As Most Reverend Jackson Nasore Ole Sapit is consecrated at a solemn ceremony today, he will no doubt have some thoughts about his humble beginnings, and his chequered journey to head the Anglican Church of Kenya.
The bible verse Psalm 118:22 seems to perfectly describe the new Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya.
The third born son to the seventh wife in a polygamous family, Sapit was sent away from home after the death of his father by his elder brothers when he was only five.
Born at Olpusimoru in Olokurto, Narok County in 1964, Rev Sapit never dreamed of heading one of Kenya’s largest religious congregations; his family was after all banished, doomed with no possible future worth speaking about.
“In 1970 my stepbrothers, who were way older than me, decided to send us away together with our father’s other younger wives because they wanted to subdivide family land among themselves,” recounts the primate.
Rev Sapit’s mother was forced to return to her maternal home with him and his two sisters. There, he enrolled in nursery school in 1972 and proceeded for primary education.
He would wake up and leave home at 5.30am every morning so that he could reach school, 12km away, early enough.
He would never carry school books back home because the sooty manyattas he called home would leak during the rainy season and damage his books.
As fate would have it, the humanitarian organisation World Vision came looking for destitute children in Rotian Primary School where he was a pupil.
He says, “I did not come out because I had already identified one of my uncles as my father, but my fellow pupils leaked information that I was fatherless and so I was enrolled into the programme.”
The programme would take care of his needs in and out of school until his school days at Narok High School between 1981 and 1984, when fate would again deal him a bad card.
His maternal uncles divided all the family land among themselves but left him nothing — he was alone as his sisters had been married off.
“Seeing me in the dire situation, my younger sister’s husband took me in and convinced his fellow elders that I should join a group ranch in Olenden. This is where I was given two parcels of land in 1989 and built my home,” he narrates.
The prelate says that in Maasai culture, ownership of land and livestock are the main ways to earn respect.
Having scored 29 out of the possible 36 points in CPE, young Sapit would go on to score Division Three in his Form Four exams.
For one year after secondary school, Rev Sapit became a cattle trader, driving cattle in long treks from Narok to Ngong and Dagoretti almost 100 kilometres away. His journey to the religious ministry would start during this period.
He recalls, “In 1985, a European nurse established an Anglican Church in his locality and was struggling to get a translator to help her communicate with the locals.”
She settled on the only person who could speak English in the area – Sapit. Thus he became a translator in 1986, the same year he accepted Jesus as his saviour even as he continued with the cattle trade.
He became an evangelist and was tasked with establishing a church and a nursery school. These efforts did not go in vain as the place currently has a secondary school and a hospital. Rev Sapit says that some of the students from the school are now teachers, nurses, and one of them is the head teacher of the school.
“During this time, I began to teach morans how to read and write in the evenings after they had brought livestock to the manyattas,” he says.
In 1987, Sapit married Esther with whom they have seven children – one of them adopted.
After two years in the area, Sapit was urged by Rev Samuel Kamau, a priest in his area, to go for theological training at Berea Theological College where he earned a diploma in theology. He says Rev Karanja was determined to leave a Maasai as head of the local church when he moved.
Rev Sapit recalls, “I gave excuses but he insisted and I joined the college in 1989, graduating in 1991. I was made a deacon and was posted to Belgut Parish in Kericho.” After three years, Rev Sapit joined St Paul’s Theological College (now St Paul’s University) and graduated with a degree in divinity with a second class upper division. Soon after, he was posted to Transmara Parish as the vicar.
While serving at the parish, the archbishop was tasked with managing a development programme where his leadership ability was noticed and he was offered a scholarship to study for a master’s degree in the UK. He completed the master’s programme specialising in social development and sustainable livelihoods in just nine months.
Reporting back to Nakuru Diocese in 2004, Sapit was put in charge of missions for a year. The Nakuru bishop would put him in charge of Kericho Bishopric which included Narok, Bomet and Kericho.
“The area became a full diocese in 2008 and I was endorsed as the first bishop with a lean congregation as the diocese had lost many members due to post election violence,” he says.
Operating from a classroom in the Holy Trinity as the diocesan office, Sapit initiated numerous development projects — from agricultural development, health, peace building, as well as spiritual nourishment of the flock.
Rev Sapit recollects one time when he mediated a conflict that resulted in the opposing groups working together on a development project.
The two groups eventually joined the church but still could not talk to each other. With time, however, they would begin to work together, especially because they were part of the same bible study group.
From eight parishes Rev Sapit oversaw Kericho Diocese grow to 22 parishes with 24 priests, 18 of them holders of undergraduate degrees.
Turning to the topic of the Anglican Church of Kenya’s elections for archbishop in May that he won, Sapit says it never crossed his mind that he would contest to head the church. When Sapit was nominated to contest the election, he asked another bishop to run in his place.
In a twist of fate, the other bishop would have turned 60 years by the time the vote was taken so he opted to throw his weight behind Sapit.
“I reluctantly handed in my nomination papers and never campaigned despite having received calls from different dioceses asking me to go spell out my agenda; I knew if God wanted it, I would make it. I was elected,” he says.
In his new position as Archbishop, Sapit will no doubt have a say on important national issues but he insists he will always try to work behind the scenes, only voicing his concerns publicly when it is necessary.
He says, “Two problems that has ensured this country does not grow is tribalism and corruption and if we can emulate the way the Anglican Archbishop election was conducted, then tribe will not play a major role in the election of leaders.”
He advises politicians from opposing camps to go into a retreat and discuss the problems facing the country, and agree on the kind of nation they want to leave behind when they exit the stage.
“I will not shy away from speaking for the voiceless, injustices and the environment,” he says.
Sapit says some contemporary issues, like drug abuse, as well as gayism and lesbianism, are affecting the Kenyan society today and have to be tackled.
“The church cannot sit back and pretend that these things are not happening. It (the church) must train pastors to permeate social media and spread the Word because this is where the youth ‘live’.
“If we think the pulpit is the way to tackle society’s problems, then we are wrong. The church must turn to social media as tool to reach young people."
On the issue of consecrating women as bishops, Sapit says the Anglican constitution does not bar them but the debate will still continue so that it is stated expressly in the church’s constitution.