The Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D) has a rich history of partnership missions. In 2019, the BCM/D began a partnership with the Gucha Central Baptist Association (GCBA), part of the Baptist Convention of Kenya. The multi-year partnership has focused on strategic areas, especially Kisumu and the surrounding areas, including Bunyore, Kisii, and Koselli. In addition, several churches have participated in praying for, giving to, and going to Kenya to assist with pastoral and discipleship training, orphanage ministry, and outreach in schools.
In December, Charles Juma, BCM/D’s liaison in Kenya, wrote, “In the Kenyan context, the biggest threat continues to be the indirect impacts of the pandemic.” Juma referred to economic difficulties, alarming numbers of teen suicide, and a “huge surge in HIV/AIDS cases.”
In correspondence dated mid-August, Juma shared that, since his last update, the area has experienced a direct impact from COVID-19.
Dear Maryland/Delaware Churches,
Since the beginning of the pandemic here in Kenya, Nairobi and Mombasa have led the whole country in positivity and death rates. A few other towns like Nakuru and Narok also registered high numbers, while Western Kenya and the entire Lake Victoria region had lower numbers than Nairobi and Mombasa. But things have changed for the worse around the Lake Victoria region.
Toward the beginning of June, Kisumu began experiencing very high numbers of infections and death. Soon, the virus spread to the other lake region counties – Homa Bay, Kisii, Nyamira, and Siaya. In addition, neighboring counties in western Kenya and Rift Valley became hotspots for COVID-19. Two days ago, the government placed all the Lake Victoria region counties under a stricter lockdown and curfew as Kisumu and the lake region now continue to lead the whole country in COVID-19 infections and deaths for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.
While the rest of the country is under partial lockdown and curfew, our region is on an increased lockdown and curfew.
All public places are closed – churches, hotels, and political gatherings, except for essential services like hospitals and a few supermarkets. We have about ten hours to work each day. People are not pleased, for it means more economic difficulty and suffering. There is social tension, and we are treated to gunshot sounds every evening as police try to enforce these curfews and lockdown laws.
The threat of the virus is real. I went to see my doctor at Aghakan in Kisumu. As soon as I walked in, one of the nurses told me to be very careful in the hospital because nearly all the beds were taken by COVID-19 patients. Now, I am talking about Aghakan – one of the biggest hospitals in East Africa.
I personally know people, including three pastors, who have succumbed to COVID-19 just in the last month. Fortunately, the Lord has spared all of our partners from the pandemic so far. And the BCM/D has been extremely kind and gracious to cushion us against the economic difficulties brought about by the pandemic.
The effects of the virus surround us. Widows are among those most adversely affected by the ripple effects of the pandemic.
In Kenya, Homa Bay County leads in HIV/AIDS infections. That means it has the largest number of widows and orphans. It also means that most of these widows have suffered immensely during this pandemic. Nothing can be more painful for a mother than to see her child die slowly of starvation, and there is nothing she can do about it. Because of the lockdown, you are not allowed to leave your house. In a culture that has no savings, these widows have had nothing to fall back on. Desperate and confused, some of them took extreme measures. They would not sit and do nothing while watching their kids starve to death, though some of their desperate actions did not help much. If nothing else, their actions highlight the gravity of the situation on the ground.
A few examples below will suffice:
- One woman boiled rocks for her children. Obviously, the rocks would not “cook,” and the kids would not eat them, but she wanted to give her kids some sense (false as it was) that she was cooking for them. She would do this until her children fell asleep. It was a desperate effort by a helpless mother who did not know what to do and how to tell her kids she did not have food for them.
- I saw two women picking dirty grass from a very filthy playing field filled with human manure. It broke my heart to pieces. I was born and raised in one of the poorest villages in Africa. I thought I had seen and experienced everything to do with hunger and suffering, but I was wrong.
- An older man out in Gucha, having gone without food for days, decided to go out and eat tree leaves like an animal. One of our pastors in Gucha heard about this and went into action immediately. With some of the funds we were given, he bought food for this man and took it to his house. As a result, he saved this man from starving to death.
- In Homa Bay County, by Lake Victoria, our partners reported to me that some widows would send their underage daughters to the lake every morning and evening. The young girls seduced the fishermen in exchange for fish for their starving families. This also broke my heart deeply.
