Changing Personalities in Kenya’s Paradise
MILLIONS of tourists have used Nairobi, capital of Kenya, as the starting point for their wildlife safaris. Into the national parks and preserves they go in search of lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards and other fascinating creatures in their natural environment.
The lion, largest of the carnivores, is a main attraction for these safari-goers. For many, the thrill of a safari is the sight of this majestic beast stalking, catching and devouring a “kill” of the peaceful plains game. In view of this spectacle, the Bible prophecies in Isaiah chapter 11, where the lion is portrayed as eating straw as the bull and lying down in peace with other animals, may seem strange indeed.
However, a spiritual change in human personalities that is even more remarkable is taking place today in connection with sincere people who, on learning Bible truth, are entering a spiritual paradise, where they discard former aggressive traits in favor of putting on personalities marked by peacefulness and kindness. This transformation has been repeated many times over in some ninety congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kenya. And, in God’s new order, it can be expected that even the most vicious of the wild animals will be tamed, to live at peace alongside mankind and all others of God’s creation on earth.
Here is an example of “taming” the personality:
A young man from a coffee-farming area near Nairobi who had led the adventurous life of a wanderer had various jobs, including work as a shopkeeper, snake catcher, and barman. He fought with policemen, promoted illegal abortions, beat up many people, and had a long record of arrests. One day he felt abused by his employer and decided “to take out his eyes,” even boldly announcing this to his neighbors. One neighbor, a dedicated witness of Jehovah, brought him to his senses with her reply: “If you would be studying the Bible, you would be a happy man and would not want to do such a bad thing to your employer.” A happy man—that is what he wanted to be! His question “How?” led to a Bible study. On the occasion of his baptism at the “Sacred Service” District Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses, he said: “Since then I have never tried to do anything bad to my employer or to anyone else. I tell you I am very happy now.”
Truly a remarkable personality change!
Back in 1956 when the first missionaries of Jehovah’s Witnesses entered this beautiful country, they faced many challenges in helping the people to gain accurate Bible knowledge in order to ‘clothe themselves with the new Christian personality.’ (Col. 3:10) Unlike many other African countries, Kenya is a melting pot of peoples, whose features, customs and languages may be completely unrelated. Migrations from the Nile Valley, the central African forest region and the Arabian peninsula brought people together that are possibly as different as Ukrainians and Eskimos, or Finns and Spaniards. Kenya is the home of over forty tribes, drawn from four basic groupings—Bantu, Nilo-Hamitic, Nilotic, and Hamitic. In addition to the large population, now around fourteen million, speaking a few dozen different languages, there were problems of tribal customs, illiteracy, immorality, and the scattered form of settlements where most people live separately in small homesteads surrounded by their fields.
The religions of Christendom, with a great variety of churches, had established missions in much of central and western Kenya. Along the coastal strip the Arab influence had spread the Islamic religion. Other peoples, resisting all outside influence, retained their traditional forms of worship.
To help people to gain Bible knowledge, Jehovah’s Witnesses have used their well-known house-to-house witnessing method as well as the printed page. Bible study information has been made available in the “lingua franca” of eastern Africa, Swahili, and four major Kenyan languages.
PERSONALITY CHANGES AMONG VARIOUS PEOPLES
The Wakamba, Bantu people who inhabit the cultivated hills and plains east of Nairobi, are known for their fine wood carvings, their traditional attachment to land and cattle, and their past polygamous way of life. Yet, early missionary activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses here proved rewarding, as today there are nineteen active congregations in this area. Many “special pioneer” proclaimers of the “good news” have come from among these cheerful people, who ably express themselves in song and dance. Consider this experience:
One Witness, who has now served several years as a traveling minister and in “pioneering” new territories, had to make many changes in his personality. Observing the poor example of older people professing to be Christians, and lacking proper Biblical guidance, he found himself, at the age of thirteen, already steeped in the vices of immorality, stealing, smoking and drug addiction. Two former schoolmates contacted him with the truth, and their changed lives gave living support for their words. To the amazement of people in the area, he made his mind over, changed his personality, and became a clean, respectable and peaceful person, contributing to the moral development of the community.
