Loving neighbours in Nairobi

Local partner Meshack Okumu in Nairobi knows first-hand the impact of small acts of love.

Following the Kenyan general elections of mid-2017, there was a lot of animosity between the general public and the police. In the run-up to Christmas, Meshack talked to members of the small church he pastors outside the city about how God has called them to love the police. He went to the police station on behalf of the church and invited the officers to come and worship one Sunday.

When the police visited, Meshack took time from his sermon to open the floor for discussion. He posed the question: Who is my neighbour? Church members asked police officers some candid questions. Then they prayed with the police officers, and presented them with food and other gifts they had collected for them.

According to Meshack, the police were shocked at the generosity of this little church of only 50 members.

Meshack longs for people to feel the presence of the church in tangible ways like this. He’s learned that encouraging churches to be salt and light in their local communities begins with asking that key question: Who is my neighbour?

In addition to being a pastor, Meshack is the Kenya country coordinator for CMS-Africa. He also works for Church Army Africa at the Centre for Urban Mission where he is in charge of Samaritan Strategy Programme, a training ministry that equips churches to carry out holistic ministry in their communities.

Years ago, when Meshack was working for an NGO, he met CMS mission partner Colin Smith, who invited him to support a conference for the Anglican clergy in Nairobi. The conference in question was a Samaritan Strategy VISION conference run by CMS-Africa.

One thing the conference speakers focused on was holistic mission; mission which tends to the physical needs of communities as well as sharing the gospel. This was very interesting to Meshack. The Christian development organisation he worked for hadn’t been empowering communities for the long-term so much as offering short-term support. Meshack wanted to figure out how to offer sustainable development to struggling communities, and the Samaritan Strategy VISION conference addressed just that. A few months later, Meshack left the NGO and joined Colin in training pastors and church leaders in urban mission, later becoming a trainer for Samaritan Strategy.

At the Centre for Urban Mission, where Meshack now works, they believe transformation starts with God’s people. In Nairobi, over 60 per cent of the population live in informal settlements and there is a local church present in almost in every area of these settlements. The Centre for Urban Mission spends time teaching CMS-Africa’s Samaritan Strategy programme within the informal settlements of Nairobi.

As they started to work with the local church, they saw Christians become more aware of their neighbours’ needs and begin to put the teaching into practice. Following teaching on loving your neighbour, one lady cut her family’s sleeping mat in half and gave half to her neighbour, whose children had been sleeping on cardboard. Luke, a pastor doing the training, was prompted to visit a neighbour he wasn’t on speaking terms with, and discovered the neighbour was very sick. Not having enough money to take his neighbour to the hospital on the bus, Luke asked other neighbours to pitch in, and before long they had enough money for a taxi to the hospital.

Published 29 July 2019

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