- Due to the ripple effects of the pandemic, young people have not been spared. Many teens resorted to suicidal tendencies. I intervened in a number of those cases. Many teenage girls became pregnant with men who promised to buy them food or give them money.
- For many reasons, the number of orphans and children in need has increased during COVID-19. One reason is that parents who could no longer provide for their families just gave them up. Many of our pastors and churches have taken these kids in and are providing for them.
Salvations, baptisms, and growth during the pandemic
Because of our partnership with the BCM/D, we have provided monthly relief funds to pastors under our care. That support has given them the freedom to share the gospel with the lost in their communities every day during this pandemic. They have also been able to encourage their members to hold on to their faith and trust in God in the midst of a very difficult time.
Our churches have experienced tremendous growth throughout this pandemic. One advantage we have in Africa is that people tend to look to the supernatural to find answers during a crisis. Thus, people have sought God’s guidance through this pandemic more than at any other time in our recent history. As a result, our pastors have been busy. More often than not, the pastor is everything to everyone here in Africa. Thus, our pastors have the unique opportunity of pointing people to Christ at all times. That has been the case throughout this pandemic.
We have had many confessions of faith and baptisms. The GCBA just planted and added three new churches to their association, including a church among the Maasai warrior tribe. Just recently, before the current lockdown, Pastor James baptized over 18 new converts in one service.
Within the Homa Bay Baptist Association, the churches are taking care of hundreds of widows and orphans. For the widows and orphans, the church has been the only place of refuge during this pandemic. Consequently, the churches in Homa Bay County share the gospel with the widows daily and lead many to the Lord. Because of our active role in helping people during this pandemic, the local government officials granted me permission to travel and meet with people even when no one was allowed to travel.
Bishop Enoch’s church has been one of the few places people run to for help — spiritually and economically. Even the local government recognizes the role this church is playing in the Butere community. Bishop Enoch has seen more than 200 people come to Christ just in the last year. He is counseling many people daily and providing for their physical needs.
Homa Bay County also happens to be one of the poorest counties in Kenya. Thus, we provide food to hundreds of low-income families every month because of the support from the BCM/D. In doing so, we get the opportunity to explain to them why we do what we do. Jesus commanded us to care for the “least of these” among us, and we are doing just that in the name of Christ and for His glory. As a result, our communities are experiencing the love of Jesus through these acts of kindness and are coming to Him daily during this pandemic. I could go on and on, but you get the point. Our partnership has allowed me to flesh out the love of Jesus to our pastors, widows, orphans, and other needy families daily. Not a day passes by without seeing God perform a miracle of salvation in the life of someone. We give Jesus all the glory for all that He has done.
Crisis continues, but Christ sustains
I am not sure how long this will last, but for now, the Lake Victoria region and its neighbors are under lockdown. We were not expecting this again after having been in a lockdown for over one year. It is just frustrating, especially when people continue to suffer economically. The government’s logic with all this is that you can revive a dead economy, but you cannot revive a dead person. True, but the problem with that logic is that it is not just the economy that is dead. People are dying from hunger and starvation.
But the church of Christ has truly shown the light and love of Christ during this dark time. Because of your support, our pastors have been able to share the gospel with the lost in their communities, encourage their members, feed widows and orphans among them, and plant new churches. Even the government of Kenya recognizes the role we have played. Whenever I went to meet with the pastors to give them relief funds, the local government provided security for my team.
I want to express my deepest gratitude to Maryland/Delaware churches for the gracious and generous support you have given us throughout this pandemic. Our churches, pastors, widows, and orphans will never forget the miracles that the Lord has done through and because of our partnership.
**Based on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, “As of September 21, 2021, there have been 246,956 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Kenya, with 238,448 recovered patients and 5,008 related deaths. On June 29, the Government of Kenya announced continued restrictions in response to the worsening of the COVID-19 pandemic. Restrictions are primarily focused on 13 counties declared a ‘hotspot zone’ – specifically Busia, Vihiga, Kisii, Nyamira, Kakamega, Trans Nzoia, Bungoma, Kericho, Bomet, Siaya, Kisumu, Homa Bay, and Migori.”**
Cover Photo: Charles Juma, BCM/D’s liaison in Kenya (photo by Reginald Davis).
A portion of your State Missions Offering is used to support the partnership with the GCBA in Kenya.