Thika Town is situated between the plain and the highlands. Today we went up into the highlands.
We drove up through lush green forests and arable plantations on the side of steep valleys. We passed one holding where passionfruit grew on wires along steep terraces leading down to the river. These were interspersed with macadamia trees while on the banks below plantings of arrowroot took advantage of the water on offer. Incidentally I have discovered that sweet potato grows wild in these parts. There is some just outside our hosts’ house which has been recently dug up.
So we climbed slowly but surely. Our first goal was Chomo parish who were just starting the CCMP process. We were welcomed with the inevitable boiled sweet potato and arrowroot but there was also the option of eggs or watermelon. We were then treated to some enthusiastic singing by members of the congregation. In every parish we visited we tried to reciprocate with a song of our own but in every case we were second best.
So what is the first stage of CCMP. It is to study the Bible and ask: what vision for the future does the church have? Chomo church saw themselves as a sleeping elephant. They had the potential to be powerful but at the moment there was a low rate of giving, people were late for services and home groups not well attended. I think we could identify with these signs of spiritual sleepiness!
How was the situation to be addressed? The Bible study on God’s purpose for humankind from Gen 1-3 showed that God has provided all that we need and it opened the church’s eyes to God’s blessings. The next stage in the process would be to look out to community and see how to impact on them. But already changes have happened in the church. The women are starting to beautify the church, and there is a new pulpit etc. They are looking after their natural resources better such as trees, rivers etc.
“I am a person of great potential and God wants me to use this potential” (Mama Eunice)
James the church secretary explained how the church has moved from one level to another. There were very few men in the church and they filled only two benches. So they started a men’s fellowship. After looking for men and praying for them their number increased from 10 to 17. Men worked together to construct new fence because the church open to wild animals. Each man contributed 1000Ksh to chain link. Also they started to save money together. The aim is to start income generating projects. Six months into project, loans will soon be available.
The Church is aware it needs to tackle alcoholism and drug abuse in the community and also that its members need to better manage their businesses and projects. So every church member has a Bible marker with the church vision. On the back image of a running elephant beneath the cross!
After we heard from the vicar we briefly visited a tea plantation. We were shown how to pick tea and then Pam was given a basket to strap to her back and actually try picking!
We then moved on to Gakui parish. Our first stop was a coffee processing plant. Soon the coffee cherries will be ripe. The best red ones will be separated from the inferior ones that will produce type 2 coffee. This happens in the weighing room where the two types go into separate hoppers. They are then pulped and the husks are discarded for compost. Then the sugar is removed in the fermentation tanks over a period of two days before drying in the sun for period of up to two weeks. The factory then takes the processed coffee and removes another layer of husks. At the moment the price for Kenyan coffee is low not only because of competition from other countries but because coffee beans are exported as a raw product with value added elsewhere.
Also in Gakui is the largest poultry business in Kenya with 350000 hens spread over three farms. The manager was proud of the free range nature of the hen rearing. In reality the hens are confined in pens with their beaks clipped and while we were there they were waiting for their feeders to be filled up in the afternoon. It left me pondering the balance between supplying mass markets and the welfare of animals.
The church itself in Gakui was very hospitable and was a chance for an excellent lunch. I am definitely developing a taste for Kenyan stew with chapattis, rice and potatoes and sides of cabbage and kale. The fresh watermelon was also delicious. There was much to discuss and ponder from all we had learnt in the morning.
We then briefly stopped at a smallholding with a very photogenic goat before going on to Kairi parish. I am sure the vicar wanted to give a good impression but his speech gave the impression this somewhat older church had seen better days. Apart from the 400 boys from the high school who attended the English services there were 250 members but only 120 came regularly and the weekly offering was only 6000 Ksh.
We drove back to Thika memorial church to meet our lifts. Nick and myself used the occasion to stay in the vestry for a while and connect with home. Ven David then took us into Thika Town for a coffee. This gave us our first experience of walking across a Kenyan dual carriageway – rather like crossing Alma Road in rush hour. Then into Juja where he had generously arranged for a gift of tea for us. The three lanes of traffic that probably were competing for a single lane produced the most horrendous jam with a lorry even reversing into a pickup. We were glad to get back on the move home.
It was good to catch up with Ven David and his wife Laura over dinner. Ven David is enjoying the return to parish life. He was diocesan secretary for five years. This meant long hours away from the family and also Sundays in many different churches. Laura is like Lynda an involved clergy wife and simply wouldn’t have the time to work.
At the moment their big project on the holding is to dig a well. They are paying contractors by the foot to excavate and so far they have gone down 45 feet. The ground is very stony. We pass by several quarries each day with lorries queuing by the entrance and men going to and from work. Ven David and Laura reckon the stone is only about 7ft under the soil. As more and more plots are developed so the demand for this stone is increasing.
Tomorrow we are off to see some wildlife and go shopping. I think we have absorbed about as much as we can about church life for now! Clearly there is so much we can learn and I very much pray we can apply the lessons to our own church life.