In the fertile highlands west of the Great Rift Valley, green carpets of tea plantations decorate the countryside. The rugged people of this area, belonging to the Nilo-Hamitic group known as Kalenjin, were fierce warriors in bygone days. Today they are just as proud of the fact that some of the world’s most famous and successful long-distance runners come from their number. Many of their old customs remain intact, including long initiation ceremonies with circumcision rituals and much instruction in the traditions and customs of the tribe. The following experience illustrates how Bible truth is making headway among these people:
In 1968, a man became troubled upon seeing the divine name, Jehovah, in one of the publications of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Checking his Bible at Psalm 83:18, he realized that the name had been hidden from him by his Catholic religion. Filled with doubts, he confessed to his priest about reading a publication explaining the Bible. The priest condemned him strongly, praying for “his sins” in Latin, and made clear to the man that he must continue his search for Bible truth elsewhere. He found no Witnesses in the area, but noticed their publications in the shop of an acquaintance. Although he was permitted to examine the books there in the shop, the shopkeeper treasured the books and was unwilling to lend any to him. Some time later our young friend came into possession of the book From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained, which clearly helped him to see the truth about God’s name, as well as the wrongness of confession as practiced by his religion. (Ex. 6:2, 3; Isa. 42:8; 1 Tim. 2:5) Before ever having met a Witness he decided to cut all ties with his church. Shortly thereafter, he heard of a woman who had moved into the area “preaching a queer religion.” He went in search of her, found her to be a Witness, obtained the book The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life and completed reading it in three days. During his Bible study he faced much opposition from his parents, former friends and neighbors, but in time he was able to help even some of these opposers to start studying the Bible. Today he is a “pioneer” proclaimer of the “good news,” pointing others to the truth, which, in the meantime, his shopkeeper friend has accepted also.
Moving farther westward, we reach the very shores of beautiful Lake Victoria and the home area of the only Nilotic people in Kenya, the Luo. The Luo, who migrated from the Upper Nile Valley, have a series of initiation ceremonies in which some young men submit to the removal of two or more teeth from the lower jaw in order to prove their bravery. Extensive burial and mourning rites express their strong belief in communicating with dead ancestors. In Kisumu, headquarters for the area, and the third-largest city in Kenya, in 1965 a government official heard of the Bible’s truth for the first time from a workmate. Although not starting serious Bible study himself, he always had a friendly greeting for the Witnesses passing his office. Over ten years went by, but how happy he was when he symbolized his dedication last year by water baptism! In his joy he asked for the privilege of paying the cost of renting the hall where the circuit assembly was held the week of his baptism. In a short time he has helped others near him, including his wife, to see the truth and make their minds over.
Inhabiting the high ground northeast of Lake Victoria up to the foot of Mt. Elgon, 4,322 meters (14,178 feet), are the Abaluhya, a collective name given a large group of Bantu peoples. These people are accepting the good news with appreciative hearts. Last year, in a village almost on the equator in this western area, a fifteen-year-old youth overcame much opposition and dedicated his life to Jehovah. He then heard of the “Sacred Service” assembly to be held three months later in Nairobi, 340 kilometers (210 miles) away, and looked for a job to earn money for the journey. The presiding overseer of the congregation became his ‘savings bank.’ Surprisingly, when he had sufficient funds for his journey, he started saving a second lot. For whom? For an interested friend of his own age whom he wanted to have the same opportunity to enjoy the district assembly program!
THE MORAL CHALLENGE
Among all the tribes and peoples of Kenya, the Masai are probably the most internationally known. They have a reputation for fierce courage and aristocratic independence. Many of their age-old customs remain unaffected by the influences of Western civilization. You see them in their striking red-ocher dress and beadwork decoration, living on a diet consisting mainly of milk enriched with cow’s blood. The “moran” system, where young men are segregated and subjected to a rigid code of self-denial, sex excepted, until they graduate as an elder, is still intact. An unusual feature of the Elgeyo/Marakwet people is that they solemnize the marriage only after pregnancy. The life-style of these two tribes points out some of the moral problems confronting them and others who wish to change personalities to conform to the Bible’s moral standards.
