Isn’t it amazing, you can go from Bahrain to Kenya and within twenty four hours meet close family of two people who have been part of the Cathedral family here in Bahrain: Risper’s sister Emma and her husband and daughter who drove all the way from Nakuru (two hours away) on the off chance of meeting us! We were so glad we were in! …. And Peter’s uncle, Dr Solomon Muturi a retired Archdeacon, who had served in Thika Diocese, and his wife, with whom we had tea and a long chat in St Julian’s Conference and Retreat Centre. St Julian’s. I had my first night in St Julian’s in August 1974 at the start of a year working as a teacher in the Youth Service Abroad scheme run by the Church Mission Society. It was good to spend two nights there to catch up with ourselves. We were picked up by Louis Kanonyo, whom we’d met at Synod in February and who for our days in Thika was our host, chauffeur, guide and photographer.
Friday 1st May 2015
En route to lunch with Retired Bishop of Thika Gideon Githiga, we stopped to meet with Archdeacon Joyce, whom we’d met in Cyprus for the triangular diocesan exchange, and her church committee for ‘tea’ (which proved to be a large lunch). They showed us their project to replace their small corrugated iron church with a much larger church that will respond to growth in their church and enable them to reach out to others. Great faith and a sense of expectation of what might be achieved and wonderful generosity in response to the challenges was something we would see again and again.
When we eventually met with Bishop Gideon in the garden at a hotel near a waterfall outside Thika, it was for a drink and snack. It was good to meet up with Bishop Gideon again. He had been a teacher in the same area as I was teaching forty years previously and looking at a photo of a Convention we had both been at in Thika, in an album I’d brought, he spotted both himself and his future wife Mary. Together we went on to see the huge acreage of Del Monte pineapple fields near Thika and a concrete pole factory before going to the Thika Sports Club, our home for the next few days.
Saturday 2nd May 2015
The following day after a quiet morning we went to Bishop Gideon and Mary’s home for tea and he kindly gave us a copy of his memoirs Overcoming Hurdles which highlights the many struggles that he faced in his earlier years which prepared him for his role as Bishop of Thika, when he was elected unanimously and unopposed – apparently a very unusual event in elections of bishops in Kenya which usually becomes very political
Sunday 3rd May 2015
After a quiet Saturday, Sunday was non-stop: preaching at the English-speaking service at Thembe Parish Church and staying on to present prizes at the Kikuyu service, a visit to the orphanage to hand over two of the Remembering Tree blankets where we met the children, the staff and some of the Management Committee and had lunch. We also saw an impressive group of young volunteers giving time to play with the children in the home using songs and drama, one of whom who had been an orphan in a similar home and was able to respond with particular empathy. We then returned to the Sports Club for tea with the Bishop of Thika, Bishop Julius, and later in the evening we were collected by his brother, Joseph who is Dean at the Cathedral and with whom we had spent a lot of time during the triangular exchange as we were staying together in The Deanery in Cyprus. It was lovely to meet his wife Christine for the first time.
Monday 4th May 2015
On Monday we returned to Koimbi after 40 years – I taught there for one year having completed a Geography degree. One of my former students, Joseph Mwangi, was working on the school compound and he remembered that I had taught him geography. He also remembered Peter Knight, who became a doctor after studying Medicine, who is now serving as a chaplain in St George’s Tunis. I also discovered my name (Mr C Bati!) on the Principal’s board: as a twenty-two year old I’d acted as Head for the final month of term! But it was great to see how the school had developed and is now fully funded by the government.
Having visited the school we went to see my first home in Koimbi, now part of a Children’s Home for orphans and met the housemother who was now living there. She said the roof was leaking- even onto her bed, and having established the cost of repair, I was able to give the Matron the money there and then to fix it. We also visited the then wife of the Chair of Governors (1974-75) in her home, sadly missing Francis Muchiri, who has since been ordained, and who was visiting someone in Nairobi. We drove up to church at Weithage, a steep climb up a hill which I used to walk on a Sunday morning; there is no need for that any more as a church has been built in the village near the school. We returned to Thika with Louis via his very impressive farm, including very productive pigs at various stages of development whose excrement helps run a small biogas plant sufficient to provide electricity for the workers’ homes. We had lunch at Louis and Mary’s home with various clergy and friends, whom we’d met at Thembe Church, and Esther Wanyoike, the Bishop’s wife, kindly dropped us back to where we were staying, where we had yet another ‘snack’ with Bishop Julius. Dean Joseph picked us up the following morning enabling us to catch the Kenya Airways Flight to Entebbe. On the way we talked about the Christian response to Islamic extremism in Kenya – it had been something I had touched on in my sermon- and the need to build bridges of trust between local Christian and Muslim communities. I felt that this might be an area that our Diocese could helpfully contribute to Thika in the coming years.
On to Uganda: Tuesday 5th /Wednesday 6th May 2015
We’d booked ourselves into a hotel in Kampala to which Dennis, one of the Kinkiizi Diocesan drivers took us, and from where he picked us up from early the next morning for the 9-10 hour drive to Kanungo. It took a while to get out of Kampala, but once out of the city the road was excellent as far as Mbarara, due largely to European Union and Chinese money. After Mbarara there were some lengthy patches of tarmac road, but the last two hours was on mud roads which are clearly treacherous in heavy rain as we discovered later. En route we crossed the Equator from north to south and stopped for an excellent buffet lunch outside Mbarara.
