Searching for Deserving Ones in Kenya
KENYA is a land of great natural splendor. Lush forests, vast open plains, blistering hot deserts, and snow-clad mountains grace this delightful land. It is home to more than a million wildebeests and the endangered rhino. One can also see large herds of giraffes moving across the grasslands.
Abundant, too, are creatures of the air, from powerful, soaring eagles to myriads of colorful songbirds that sweeten the air with their cheerful melodies. And who could overlook the elephants and the lions? The sights and sounds of Kenya are unforgettable.
Yet, there is another sound that is heard throughout this beautiful land. It is the sound of thousands of voices telling forth a message of hope. (Isaiah 52:7) These voices are reaching people from over 40 tribes and tongues. In this sense, Kenya is also a land of spiritual splendor.
Most of the people of Kenya are religiously inclined and are willing to discuss spiritual matters. Despite this, finding people to talk to has proved to be a challenge, for Kenya, like many other countries, is experiencing a change.
Difficult economic conditions have forced many to adjust their way of life. Women, who have traditionally worked at home, find themselves in offices or along roadways selling fruits, vegetables, fish, and woven baskets. Men work long, tiring hours trying to provide for their families. Even children, their little arms filled with packets of roasted peanuts and boiled eggs, walk the streets selling their goods. The result is that few people are home during the day. This situation has made it necessary for the proclaimers of the Kingdom good news to make adjustments.
Congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses were advised to focus more on people who are outside their homes, moving about in their daily activities, as well as on friends, relatives, business people, and workmates. And the brothers responded, talking to people wherever they could be found. (Matthew 10:11) Has this effort to widen out produced results? Yes, it has! Consider some examples.
Relatives—Our Closest Neighbors
Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, has some three million inhabitants. On the east side of the city lived a retired army major who harbored a general dislike for Jehovah’s Witnesses, although, much to his dismay, his own son was a Witness. One February the retired officer traveled 100 miles [160 km] to the son’s home in the Rift Valley town of Nakuru. During the visit, the son gave him a gift—the book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life.a The father accepted it and left.
Back home, the former officer gave the book to his wife, who began reading it, not realizing that it was published by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Slowly, Bible truth began to touch her heart, and she shared the information with her husband. Out of curiosity, he also began reading the book. When they discovered who the publisher was, they concluded that they had not been told the truth about Jehovah’s Witnesses. They contacted local Witnesses, and a Bible study was started. From their own reading of the book, they came to realize that it is unchristian to use or sell tobacco. (Matthew 22:39; 2 Corinthians 7:1) Without hesitation, they destroyed all the cigarettes in their shop. After several months they qualified to become unbaptized publishers, and they were soon baptized at a district convention.
Trash Yields a Treasure
In some parts of the capital district, there are sprawling villages that accommodate hundreds of thousands of people. Here one finds row upon row of homes built of mud, wood, metal scraps, or corrugated iron sheets. When work in the industries and factories is scarce, people improvise. Jua kali (Swahili for “fierce sun”) workers labor in the open sun, making sandals from old car tires or kerosene lamps from discarded tins. Others sift through rubbish heaps and trash bins looking for paper, tin cans, and bottles to recycle.
Can trash yield a treasure? Yes! One brother recalls: “A strong, unkempt, and rough-looking man carrying a big plastic sack full of discarded newspapers and magazines walked onto the grounds of our Assembly Hall. After telling me that his name was William, he asked: ‘Do you have the recent issues of The Watchtower?’ I was rather apprehensive, wondering what he might be up to. When I showed him five copies of the magazine, he looked at one after another and said: ‘I will take all of them.’ Surprised, I went back to my room and returned with the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth.b I showed him the picture of Paradise and explained that we study the Bible with people free of charge. Then I suggested: ‘William, why don’t you come tomorrow, and we will start studying?’ He did just that!
“One Sunday he came to his first meeting. I was giving the public talk that day. When William walked in, he quickly glanced at the audience, saw me on the platform, and shot out of the hall. I asked him later why he did that. He shyly answered: ‘The people were too clean. I got nervous.’
“As William progressed in his study, Bible truth began to transform his life. He bathed, cut his hair, wore clean and neat clothes, and soon was regular at the meetings. When the book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life was released, we began to study it. Meanwhile, he had given two talks in the Theocratic Ministry School and had become an unbaptized publisher. I was thrilled to welcome him as my spiritual brother when he was baptized at the special assembly day.”
Where had William first seen the value of the Watchtower magazine? “I found some issues among discarded papers in the trash.” Yes, he found a treasure in that unlikely way!
