28 August 2020

The experience has deeply affected our lives - Richard Teal visits Kenya

Earlier this year and before lockdown, the Revd Richard Teal together his wife Sue, visited Kenya at the invitation of the Methodist Church in Kenya. Here, Richard reveals the inspiring stories that have stayed with him as he begins his term of office as President of the Methodist Conference.

I continue to feel hugely privileged and humbled to have been given the opportunity by Global Relationships and the Methodist Church in Kenya to have made a visit to Kenya.  It was an experience which will live deep within my heart and soul for a very long time. I am not going to report the visit by giving a diary of events, instead I will offer a series of themes which I observed.

A deep respect for the first Missionaries

The first missionaries from Great Britain were mentioned many times during the visit. We had the opportunity to visit sites where they first came and worked. It was these people who brought the good news of the gospel to Kenya and there was a genuine and deep respect for them.

We visited Maseras, where the earliest missionaries had settled and built a church in 1893. This was the birthplace of Methodism and on the site, there is also a primary and secondary school with a Polytechnic. The church is still in use and is going to be restored as a museum, to reflect the history of the place whilst a new church is going to be built to serve the modern age. It was here I joined some of the young people of the church to visit the poultry project they have recently commenced. They buy day old chickens and rear them for eggs and for food. Between them they have developed a good sustainable business to bring finance to the community.  It is totally self-supporting and the young people received initial training at the Bio-Intensive, which I will refer to later. I was asked to plant a young tree in nearly every place I visited and this was no exception.

The church at Maseras

Worship

I had the opportunity to preach during worship on a number of occasions and in very different situations ranging from Synod worship on the two Sundays where literally thousands of people of all ages gathered together for worship which lasted at least 4.5 hours on each occasion. The worship was inspirational, lively, and inclusive. I also had the opportunity to preach at the Connexional Office in Nairobi where the Connexional staff gathered for prayer and worship and again at the prayer day at the KEMU University, meeting staff afterwards and seeing the library which was transported from Wesley College Bristol where I was a student.

 

Arriving for worship

Growth of the Methodist Church

In recent years the Methodist Church in Kenya has grown from 300,000 members to 900,000 members. It was an inspirational to be part of this vibrant growing community which had great vision for the future. I visited a number of new church buildings and when I asked why they were so large, I was simply told, ‘because they will shortly be full of people’. In every place I visited that truth had been realised.

When I enquired to why the church had grown at such a rate the same answers were repeated by whoever I asked. Mission was the first priority on every agenda in the church and that had in itself turned around the thinking of each church community. ‘Mission Mission, Mission is the core business of the church’ was often’ quoted. Over and again these values were emphasised: evangelism, planting congregations, home to home visiting in every community, prayer, partnering with missionaries who spent time in an area, the importance of the Methodist University in the life of the country, embracing modern worship, importance of children and young people and  how bible studies and small groups for discipleship are the core to the growth of the church. And finally, the importance of the Connexion supporting the local.

Alongside the above there has been an obvious shift in the Methodist Church which has become much more culturally relevant by shaking off the traditions of the past and becoming contextual in its mission and outreach.

An example of this is the reception of thousands of people belonging to the Masai who have come into Methodism in large numbers. I visited the church and primary school at Narok in Western, Kenya. The church growth there among the Masai had been amazing. The church and school are only four years old.  This mission initiative has been sponsored by the Methodist Churches of both Korea and Great Britain. It was here that I was made a Masai leader in the middle of the act of worship and was prayed over by a Masai Christian Elder.

 I have just become a Masai Leader

Social Holiness

When I preached on the marks of a Methodist on the first Sunday, I mentioned as one of the points, ‘Social Holiness’. Personal holiness was very dear to the heart of the Methodist Community but social holiness was a new concept. Whilst they didn’t recognise it, they were involved in it, in many creative ways. I mention just three:

Talking about John Wesley

1: Bio Intensive Agricultural Centre:

This important training centre is for small holder farmers and offers training in sustainable agriculture. The centre is the only one of its kind in the region of Meru. It has a well-established livestock management unit, demonstration plots for vegetables and fruits, as well as tree and fruit nurseries. Training here is giving new skills to small farmers and through those new skills offering a sustainable income and better way of life. 

2: Maura Methodist Hospital:

At the hospital I met Dr Claire Smithson, the Methodist Church in Britain Mission Partner and Barbara Dickinson, an ex-mission partner. The CEO of the hospital gave us a tour and explained the exciting developments for the future. This hospital serves the neediest people of the area with its small resources but totally committed and dedicated staff.

3: School in Nairobi:

I was taken to the largest slum area in Nairobi where 5 million people live. A ray of hope was found in the middle of this area in the form of a Methodist Primary School and Church. The school catered for 80 young children from the very poorest backgrounds in this disadvantaged area. The school and church clothed, fed, and educated the children. The staff who taught and those in the kitchen were totally dedicated to these children. In fact, all of the staff had spent the whole of their working lives in the school. They could have moved to better paid work but in the words of the headteacher ‘the love of Jesus keeps us here to offer his love to these children and their families’. There was great resilience to be seen in the staff and children. An experience never to be forgotten.

 

Meeting the children and staff at the school

4: Joy in the Gospel:

Poverty, vulnerability and scarcity is the life for many people in the Methodist Church of Kenya and yet their joy in the gospel was contagious. Their faces shone with their love of the Lord. It is a strong and very deep faith which motivates every part of their being and lives.

Some of the people who responded to my altar call at the new church at Giunku

Their generosity of spirit was unmatched. Their open welcome and acceptance of the visitor was paramount. Their respect, and love for the Methodist Church in Great Britain was deep and real. The gifts which they lavished up my wife Susan and I was unprecedented. I cannot thank those beautiful people in the beautiful country of Kenya enough for their welcome. The experience has deeply affected our lives. We were also blessed by the companionship of Dr Bunmi Olayisade from Global Relationships whose friendship and support enabled us to fully engage in this visit. Our special thanks and appreciation go to the Presiding Bishop Joseph Ntombura and Mrs Pauline Ntombura who’s welcome and friendship surpassed anything we could have imagined.

 

Cutting the celebration cake in Mombasa with the Presiding Bishop Joseph Ntombura and Mrs Pauline Ntombura

The Presidential theme this year is the words of John Wesley, ‘The best of all is, God is with us’. There was no doubt those words reflect the life of the Methodist Church in Kenya.

Richard J Teal:  President of the Methodist Conference

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