We arrived and stayed in Holy Cross Guest House, funded by Holy Cross Church Bearsted in the Canterbury Diocese, not far from our previous parish in Kent, and I have written to them to say what a positive experience it was.
We were here to celebrate the Centenary of the Gospel being preached and taking root in this part of south-west Uganda having received an invitation from the Bishop of Kinkiizi, Bishop Dan Zoreka last year. We were very much representing St Christopher’s Cathedral, who will be supporting Alex, an ordinand, through his theological studies at Bishop Barham College in the coming three years, and through our support of the Mary Wood Trust who, under Clare Ramsden’s leadership, has supported all sorts of projects in the Diocese. There were other friends and Mission Partners from the UK – a small team from Christchurch Deanery, Winchester, a couple representing SOMA (Sharing of Ministries Abroad) and another couple who had been long term friends of the Diocese.
On Thursday 7th May there was a Diocesan Music Gala, a competition between different choirs from the Archdeaconries. Each choir performed a set piece, a folk song, an original composition based on the history of the Diocese and a poem and a dance. The traditional dances of the local area are extremely energetic and have been incorporated into church worship. There was an almighty storm in the midst of the afternoon, but the competition went on after a short break regardless. The various choirs had clearly worked extremely hard and I didn’t envy the two professional judges who had to mark through the long day.
On Friday 8th May
Two events made this day special: meeting Alex, Pheona and their two children – they arrived all together on one motorbike. Alex has been accepted for Ordination training and from the Outward Giving of the Cathedral and Awali we will be supporting him through the next three years of his theological training at Bishop Barham College. I gave him a personal gift of Andrew Knowles’ The Bible Guide, a book that I have found very helpful in giving an overview and getting to the heart of the message of Scripture. We then were given a lift out to Nyakabungo Secondary School for Girls where we were warmly welcomed by the Headteacher, Asiimwe Allen. This is the school that many of us will have supported with Clare Ramsden’s encouragement and it was a joy to see it for ourselves to meet the staff and feel the pride for the school. Pheona, Alex’ wife, is a graduate of the school so you can begin to see the potential for the transformation of society through such projects. We planted a couple of fruit – mango and orange – trees to mark the Centenary and gave Asiimwe several boxes of good quality pencils with erasers for the students. Our suitcases will thankfully be lighter on our return!
Saturday 9th May
The morning was spent in praise and worship and with two addresses. I quietly read Bishop Gideon’s memoirs as I was not near an interpreter and in the afternoon we walked up to another a school football pitch for the arrival of the Archbishop of Uganda from Kampala, his wife and ‘team’ and the finals of a netball and football match between Archdeaconry teams. There was a wonderfully festive spirit: huge crowds and there were some lighter competitions – a Mothers Union race and aerobics too, but the celebrations of the winning football side and supporters beat anything that Premier league winners could muster.
Sunday 10th May 2015
This was the climax of the weeklong celebration with The Archbishop preaching and the arrival of President Museveni expected later in the day.
We walked up to the Cathedral, where we robed and where everyone (3-4,000 people?) had to go in order to enter the ground after a security check. Cameras had to be abandoned, so the photo I have of the Mission Partners with President Museveni and Bishop Dan and Maama Florah is taken from an internet search. The Service began at 10.30am and included two sermons of about an hour each from the Archbishop and another guest Ugandan bishop, replays of the competition choir winners, praise and dance, and a very good address from Bishop Dan highlighting the commitment of the Church to partnership in development (health and schools particularly) and the high hopes for government support particularly in providing basic infrastructure – especially a tarmac road into the region. At the end there was an address from a former Prime Minister, a local man and an address by the President. For the Ugandans this was full of high political drama as the former Prime Minister had been sacked by the President and is a possible rival contender for the Presidency in 2016. It was the first time that they were meeting since his departure from office. It has to be said that the politicians somewhat hijacked the event at the end, but perhaps that is the risk and the cost of engaging in the transformation of society: the risk and cost of Incarnation. It ended with prayers and a blessing at about 4pm!
In the evening the Mission Partners were invited for a meal at the Bishop’s residence and I gave Bishop Dan and Maama Florah a Three Fish plate from Bahrain as an expression of our thanks for his gracious hosting of us in the midst of what was a very big weeklong festival.
Monday/Tuesday 11-12th May
We were collected by Ezra, another of the Diocesan drivers, and returned to Entebbe with the Winchester three… The hazards of driving in this country on poor roads were highlighted as we saw a car’s axle break directly in front of us. The highlight of our journey was when Ezra spotted zebras on a hill adjacent to the main road and offered to drive up for a closer look. As we’d not had the opportunity to visit a game reserve this was a real treat to see animals in their natural surrounds. We reached Entebbe and our final night’s resting-place The Gorilla African Guest House at about 7pm. The Winchester Three had arranged to meet a stenographer, whom Christchurch Deanery have been supporting through her studies in Kampala, before she begins working in the health centre near the Cathedral in Kanungu. We shared a meal together before they headed to the airport and we had our first day-off in two weeks the following day walking down to edge of Lake Victoria, dipping our feet into the water before returning to pack our bags for the journey home via Doha.