The Church in Kenya

Kenya was a centre of African-Arab culture from the 10th century. At the end of the 19th century, along with Zanzibar and Uganda, it was assigned to the English sphere of influence and in 1920 was annexed to the crown and declared a British Crown Colony..

Kenya's first contact with Christianity was in AD 1498 when Vasco de Gama, the Portuguese explorer, landed at Malindi Bay. But although the Portuguese remained in the area for over two centuries nothing is known of Christian work then and when the first Catholic missionaries of the modern era began work in Mombasa in 1890 the only Christians they found were about fifty Goans in Mombasa itself. Protestant mission work began with a chain of mission centres founded in 1844 by a Church Missionary Society missionary, the Rev Ludwig Krapf,a German Lutheran, and his colleague the Rev John Rebmann.

Back in Europe in 1860 publication of a book written by Krapf about his travels and work led to the British United Methodists commissioning him to pioneer a new mission, whose object would be to reach the Galla empire that was believed to stretch from Kenya to Ethiopia. This Methodist mission, launched in 1862, suffered a series of disasters over a period of fifty years. Frustrated in the attempt to move inland, the mission setttled at Ribe, barely eight miles from the CMS post at Rabai. At the end of the first year only one missionary, Wakefield, had survived. Sir Bartle Frere, governor of Bombay in India and a convinced evangelical Christian, brought soon after a new vision of missionary work. While in East Africa to sign a treaty ending the slave trade he examined the state of the missions and recommended that CMS and the Methodists should take an active part in opposing slavery and the slave trade. CMS founded Freretown in 1875 to house the freed slaves from Mombasa Island. Out of Freretown and other communities of ex-slaves came Kenya's first schools, the first African teachers and evangelists, and in 1885 the first ordained ministers. By 1890, there were about 2000 baptised Anglicans and a few Methodists, Kenya's first form of organised and enduring Christianity.

The Christian community is 38 per cent Protestant and 28 per cent Catholic, and the Anglican Church is the largest Protestant denomination, followed by the increasingly significant Pentecostal Church. The Methodist Church in Kenya became autonomous in 1967.

Current challenges for the Church include the theological training of leaders, outreach to pastoralist and unreached Islamic people groups; ministry to young people (60 percent of the population is under 20 years old); urban ministry, especially among poor people living in informal settlements; issues of justice and peace, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic which is believed to affect up to 20 per cent of the population in many areas.

Facts and figures

Population: 29,549,000 (1999)
Ethnic groups Kikuyu, Luyia,Luo, Masai, Kalenjin, Kamba, Meru, Gusii, Embu and Indian and Arab minorities
Capital Nairobi
Languages English, Swahili, numerous indigenous languages
Religions 73% Christian, 6% Muslim, 1% traditional religions
Infant mortality rate 75 per 1000
Life expectancy at birth 52 years (1998)
Literacy 77% can read and write age 15 and over

Although the official language of Kenya is English, Swahili is the national language. It is based on African Bantu languages with a smattering of Arabic, Portuguese and English words thrown in.

Sala Ya Bwana: The Lord's Prayer In Swahili

Baba yetu ulie mbinguni Our Father in Heaven
Jina lako litukuzwe Hallowed be your name
Ufalme wako ufike Your Kingdom come
Utakalo lifanyike Your will be done
Duniani kama mbinguni On Earth as in Heaven
Utupe leo mkate wetu wa kila siku Give us today our daily bread
Utusamehe makosa yetu Forgive us our sins
Kama tunavyo wasamea waliotukose As we forgive those who err against us
Usitutie katika kisa wasi Take us not into temptation
Lakini utuoke maovuni But deliver us from evil
Milele na milele Forever and ever
Amina Amen

He who forgives ends the quarrel - African proverb