Kenyan missionary shares his view on establishing churches in Muslim area

John Kiruga visited Warren last week and shared a brief retrospective on his mission work in his home country of Kenya and his hopes and prayers for the future of church planting with the Evangelical Covenant Church of Kenya (ECCK). He spoke Thursday at Pleasant Community Church in Pleasant Township.

Kiruga and his wife, Freshia, and their sons, Ian and Lenny, have spent time in the coastal areas of Kenya, sharing Christianity with the primarily Muslim citizens there.

Their future holds more of the same.

“For the next five to six years our prayers are to plant (establish) two churches near Nairobi,” Kiruga shared.

Kiruga shared his work in words and pictures, trying to help the people of Warren County get a feel for this area of Kenya, Africa, so many miles away.

More than 10 years ago, Kiruga said God called him to church planting. In 2002, he was commissioned in Mombasa to undertake a church planting project in Lamu Island, and in two years the church was stable with leaders who continue with the work Christ started. In 2003, they started the first church in Manda Island. Since then other churches have come up and Manda ECCK has grown strong. In 2004, Kiruga and his family shifted to the mainland, and in May of that year planted a church in Mpeketoni, a resort town on the coast of Kenya. The work took them five years.

Only one month ago, in June, a group of Somali extremists attacked Mpeketoni for hours, killing non-Muslims and “those who didn’t know the Somali language,” according to an Associated Press report. “At least 48 people were killed and two hotels were set on fire. Police said Somalia’s al-Shabaab Islamist group was most likely to blame for the assault.”

“They came to our house at around 8 p.m. and asked us in Swahili whether we were Muslims. My husband told them we were Christians and they shot him in the head and chest,” said Anne Gathigi of Mpetetoni, according to the AP report.

Another resident, John Waweru, said his two brothers were killed because the attackers did not like that the brothers did not speak Somali.

“My brothers who stay next door to me were killed as I watched. I was peeping from my window and I clearly heard them speak to my brothers in Somali and it seems since my brothers did not meet their expectations, they sprayed them with bullets and moved on,” said Waweru.

Kiruga has not experienced such savage violence personally, but in 2002 – in the beginning of Kiruga’s personal efforts to share Christianity – he and other ECCK workers were attacked by several boys throwing rocks.

“I responded with love, rather than hate,” Kiruga explained, because “I realized I was now having an impact. I decided to do much more.”

Kiruga, who generally had worked without the help of his family, decided in 2011 that he could no longer be without them.

“I cannot work without my wife around,” he said. “I cannot work without my boys around.”

His wife, Freshia, works in children’s ministries and is involved in prayer networking in the ECCK mission.

Mostly “she helps me understand,” Kiruga said, smiling

Kiruga will return to Kenya to continue sharing Christianity and planting churches for new believers. The ECCK also provides a medical team that goes into the villages surrounding each church-planting project for those who cannot afford to go to the hospital if they become ill.

“We are touching a lot of people,” Kiruga said.

Aaron Reinard, youth and worship pastor at Pleasant Community Church, was happy to host Kiruga last week.

He explained Kiruga’s visit was not just about supporting the mission financially or about the partnership they have with ECCK, but that we, the church, the United States, “we are locked into our own little small world,” Reinard said. Kiruga’s visit helps us remember “we are part of something bigger. We are brothers and sisters in ministry. They need our help, to converse with, to share with. It is important to be partners like this.”

Kiruga will continue his mission with all his energy because he believes in the cause.

“I believe in church planting,” he said. “A church that is not coming out to plant another church is dying.”