Witnessing at the Workplace
Are we always alert to opportunities for informal witnessing at our workplace? James, an elder in a Nairobi congregation, was introduced to Bible truth in that manner. In turn, he has become skillful in using this method to reach others. For example, on one occasion, James saw a fellow worker come into the office wearing a badge with the words “Jesus Saves.” Imitating the evangelizer Philip, James asked the coworker: “Do you actually understand the meaning of those words?” (Acts 8:30) That question opened up a fine discussion. A Bible study was started, and the man was later baptized. Has James had success with others? Let him explain:
“Tom and I worked in the same company. We often rode our staff bus together. One morning, we happened to be seated together. I was reading one of our books, and I held it in such a way as to make sure that Tom got a good look at it. Just as I had hoped, his attention was captured, and I gladly lent him my book. He was very impressed with what he read and agreed to have a Bible study. Now he and his wife are baptized servants of Jehovah.”
James continues: “Frequently during the lunch break at our company, there are very interesting conversations. That was when, on separate occasions, I met Ephraim and Walter. Both knew that I was a Witness. Ephraim was interested in understanding why there was so much antagonism against Jehovah’s Witnesses. Walter had questions about the difference between the Witnesses and other religions. They were both very satisfied with the Scriptural answers I provided and agreed to study. Ephraim made rapid progress. In time, both he and his wife dedicated their lives to Jehovah. He now serves as an elder, and his wife is a regular pioneer. Walter, however, encountered such strong opposition that he threw away his study book. Because of my persistence, though, he resumed his study. He too now enjoys the privilege of serving as an elder.” In all, 11 persons have become true Christians because James seized opportunities to witness informally at his workplace.
A Most Amazing Outcome
In a small village on the shores of Lake Victoria, friends and relatives gathered at a burial ceremony. Among the mourners was an elderly Witness. He approached a schoolteacher named Dolly and explained to her the condition of the dead and Jehovah’s purpose to remove death forever. Noticing her favorable response, he assured her: “When you return to your hometown, one of our missionaries will call on you and teach you the Bible.”
Dolly’s hometown is the third-largest city in Kenya. Only four Witness missionaries were serving there at the time. The elderly brother did not actually notify any of the missionaries to call on Dolly. He just had complete confidence that it would turn out that way. And it did! Within a short time, a missionary sister met Dolly and started a study with her. Dolly is now baptized, her young daughter is enrolled in the Theocratic Ministry School, and her two sons are also baptized. She has even had the joy of attending the Pioneer Service School.
Caring for the Increase
The emphasis on informal witnessing has enabled thousands more to hear the good news in Kenya. Over 15,000 publishers are now busy in this all-important work, and more than 41,000 attended the Memorial of Christ’s death last year. Throughout Kenya, meeting attendance is often double the number of Kingdom publishers. This has created a need for more Kingdom Halls.
Kingdom Halls are being built both in major cities and in remote areas. One of these is in an isolated Samburu town about 200 miles [320 km] northeast of Nairobi. In 1934, the town was named Maralal, meaning “glittering” in the Samburu tongue, because the first corrugated iron roof used there gleamed in the sun. Sixty-two years later another building with a corrugated iron roof was built in Maralal. It too “gleams” and “sparkles” because it is the local place for true worship.
The 15 publishers made a wonderful effort to build the first Kingdom Hall in this remote part of Kenya. Funds were limited, so the brothers had to rely on local materials. They made walls from the red earth moistened with water and packed tightly between upright poles. The walls were smoothed and plastered with a mixture of cow dung and ashes, providing a hard finish that lasts for years.
To obtain the poles for the building, the brothers acquired a permit to cut down trees. But the nearest forest was about six miles [10 km] away. The brothers and sisters had to walk to the forest, cut down the trees, trim them, and carry the poles back to the construction site. Once, on their trek from the forest, the brothers were stopped by the police, who claimed that their permit was invalid. The police told a special pioneer that he was under arrest for cutting down trees. One local sister, well-known in the community and by the police, spoke up: “If you arrest our brother, you’ll have to arrest all of us, since we all cut down the trees!” The officer then let them all go.
There were wild animals in the forest, so walking there was not without danger. One day a sister felled a tree. As it hit the ground, she saw an animal jump and run. She thought from the flash of tawny color that it was just an impala, but later she saw by the footprints that it was a lion! Despite such dangers, the brothers completed the hall, and it stands as a “glittering” source of praise to Jehovah.
February 1, 1963, was a significant day in the theocratic history of Kenya. On that day the first branch office was opened, just one room of 80 square feet [7.4 sq m]. October 25, 1997, was another milestone in Kenya’s theocratic history—dedication day for a new Bethel complex of 84,000 square feet [7,800 sq m]! The finished project was a grand culmination to three years of dedicated toil. Volunteers from 25 different nations had transformed a muddy, weed-filled, 7.8-acre [3.2 ha] field into a beautiful gardenlike setting for the new branch facility, accommodating 80 members of the Bethel family.
We have every reason to rejoice in what Jehovah has done for his people. Thanks be to him for stirring the hearts of his servants to widen out and intensify the search for deserving ones in Kenya, making it a land of spiritual splendor.
a Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
b Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.