There is the widespread custom of men and women living together, raising families without the benefit of a binding, legally registered marriage. Many content themselves with somewhat tentative, tribal arrangements. High demands for bride prices often delay or obstruct efforts for a legally recognized marriage. Many, however, upon learning of God’s high moral standards, have made sincere efforts to register their marriages. Elders of Jehovah’s Witnesses, officially appointed and licensed by the government, have been a great help to these people because—unlike Christendom’s ministers who often ask high expense payments—they are happy to give their services free. Thus, nearly 600 couples have been helped to comply with God’s moral standards. Here is the experience of a typical couple:
The man tried to prevent the mother of his children from studying the Bible with the Witnesses. The woman, however, persevered and continued to make progress, wanting to please God. When the man refused to legalize their union, she left him and put up with a much lower standard of living. She experienced the truthfulness of the words of Psalm 37:25, which indicate that God would sustain lovers of righteousness, and she was able to provide for the children left with her. This amazed the man, yet his opposition continued even to the point of asking politicians to ban the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country. But in an unusual way, he began to ‘make his mind over.’ When taking his children on an excursion, remarks from his three-year-old son troubled him. The child would say things like: “Daddy, when you stop smoking and drinking and buy a songbook and a Bible, we will go to the Kingdom Hall and you will not be destroyed.” Eventually, he accepted a Bible study, progressed, legalized his marriage, and began serving God with his now united family.
PROGRESS OF RECENT YEARS
Since the year 1973 the rate of expansion has been accelerated. Circumstances made it very clear in that year that local Witnesses would have to shoulder the primary responsibility for spreading the “good news” to others. With Jehovah’s help they have been equal to the task and have succeeded in carrying the message to even more remote areas of the country. At the same time, the ever-deteriorating situation in the world around was brought closer to home through a series of events. Periods of serious drought made some think about their dependence on our heavenly Provider. The spiraling cost of living and various crises involving neighboring countries helped others to realize the truthfulness of Bible prophecies. The worldwide problems of alcoholism, crime, drug abuse and family breakups have become more prevalent, causing others, especially the young, to realize that their religious leaders have failed them and that they must look elsewhere for sound guidance. In all areas of the country, and among all groups, Jehovah’s Witnesses contact and help people who sincerely want to put on the new personality and make changes in their lives.
In recent years “pioneer” proclaimers and teachers of the “good news” have moved into many new territories, some of which have shown very encouraging progress. Limuru, an industrial town near the eastern edge of the Great Rift Valley, has grown from no Kingdom proclaimers to sixteen active proclaimers of Bible truth in less than three years. In the same period the fertile farmland of the industrious Kikuyu, Meru and Embu peoples on the slopes of snowcapped Mt. Kenya has seen an increase from 30 to over 140 active Witnesses. Among them is a Kikuyu mzee, as older men are often respectfully called, born about eighty years ago, when earlobes usually were pierced, elongated and even wrapped over the top of the ear. He often walks about twenty kilometers (12 miles), climbing and descending hills, to attend Christian meetings. Whether it be around Mt. Kenya, on the scenic forested slopes of the Mau Escarpment west of Nakuru or in the intensely cultivated area around Kisii in southwestern Kenya, the growth has been remarkable.
On the Indian Ocean coast, near Mombasa, one couple conducts a total of nineteen Bible studies in the homes of interested persons. They enjoy so much their service as pioneers that they named their firstborn child “Pioneer.” In the whole of Kenya, 1,045 were baptized in symbol of their dedication during the past three years. And more are interested in putting on new personalities, as evidenced by meeting attendances frequently doubling the number of Witnesses present. The number of those present for the celebration of the Lord’s Evening Meal on April 3 exceeded 5,000 for the first time, with 5,582 being present.
Yes, among all the peoples of Kenya of whom we have mentioned only a few here, personality changes are being made. From the glaciers of Mt. Kenya, higher than any in the American Rockies or the European Alps, to the lovely, tropical, sandy beaches of the coast, and from the dry, desert areas of the north, through mountainous forests and rich highland farm areas to the grassy plains of the Masai Mara, on the edge of the Serengeti plains, people are hearing the Bible’s message and making their minds over. So, when you think of Kenya with its fascinating wildlife in natural environment, of the majestic lion stalking a gazelle for the “kill,” think, too, of the personalities and characteristics that are being transformed and made over in the power of God’s Word. When you think of the various customs, practices, and languages, think, too, how these people, because of their personality changes, are being united into one happy family of Christian men and women serving the Creator. Truly, personalities are undergoing great changes in Kenya’s spiritual paradise.
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“And . . . the lion will eat straw just like the bull.”—Isa. 11:7.