Servant Leaders in Kenya

CFS has been offering SL courses through MCK since 2005. Having trained some 20% of their pastors now, we felt this was the right time to hold some regional meetings in order to gather information about the impact of SL on them, and in what ways, if any, they have tried to apply it to the communities in which they are working. Below are some of our findings. An over-arching theme that was echoed in every meeting was the need to “change cultural mindsets” …that mindsets need to be changed before projects can be successful. Some examples include:

  1. The ‘leader’ is invested with all the power. “Father” is often designed term, implying that the leader is to come up with the ideas and resources and make it happen. But economic development comes as power is shared in a sense of personal responsibility by all participating.
  2. Personal warmth is valued over content.
  3. Younger people are not to question or critique those older than they.
  4. Development often means subsidies from outside, while they rely on religious beliefs that God will provide magically. Witchcraft is still quite common as well, with curses for getting out of line.

(It has been said that culture is the mother, and institutions are the children. More efficient and just institutions depend on modifications to the culture. (Daniel Etounga-Manguelle, quoting Tocqueville). Important to note, is that the collapse of ‘dependency theory’ is increasingly seen as the result of cultural values and attitudes.)

  1. HIV/AIDS is still not able to be openly talked about in public due to cultural silence around sexual issues, and is referred to “the long neck disease” or “the finisher”. In Busia County, Alice told the group “every home has a fresh grave.” This after many years of work trying to reduce/stamp out this virus. In addition, some of those who use meds, don’t take them consistently. Thus, officials are seeing new, stronger, more resistant strains of HIV/AIDS appear as a result.

In Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa, participants were asked to describe the current context in which they are living. Water seems to be the greatest need in every community, followed by food security issues. Disengaged youth are a great concern as well. Many are dropping out, due to lack of funds, and often, poor quality of education (with 100 or more students per class). Cheap alcohol is increasingly a panacea. 27 died while we were in country, due to drinking toxic brew.

Participants were asked to share what actions they have taken to apply SL:

  1. Beatrice is helping women’s groups in her two churches get registered in order to be able to apply for government funds available for community projects. Most are fearful of any interaction with government, so don’t do it on their own. She started a nursery school by fundraising, and renting out the church for meeting space. Said she was “trained as a pastor, but never to be a leader”. Now she is training people in small cell groups to become leaders.
  2. John Koskei came to the Kisumu course in 2007 as a pastor, and three month later, post-election violence erupted in the country. He was later tapped to get involved with a newly forming Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission. He has since gone to remote areas to take testimony from many who were tortured or had family members killed. Those stories have been handed over to the court at the Hague, who is now trying several Kenyan leaders for crimes to humanity. John also lobbied for a branch campus of KEMU at Kericho. They have started with 20 students there. He also formed a CBO. He says that he came to our course as a pastor. He is now a recognized national leader in TJRC work in addition to his pastoral duties, and the tea farm which came out of the ’07 course.
  3. Joseph is pairing up more affluent parishes with less able parishes. Members visit and report back weekly on what support they have been able to offer each other.
  4. Peter is repairing a 50 yr old water project, starting rabbits, goats and chickens projects, and encouraged St. Pauls, the MCK seminary, to start offering a course on the “theology of work”. Mercy Kanyaru told about meeting a poor woman who said she and her husband had worked hard last year, so this year they are resting their bodies. The link between cultural values and economic development is strong.
  5. Lemayian is working to empower girls and women in his community. He is being criticized for it.  But his uncle for example, has 6 wives, and 87 children. The girls are married off early so the dowries will give the fathers more cows. Lemayian says cows are becoming a thing of the past for economic sustainability. So he is promoting small business start-ups there, as well as water conservation by installing gutters on the local school. And, he has built a dam on his land! He feels passionate to ask people (especially young people) what they can contribute to the well-being of their community using the resources at hand. There is no empowerment so powerful as self-empowerment…raising one’s own capacity to lead and serve oneself and others. It often does take a question asker as a catalyst.  A good question asker will ask: What is going on? What do we need to do to help make it right? The other option… “Who did this to us?” arises from and increases a culture of fear, paranoia and stagnation.

GRAFCO-SACCO is a savings and loan organization in Kenya, with 2500 members. CFS was asked to present a two day workshop on servant-leadership for their board and administrative staff. This was a follow up to the two day event we presented for their parent organization PWW this summer in Grand Rapids, Michigan. PWW intends to use SL as their philosophy in all their affiliates around the world.

GRAFCO is their largest affiliate, and has been under-going some tension between board and staff between the desire to help people start sustainable business initiatives as well as meet societal needs in a business – as – ministry style. However, due to several challenges, they find themselves unable to pay dividends to current business owners. Some think they should pay the dividends anyway, showing compassion for those suffering.  Others are holding out for stabilizing the businesses first, and paying dividends/helping others later. We talked about the critical importance of commitment to a shared vision.

Our observations:

  1. This group needs more access to local business consultants with the expertise to help their businesses grow. Board and staff members, loan recipients themselves, are struggling. It is difficult then, to reach out to new potential members confidently with the right kind of help. We spent time talking about the need to focus on growing social capital (strong positive relationships) and spiritual capital (values such as trust, integrity, service, honesty, compassion…) as well as economic capital if they want Grafco-Sacco to be sustainable and grow.
  2. About 30 people participated. They seemed to find it difficult at first, to participate in our style of teaching….that is, finding the way forward through mutual dialogue and listening to the sharing of ideas and experiences, stories of failures and successes as well as current challenges. When we used small group exercises and worksheets to work through together the second day, they seemed to perk up. We did receive some very positive feedback from Grace, the country director who was present for the training. So we know that the seeds of SL have been planted in their minds and hearts! What follows are her comments:

On the servant leadership training, I think this went well. It was a little quiet for many but it had an impact on all the participants. It brings out a different view of how we look at life and the things that we value more. I spoke to one staff just to find out what they took home and for them, it was interesting how we view leadership from the top and how this is all different when servant leaders lead from the bottom by showing love and care to the people who in turn trust in you and see you as a leader. This was through an illustration shared by the Broetjes with a triangle upside down and leadership being at the top wider side of the triangle.

I am challenged to continue sharing this culture of leadership that begins with the will, love and care for the people that is seen in how you serve them such that people see the authority in you and trust you. I have learned how important it is to value and build the social capital that we have around us and in the organizations that we serve. At this point, my mind is up on moving ahead to encourage the people I am working with on the value of relationships.

I must say the training was remarkable.

In Mombasa, the pastors who gathered were tired, and struggling to stand with their people who are hungry. People are literally limiting themselves to one meal per day, pastors included. Bishop Tuji, a member of our ’06 course, stepped on a nail a couple of months ago, and due to diabetes, it didn’t heal. Finally, two toes were amputated. His foot is black and blue, and hugely swollen still. Pray for him. Rev. Samuel didn’t even get to the meeting as he ended up in the hospital instead with kidney stones. Some haven’t been paid for months. Yet they are so committed to bringing the gospel to those they serve.

A local pastor, who clarified his call to serve Muslims during our course in ‘06, told another of his famous stories:

a man stole our church bell, and dropped it in the Tana River. The village chief tried to find out who had done it, but after a week, no one came forward. One month later, a huge cyclone came, and crushed the house of this Muslim man, killing his two children inside. In terror, he came running to the church to confess that he had stolen the bell, and asked what he could do before God killed him?! The pastor told him to go fetch the bell from the river, which is infested with crocodiles and hippos, and bring it back to the church and put it in its proper place. The man did. He said that since stealing the bell he had had no peace. So, he repented, and received the invitation to accept Christ as his Lord, and was baptized then and there.


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