From Dependency to Fulfillment

Glenn J. Schwartz
The Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA, Kenya), which grew out of the pioneering missionary zeal of the Church of Scotland in 1891, will be celebrating its centenary this September. For many years the church depended on financial and personnel assistance from Scotland. In 1956, however, the Kenyans formed their own General Assembly, thereby becoming autonomous.

At that time the church established relations with the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Canada, and the Reformed Church in Hungary. While all these relationships were ecumenically beneficial and useful, somewhere along the line the church discovered its undue dependence on overseas funding and decision-making, which meant that the selfhood of the church was not developing as the church expected.

In the early 1970s, local church leaders decided that it was time to change. This was during the time of the "Moratorium Debate," a subject of great controversy in the missionary movement. It had been introduced by John Gatu, the PCEA general secretary, during his sabbatical studies in the U.S. Although the church did not say No to missionaries and funds from overseas, it did decide to train and challenge its parishioners with the idea of Jitegemea, a Swahili word which literally means "self-reliance, or a movement towards self-reliance." A badge, or pendant, was introduced with this Swahili word on it, and the philosophy of self-reliance was formulated around it.

Although the church still desired positive relations with mission boards, it was decided that it was time to find out whether the church belongs to the local people or to the mission board. The first attempt was to find money to build a much-needed central office for the General Assembly, which had been occupying small rooms in the compound of a well-to-do congregation in Nairobi. A song was composed to indicate that the Christians must look at what God has given them, before going with begging hands to our brothers and sisters overseas. Delegates were sent to every presbytery with that message. Soon a four-acre piece of land was acquired for the central office building.

After a year of serious campaigning and teaching, the church raised one million Kenya shillings. The foundation was laid in 1972 and the offices were occupied in 1973. Congregations were asked to donate furniture for the offices, and by the time the offices were occupied everything had been paid in full. A senior missionary whose husband had played a leading role in the early days of the church made a donation of three English pounds, for which the church was more than grateful. No other foreign funding was solicited or received.

At the same time, having discovered that the church had some property lying idle, it was decided to separate business affairs from other church activities. An organization called the Presbyterian Foundation was formed under the direction of experienced laypersons with business expertise. It was given the power to borrow or mortgage church property where necessary, and to advise the church on various matters regarding property development.

Pastors and elders were now free to work with existing congregations and to start new ones. The payment of ministers' salaries had been centralized a few years before. Soon a ministers' pension fund was also established. When we consulted various mission board executives about establishing such a central find, we were told that "it has been tried elsewhere without sucess, therefore it will not succeed in Kenya." Fortunately, church leaders went ahead anyway and congregations now pay their own ministers and build their own church buildings and ministers' houses without asking overseas churches for assistance.

Congregations raise funds to purchase vehicles for the use of pastors, sometimes giving the vehicle to the pastor and at other times keeping and maintaining the vehicle for the church.

In one of the churches an interestingincident took place when people began to buy vehicles for their own pastors. On the occasion of presenting the vehicle to the pastor, all the members gathered around for the presentation. They were reminded that money is needed to operate the vehicle. They were then asked to make an additional contribution towards the costs for petrol, insurance, and repairs.

The windows of the vehicle were opened and everyone was asked to toss money inside toward these expenses. That day Ksh 30,000 (about $1,500) were thrown inside the vehicle for operating expenses. The treasurer had to reach under the seats to find all the shillings and record them.

In another incident, when a church was being dedicated, a congregation from Masailand had been invited. Masai are pastoral people, while Kikuyus are agricultural. The late President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was the chief guest at the dedication ceremony. When the elders were bringing in the collections on the collection plates, 27 young Masai were directing 27 goats and sheep into the church.

As the elders were walking in front, each of the 27 young Masai brought in a goat or sheep and the elders presented the collection to the pastor for prayer. Each young person raised his animal, holding it near his chest as the pastor prayed for the offering. For the Masai people, cattle, sheep, and goats are their form of banking.

About the same time the PCEA was moving away from dependency on outside resources, it began in 1968 to think about mission more seriously. It was the 70th year since the church came to Kikuyuland. It was decided that since the Bible refers to a man's age as "three score and ten, and, if blessed, four score," the PCEA must either die or become rejuvenated for its outreach evangelistic work. This resulted in the formation of a Nendeni board. Nendeni is the Swahili word for "Go ye," and therefore mission. The result of this emphasis is that every presbytery now has one or two Nendeni areas. These are places where either the gospel is being preached for the first time, or a new congregation is being planted as part of the outreach.

One day the believers in the PCEA learned about homeless children in an old housing area in Edinburgh, Scotland, the overseas city from which their missionaries previously came. They decided to take a collection and send a gift to help the so-called home church. They collected more than Ksh 200,000 (about $10,000 at that time) for homeless children overseas.

People were asking why they should send money to "the rich people of Scotland." The answer was, of course, they are our brothers and sisters in need, and as they have helped the church in the past, it is now PCEA's turn to help. They money was sent and happily received by the congregation in Scotland.

This was followed by the sending of a young couple with their two children for a year as missionaries from Kenya to Scotland. They were sent with the strict instruction that it was a spiritual ministry, and the aim was that once the time was over they should return to Kenya. The Kenya church paid for the air ticket and paid the minister's salary while he was away. The church in Scotland provided housing and a few extras while they were there.

Recently, as a result partly of a realignment of the main highway cutting across Africa, it was decided to move the Pastoral Institute to a new area and turn it into a Christian university college. The first phase will cost Ksh 30 million. Already about 10 million has been paid, while the church seeks to raise the balance. This is only the first phase and much more money will be needed to service the project.

At the same time, members of the Women's Guild decided to provide a hostel in Mombasa which is the main Kenyan port of entry. They have managed to put up a building at the cost of Ksh 10 million with ample accommodation for as many as 100 visitors.

Sensing the need for well-trained Christian teachers, and with the government recommending establishment of private teacher training colleges, a new college is beingstarted on the slopes of Mount Kenya. When it is finished, it will cost about Ksh 40 million. It is hoped that the first students will be admitted in September, 1991. A principal has been appointed from among the pastors. He has a doctoral degree in theology and is also a trained teacher.

The growth of the church can be seen in other areas. For example, there are only a few congregations that do not have, or have not started building, a permanent church building. Between 1980 and 1990 the number of presbyteries has increased from nine to 22. Large parishes have been subdivided to make pastoral care more manageable. This obviously demands many more pastors. During the same period, more than 60 pastors have been ordained, and many new areas established.

As the church prepares for its centennial celebrations, the big question has been: What kind of a church are we leaving to our children, and what foundations must be laid to meet the challenges of the 21st century?

Imagine the joy in the hearts of believers as they discover the privilege of taking ownership of their own churches, paying their own ministers, planning for their own university college, a teacher training college, plus many other activities related to self-reliance. Why? Because the church made the decision and applied the philosophy of Jitegemea, moving toward self-reliance.

It is also important for churches to break dependency on outside resources because their nations badly need models of how self-reliance can work. If the churches cannot learn to function independently, there seems little hope for the economies of their countries.

The solution to dependency is not for Western churches and mission societies to cut off funds arbitrarily. Rather, the churches must learn to say, "No, thank you" to outside funds that keep them dependent. When they take that bold move, the results can be as dramatic as those among the Presbyterian Church of East Africa. One of the side benefits to the Western agencies is that more resources will become available to preach the gospel where it has not yet been made known.


EMQ, Vol. 27, No. 3, pp. 238-243. Copyright © 1991 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.
Print this ArticlePrint this ArticleSend Article by emailSend Article by email