it, something that the applicants had not utilized. The matter was picked up by the local media.[3] Meanwhile Pr. Maywa and Pr. Nyaga began receiving death threats and reported the same to the police.

It was almost certain that the case was not going anywhere. There had to be another plan.

The formation of the Nairobi Cosmopolitan Conference

As matters were still going on in court, it became apparent that a new course of action should be done. The dissenters moved to the Registrar of Companies and registered the Nairobi Cosmopolitan Conference (NCC). The registration, which came through on March 15, 2019, was a shift of strategy in their war against the CKC. The NCC was registered as a Company Limited by Guarantee with three directors, Samwel Kiyuka Masara, Humphrey Nguma Macharia, and Ezekiel Osugo Angwenyi. Masara is a retired media executive who worked for The Standard Group, the newspaper through which he had brought to the public issues against the church. Angwenyi, like Asanyo, is a businessman based in Nairobi and was, until recently, a member of Karengata SDA Church. Macharia is a retired pilot and a Nairobi businessman. They gave their office address as Maendeleo House, Loita Street Nairobi.

On Sabbath, April 13, 2019, the NCC held their first service at the Technical University of Kenya. Pr. John Nyamwanda, a retired pastor, was appointed as its first pastor. Pr. Nyamwanda had once served as Secretary of the South Kenya Conference. The NCC had already made branded “Tithe and Offering” envelopes and their Church Bulletin and Worship Programme listed many prominent members of Nairobi Central. There was a good turnout on their inaugural Sabbath program and there was also a guest choir in attendance.

On April 15, 2019, the formation of the NCC was announced by The Standard newspaper.[4] It was curious that the announcement was being made one month after it was formed. Other mainstream newspapers did not carry the story but clippings of the report were widely circulated on social media and word on the turn of events was circulated around the world. In the article, they stated that the churches drawn from “the Nairobi and the Kajiado stations” were invited to become members.

The NCC also created a caretaker committee to put in place the structures under which the new conference would be run. They moved to open bank accounts through which their offerings would be channeled.[5] They also urged members to channel their tithes and offerings to the church instead of sending them to the CKC. They stated that the membership to the Conference would be open to individuals and also corporate churches and that there would be no geographical limitation.

The news of the creation of the NCC hit the Adventist church like a bombshell with many members wondering whether this was still about the nomination process at Nairobi Central or if there was more to it. Perhaps it gave the clearest indication that the wider problems around the nominations at Nairobi Central (where nearly all the participants were drawn from), were only a shadow of the real problems facing the CKC. Normally, conferences are grown organically so that one gives birth to another after certain conditions have been met. If the need arose for a split of the CKC to create another conference, it would have to be initiated by the CKC itself.

 

Read Part 1 here.

Read Part 2 here.

Read Part 3 here.

Read Part 5 here.

Read Part 6 here.

 

Notes & References:

[1] Nairobi Central Herald, 4th Edition, Oct–Dec., 2016 p. 4

[2] Letter dated December 29, 2018, signed by 32 NCSDAC elders opposed to the Kinara resolution and the turn of events.

[3] https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2001312651/pastor-wants-sda-case-dismissed

[4] “SDA Splinter group registers new conference,” The East Africa Standard, April 15, 2019, Standard Newspapers Ltd., Nairobi p. 4

[5] Ibid.

 

Godfrey K. Sang is a historical researcher and writer with an interest in Adventist history. He is the co-author of the book On the Wings of a Sparrow: How the Seventh-day Adventist church came to Western Kenya. The views expressed here are his own. godfreysang@gmail.com

Photo Credits: Pop & Zebra on Unsplash / Wikimedia Commons / SpectrumMagazine.org

 

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