In March of 2010, Daniel Gitonga from the Tharaka district of Central Province, Kenya graduated from the BTCP program in Ujamaa, Kenya. Dennis Omondi specifically saw something special in Gitonga. I remember while still in language school in Tanzania, Dennis called me and told me to start praying about a possible internship program at Serve, and that he was about to have a meeting with Gitonga to see if he would be interested in staying with us in South Coast for another year of training.
Gitonga was very glad to accept and rejoiced at the opportunity to continue training in order to fulfill his vision. Gitonga comes from an area which most young people desert in order to flee to the city where education, opportunity, career, money, and entertainment is available. But Gitonga had already begun ministry with his father, a pastor and bishop in the area, and had felt sincerely called by God to continue ministry in his home area. In fact, if you ask how Daniel was called by God into the ministry it is exactly like the story of Samuel who hears God’s voice in the night. The amazing thing is that at that time, Daniel had never even read that story nor heard of it in the Bible! Truly it was the Lord. The ministry of Daniel’s father, Mzee Stephen Njeru, includes church planting, pastoral training, and community development / relief.
During our year together, I was able to have many conversations and lunches with Gitonga about his heart for ministry. Over and over his desire was to teach pastors back home. He was amazed at the insight and wisdom that Biblical understanding gave him personally and he felt compelled to bring the same to the people back home. Not without opposition however. Throughout the year he interned with us, his older brothers laid on him severe pressure to divert from his calling in order to pursue further education and a career. “There’s no money in ministry! Do you want to be poor the rest of your life? You are wasting your life!” So often Gitonga would hear this from his brothers that he would have to turn off his phone just for some temporary peace. In fact, this began long ago. Even when he was in Tharaka, Gitonga wanted to do ministry, but his brothers pressured him so much that he ran away. He felt like he must come to Mombasa. He did not know why, and he had no idea if there would be an opportunity for training, but he knew he needed to get away and that God was directing him to go to Mombasa.
In Mombasa, Gitonga met a man from his home area named Muthengi (seated left with James Muthee and Gitonga on the right). Muthengi has lived in Ujamaa in South Coast for most of his life and he was about to begin the BTCP training there in Ujamaa. The three pictured below all graduated together at the same time. Gitonga thought this was the perfect opportunity to receive training and worked very hard in various jobs including some small farming in order to raise the $150 cost for the whole year’s course.
During the course, Gitonga’s humility, sincerity, and call to ministry stood out to the Serve team and that is what brought him as our first Serve Kenya Intern. As an intern, we would on occasion have Gitonga teach in the BTCP class in Ujamaa – something small like Ruth or Philemon in the Survey courses. The first time he taught the pastors he was nervous, spoke so softly that you could barely hear him, and was always rubbing his hands together. I remember one meeting where Dennis, James, and I had Gitonga inside our Ukunda offices and Dennis really stretching Gitonga to find that “Commanding Presence” either within him or from the Lord Himself! It was very important because otherwise, pastors would not show him respect. Towards the end of the internship Gitonga got up to teach again. I sat in the back and saw him take charge, speak boldly, and command the room to the best of his ability never pretending to be anyone else but himself but at the same time effectively teaching. I was going to take notes to share with him afterwards, but the only thing I had to say is, “You’re done. You’re ready.”
I can’t say that our time with Gitonga throughout that year was well-planned or organized, but God was gracious to us and the Spirit was at work in him. He observed us doing ministry and served with us in pastoral training, conferences, and church ministry. He had many meetings and meals with myself, Dennis, and James either planned or impromptu. We did evangelism in the area near the Serve offices, he accepted intense challenges like reading through Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology”, and he sat through almost all of the BTCP curriculum a second time never having an attitude of, “I already know this,” but instead always wanting more.
In October 2010, James, Muthengi, Gitonga, and myself traveled to his home area which is about 5 hours N.W. of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. It was a very fast journey because Dennis was still in the states and James and I were loaded down with lots of work here. There we saw the great eagerness of these old pastors who longed for a chance to know God’s word and to be taught it well. It was also a very long journey. Eight hour bus ride to Nairobi, four hour bus ride to Nkubu, forty-five minutes down an extremely dusty road to Mitunguu which by the time we arrived everyone was covered in red dust, and then 30 minutes going up and down hills and valleys and trenches, dodging rocks, and hanging on for dear life on the back of a motor-cycle. Thankfully no donkey cart rides. We had a two-day conference and then returned home.
I have just returned from my second trip to Gitonga’s home. He has now told me it is my home. They told me that the first time you come, you are a visitor, but the second time you come, you have become a son returning for a visit home. They may not have hardly any money, but they transported a bed to where I was sleeping while the pastors slept on mats on the floor, they heated up my water for bathing, they cooked my meals, always gave me the best seat available, slaughtered the “big chicken” on the last night, and gave me 4.5kg of green grams (also known as Mung Bean) on my way out. And all of it seemed so automatic to them – the giving, the serving, the hospitality.
The reason for my going was to support Gitonga in the beginning of his first BTCP class of pastors. The pastors come in once a month for one week. They come from various places many of them walking, many on bicycle, and several from very far away. One person required around 8 full hours in order to get home by bicycle and walking. They come with a few dollars for food but also bring beans, corn, and a few other basic foods from their farm. They sleep there at the church Monday through Thursday nights on their mats on the floor, and are in class about 9 hours per day. Monday through Thursday with 5 hours on Friday. The month of April was the third time to meet and Gitonga concluded the week with the book of Jonah in the OT Survey, Book 2 out of 10 in BTCP. He has 18 students. I met 17 of them because one was out because of a sick child who later passed away. They raised a little bit of money for their fellow student.
Already, there is another group of 18 asking Gitonga to come start another class farther interior, but he is currently unable to do so as a new teacher as well as using his other 3 weeks per month to study, farm, and run a small café.