Bishop John Orina believes himself to be the youngest bishop in the world. At thirty-five he was made a suffragan bishop in the large Southern Nyanza Diocese of western Kenya (the diocese has the shores of Lake Victoria on its west side and Tanzania to its south). Kisii is the name of his missionary bishopric, named after the lush, highly fertile, densely populated area it covers.
While the land may be fertile, Naomi Ngoge explains that the work has been extremely hard. The diocese has struggled to reach Kisii and its vernacular speakers because of language barriers between them and the largely Luo speaking church leaders. While many of the local Kisii speakers also speak Kiswahili, Thomas Odingo notes that the Luo speakers’ Kiswahili is not always of the highest standard. This is honest: Thomas is himself a Luo speaking parish priest who has been called to the area. There is simply very little vernacular preaching, and only fifteen Anglican churches dotted across a vast area that covers two counties of Kenya. Those churches, set within four parishes, have only around 2,000 Christians.
The critical need for the church in Kisii is to grow leaders from among the potential leaders at the grassroots, but using the very few who have some basic training. Thomas along with Naomi and three other extremely valuable local, first language Kisii speakers (Vincent Ogaro, Benson Ogoti and Joshua Ochola), are all attending a BUILD, block based training-of-trainers course in the west of Kenya. Naomi, the youngest, turned twenty-two today and is already in charge of a congregation within Kisii town, an important node for growth. Benson shares just how hard and costly travel can be, with no tarmac roads and the rich, red soil that so easily turns to mud. Benson is the coordinator for mission and evangelism covering the entire area: he has a vision for developing a team of evangelists to share in the work, working alongside Vincent.
Thomas shares the way in which they are all committed to carefully teaching the BUILD material, but doing so intelligently – selecting the simplest and most important units in the early modules. They plan to then go back over the more complicated areas that have been left out when the participants are ready to take in units that are at a higher level (when they have reached a third module and have learnt how to handle the Scriptures, and think theologically about basic issues).
All of them plan to translate from the English or Kiswahili versions as they go, but to work together: with one teaching while another takes Kisii notes of the key ideas that need to be communicated. In the process the most basic of Kisii resources will begin to be developed.
Thomas knows from experience that “as you train people they grow in confidence: they understand the Bible for themselves and are then able to share it with others themselves. They then say things like, ‘I can use the Lectionary myself and really teach in the church,’ whereas before that they just shy off and do not want to do their duties.” And all of them are looking forward to sitting down with the young Bishop John to share their vision and make a detailed plan of how the training can be translated into Kisii and into people’s lives.