Written by George Hartz
The City of Scottsdale has had a sister city relationship since December 2013 with Uasin Gishu County in western Kenya. My wife Donna and I have had the privilege and joy of visiting Kenya eight times in support of this relationship. During those visits, we have also gotten to know, and become very friendly with, the Anglican Church of Kenya’s (ACK) bishops of the local Eldoret and Kapsobet dioceses. We have traveled throughout those dioceses, getting to know their congregations, their challenges, the churches, schools, lay leaders, and priests. We were therefore very excited to read Bishop Reddall’s E-pistle on September 8th describing her special relationship from the Lambeth Conference with Bishop John Orina of ACK’s bishopric in Kisii, Kenya. I immediately contacted Bishop Reddall, told her about our activities in Kenya and our friendship with the ACK Bishops of Eldoret and Kapsobet, offered to support her efforts in any way we could, and mentioned the possibility of visiting Kisii during a visit to Kenya we planned for late November. Bishop Reddall was happy to get us involved and introduced us, via WhatsApp, to Bishop John.
It turned out that Kisii is also in western Kenya, about 120 miles south of Uasin Gishu – a 3 ½ hour drive, which is a bit of a challenge in Kenya. However, it turned out that Bishop John was very close to Kapsabet diocese Bishop Paul Korir, who acted as a bit of a mentor to him, (Bishop John was elevated to Suffragan Bishop in 2016 at the age of 35 – the youngest ACK bishop ever.) Bishop Korir offered his car and driver to take us to and from Kisii.
It was an interesting drive through the beautiful countryside and large farms. Road travel can be slow in Kenya and became slower when we had a flat tire. But we arrived in Kisii at 1:00, heading straight to St. Phillips Pro-Cathedral for our meetings with Bishop John and his team (including his family). Since Bishop John took charge in 2016 the bishopric had grown from three parishes to twelve (with an average of three churches per parish), and from 1,200 to 8,000 members. This massive growth has resulted in a number of challenges, particularly in clerical and lay leadership, the planting of new churches, and fundraising. The clergy has increased from five to fifteen, and trained lay leaders from sixteen to sixty. Money is a big problem. Part of the solution has been converting or acquiring properties for rental income. In recognition of his achievements in Kisii County, ACK will upgrade the bishopric to a full diocese in early 2023, with Suffragan Bishop John installed as diocesan Bishop.
Kisii County has an estimated population of 1,300,000 with Kisii as its largest city. By far the biggest denomination in Kisii County is the Seventh Day Adventists, with the Roman Catholics a distant second. One of Bishop John’s major priorities for growth and mission in the new diocese is a focus on social responsibility, demonstrating the relevance of the church to the local community. Female genital mutilation is pervasive in the county and a major issue. Other social priorities include orphaned children and environmental issues – water quality, air pollution, climate change affecting rain patterns, etc.
We had an informative meeting in the Bishop’s office in the basement of St. Phillips. We had a quick tour of the church and the adjacent properties – including a former ACK school now used for rental income, a series of small metal sheds rented to merchants along the adjoining street, and a large five-story building under construction and eventually expected to generate significant rental income for the diocese. Bishop John then brought us to a neighboring parish church in a somewhat dilapidated metal structure with plans for eventual refurbishment, and then to a vacant property with plans for a future church and perhaps an orphanage and/or health clinic.
Bishop John is a dynamic and enthusiastic leader and has assembled an impressive team. Success in Kenya requires a real genius at getting the most out of extremely limited resources and that will remain a significant challenge. Visiting Kenya, and certainly places like Kisii is a tremendous learning experience and a great opportunity for growth in cross-cultural understanding and in appreciation of our similarities and differences. We all have a lot to share with each other and a lot to gain from the experience.