By Stephen Makabila
The new Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) Archbishop Dr Eliud Wabukala officially takes the mantle of office on Sunday.
Soft-spoken but tried and tested in church leadership and with a firm grip on contemporary issues, Wabukala, who was born 58 years ago into an Anglican family in rural Bungoma West, is a cleric nurtured by destiny. Dr Eliud Wabukala.
Dr Eliud Wabukala.
In an interview with the Sunday Magazine the simple and down to earth man said as a child he dreamed of serving in the church but was sidetracked into three other professions until 23 years ago when he got back on track.
"I first went into teaching, then clerical work after which I joined the provincial administration before going back to teaching. At one point, after quitting teaching to pursue theology, the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) forced me back into teaching by posting me to Bungoma and then Busia," recalls Wabukala.
When he takes over the reins of Kenya’s second largest Christian denomination on Sunday, Wabukala will be assuming responsibility not only to lead, but also to see the ACK through a major transformation.
Even before his election as archbishop in April, Wabukala was already a key pillar of the ACK, after overseeing its Constitutional review to create four Archdioceses. The review Commission is popularly referred to as the ‘Wabukala Commission’.
"I will also infuse a new style of evangelising in the church to encourage all Kenyans to have compassion for each other. I am going to preach reconciliation and continue from where others before me had so far reached," explains Wabukala.
Members of his Bungoma Diocese feel he is equal to the new task and will exce expectations.
The administrative secretary of the diocese, George Mechumo, says people initially did not welcome Wabukala’s announcement that he would go for the top seat. Caren Wabukala (back right) and the couple’s six children in this file photo. Three of them are working, two are in university while one passed away earlier this year. Photo: Courtesy
Caren Wabukala (back right) and the couple’s six children in this file photo. Three of them are working, two are in university while one passed away earlier this year. Photo: Courtesy
"People did not want him to contest but when it appeared he was really interested, we gave him all the support he needed," says Mechumo.
His victory brought joy and celebration to his congregation. And on July 19, he is expected to lead a farewell mass for his Bungoma flock at an open-air service to be held at Kanduyi Stadium. Thereafter, the race for his succession in the diocese will kick off.
"Although I will be saying goodbye to them in terms of local church activities, we will remain together because, as the head of the church in Kenya, I will still be their leader," says Wabukala.
He feels close to Western Kenya, having been born there in 1951 in Namwesi village, Bungoma West District. He is the first-born son of Mzee Samson Wamukekhe, 88, and Mama Rhoda, 84.
Wabukala’s parents nurtured him in the Christian way, and he grew up with a strong faith.
"I owe a lot to my parents, because they gave me a strong foundation," says Wabukala.
He continues: "When I started schooling, I used to trek for ten kilometres to Malakisi Primary School . . . of course, the return trip was also ten kilometres. Faith kept me going."
Despite the strong Christian foundation he had, Wabukala did not find his way into Anglican priesthood easily.
"After Malakisi and Butonge primary schools, I joined Kolanya High School for my O-Levels, completing in 1969. Because my family was poor, I opted to teach as an untrained teacher at Butonge Secondary School for some time to educate my siblings — two sisters and five brothers," he says.
Wabukala later joined the civil service as a clerical officer in the Nakuru Provincial Commissioner’s office rising to the level of a district officer two in Narok.
"I did not want to be sitting in the office. I wanted to be out there with the people and that is why I returned to teaching, this time in Kitale in 1972."
After a short stint teaching in Kitale as an untrained teacher, Wabukala joined Kaimosi Teachers College to train as a teacher, completing in 1974 before being posted again to Naifarm Primary School in Kitale.
"I was at Naifarm for some time and later transferred to Bungoma where I went through the ranks to become an Inspector of Schools in charge of Butonge zone in Sirisia Division," he says.
In 1985, Wabukala left the Ministry of Education and went to the St Paul’s Theological College, Limuru, for a degree course in Theology. Wabukala and his wife, Caren, during the interview at their home. Caren has been his greatest source of inspiration. Photo: Benjamin Sakwa/Standard
Wabukala and his wife, Caren, during the interview at their home. Caren has been his greatest source of inspiration. Photo: Benjamin Sakwa/Standard
After completing his theological studies in 1988, he had a problem with the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) that maintained it had to post him, this time his destination being Matulo Secondary School in Webuye and later Nangina Girls’ High School in Busia.
"But the time for finally quitting teaching came in 1990 after I received a scholarship from the Anglican Church of Canada to study at the Wycliffe College, Toronto, which I took up," he says.
Upon returning to the country, Wabukala says, he lectured at the St Paul’s Theological College Limuru, rising to the level of the academic dean.
He left St Paul’s in 1996 to become the first bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Bungoma after he defeated two other contestants for the position.
Apart from serving as the Bishop of Bungoma Diocese, between 2004 to early this year Wabukala also served as the national chairman of the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK).
Prior to that, he had served as the NCCK national vice-chairman between 2000 and 2004.
Within the ACK, Wabukala has been in charge of the church’s Constitutional Review.
He is also the chairman of the ACK Provincial Colleges Council as well as a member of the St Paul’s Theological College governing council.
Outside the church, Wabukala is a member of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Campaign Steering Committee as a Presidential appointee.
Wabukala married Caren in 1976 and they have six children — three boys and three girls. Sadly, one of their sons died early this year.
"Three of my children are in employment while two are still at university, one at Jomo Kenyatta University and the other at the Christian University of Uganda."
He says his wife usually coordinates his ministry activities within the diocese and has been his greatest source of inspiration.