A church credited with fighting illiteracy and poverty in marginalised communities celebrated its 50 years of evangelism and community service in Kenya, with calls on citizens to remain united in the run-up to the elections.
Thousands of members of Maranatha Faith Assemblies (MFA), which is an affiliate of the Trosgnistan Mission in Sweden, gathered in Migori for weeklong prayers which climaxed on February 26 to mark the golden Jubilee.
MFA International Overseer Curt Johansson and his Kenyan counterpart John Abisai led the celebrations, also attended by faithful from across East Africa.
Apostle Johansson noted he was elated to preside over the event, saying: "The 50 years we are celebrating today is a sign of glory. As Exodus 23 puts it, the focus should be on giving God the glory."
Reverend Abisai extolled members of the church for their decades of commitment to evangelism. "We have always made a difference and will continue doing so in the service of God," he said.
With the help of donors, MFA has spent billions of shillings in putting up schools and fighting for girl child rights among marginalised the Kuria and Maasai communities.
MFA has been fighting negative cultures and rehabilitating hundreds of girls pulled out of classrooms to be circumcised and married off. The church has adapted religious and public-health programmes in fighting FGM, an initiative that has improved girl child enrollment rates by more than 30 per cent in Kuria alone in the last decade.
The church and its partners have spent more than Sh50 billion in education and girl-child support programmes. Through its stations in Migori and Komotobo in Kuria, the church trains local leaders to fight negative cultures.
Kuria is one of the poorest districts, with an estimated 9,000 HIV and Aids orphans and other vulnerable children. HIV prevalence is about 10 per cent, with poverty levels soaring at 80 per cent.
Maranatha set up a women capacity building project to promote equity in education and social development. The church has trained 800 women in micro-enterprising, agri-business and environmental conservation through a SIDA-funded tree planting project.
Curt says the assembly has spent an estimated Sh5 billion to sponsor 80 pre-school units, 120 primary schools, five secondary schools, a pre-school teachers training centre and one orphanage.
The church runs a school infrastructural support scheme for local public schools. More than 200 schools including Makasembo, Pala Boya and Manyonge in Migori and Homa-Bay were roofed.
At Komotobo, Maranatha has built a school for the physically handicapped. It recently added to it an Early Child teachers' training college in Kehancha at a cost of more than Sh10 million.
The mission has fought social vices through its 1,500 churches and that figures on the practice are going down. Maranatha's orphanages in Kuria and Rapedhi accommodate 2,000 children. Each is provided with school fees, health care, food and psychosocial support. The church runs an orphanage in Kawangware, Nairobi, to boost education and child survival in the slum.
Born in Vetlanda, Sweden in 1943, Curt came to Kenya at 26 and brought his family to begin missionary work in Kuria. Earlier, he worked for a paper mill in Sweden.
"When I was a young man, I knew that God wanted me to contribute to the welfare of humanity," says Curt, who admits without the support of his family, he would not have made it this far. He is married to Ingegerd Johansson and have two daughters, Helene and Marie and son Michael.
The church is confident of a bright future. The local team steering the church led by Abisa include John Konchella (Vice General Overseer), General Secretary Fanuel Nyambuoro, Meresa Otieno (Deputy General Secretary) Treasurer Daniel Agure and his deputy John Marwa.