You can see it from RVA, if you’re looking toward Mount Longonot. The sun hits the tin roofs, making it hard to miss. Rows and rows of them, just little rectangles of reflected light from where we stand. They look a little out of place, located just off the highway that runs along the bottom of the Great Rift Valley. And they are out of place. IDP stands for internally displaced people. People who aren’t home, or no longer have one, who have been forced away from the familiar. The only thing they can be sure of is being unsure.
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40
This specific camp has been around since 2008. Violence that spilled over from presidential elections in Kenya forced over 300 families to flee. Eventually, this is where they ended up. Living in tents, in what was supposed to be a temporary solution, they’ve long since settled in for the long haul.
There are some encouraging chapters to this tale. Habitat for Humanity has played a huge role in replacing many of the temporary shelters with concrete block homes whose tin roofs now dot the valley floor. The government of Kenya pitched in as well, allowing them to pool their money and buy the land they now occupy. But despite these and other well-meaning gifts, poverty continues to plague the area. The nearest town, Maai Maihu, is itself existing well below the poverty line, so income opportunities are even more scarce for a community that just “showed up” on the scene a few years ago.
The land yields its few crops reluctantly, heavily dependent on the inconsistent rains throughout the year. Many stake their hopes on subsistence farming in an area hardly conducive to growing crops. But with nowhere else to go, it has become home.
Enter John Karanja. I’ve known John since we arrived at RVA last summer. He is a busy guy. A local Kenyan man employed full-time here in our supplies store, he also oversees whatever immigration services the staff and students need. Alien registrations, driver’s licenses, passports, visas, you name it – he does the legwork in Nairobi so we are able to live and minister legally in Kenya. These obligations alone would keep his calendar packed, but God asked him to be a pastor as well.
He took it upon himself in 2008 to start a church in the valley. Lacking any formal pastoral training, John knew someone had to shepherd and love these people. His love for Jesus wouldn’t allow him to sit by while so many in the IDP Camp lacked the opportunity to know the Savior.
Up until last year, it was known as the Church Under the Tree (I bet you can guess why), meeting under the shade of a big acacia tree. Thanks to his persistent fundraising efforts, they recently constructed a church building on the same plot of ground where the tree still stands.
Now, this isn’t a paid position. In fact, John often continues the ministry at his own expense. Just getting there and back once a week is more than most Kenyans can afford in transportation costs.
And he doesn’t just come to preach – his goal has always been to come with a nutritious meal for the 100-150 kids in Sunday School. Sometimes it’s soup, maybe fresh fruit, even eggs if the donations were generous enough for that week. He insists on having some food to share with them; they aren’t guaranteed many nutritious meals throughout the week. This too, often comes out of his own pocket.
Some monetary help comes from the local Africa Inland Church, but not being an ordained pastor, the support he gains is minimal at best. From time to time faculty or students at RVA will catch a glimpse of his vision and donate money, but even that is unpredictable due to the ever-changing staffing picture here.
The most impressive thing about John’s work is his attitude. Often a thankless position, he presses on because he’s acting in obedience. He deals with immense problems pastorally in a community like this, but he perseveres.
His faith in God’s provision borders on the likes of George Mueller. He doesn’t know from week to week if he will be able to bring another meal, where the donations will come from, or if they’ll come at all. He’s putting himself through seminary to be able to dedicate infants and perform baptisms. This is his calling, his own missionary journey, to people in his own country.
To see this happening in Kenya is hugely encouraging. It’s no secret that there are a TON of foreign missionaries in this country and there have been for a long time. So many Africans are still trapped in a culture bent on looking to the pale-skinned foreigners for a hand out; here is one example (and there are many) of a Kenyan with his hands out in service to our Lord, going where nobody else wants to go, putting in the time nobody else wants to invest, ministering to the least of these, his brothers. My brothers.
Well done, John, and thank you.