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Targeting Bible Illiteracy in ‘Christian-ish’ Kenya

Written by Chris Page on . Posted in The Gospel Coalition Blog

Article by: Chris Page, Alex Duke

Street children are everywhere, perhaps even in your city. In the United States, street children are called runaways. Where I live, in Kisumu, Kenya, such children are called chokoraa, “one who eats garbage.”

This is our mission field, and for the past 23 years Agape Children’s Ministry has ministered to thousands of Kenyan street children.

But in a ministry that targets more than the physical needs of children, it’s a challenge to find Christian workers who grasp even the basics of their faith.

Christian-ish Kenya

Kenya is a nation of contradictions. Though the country is immensely beautiful, its people suffer horribly from poverty and disease. Demographically, Kenya is 82.5 percent Christian. Everyone I meet in Kisumu—besides Muslims—introduces themselves as “born again.”

Every non-Muslim and non-Hindu school in Kenya is required to teach Christian Religious Education (CRE) all 12 years of primary and secondary school. Yet the children of Kenya struggle to answer the most basic questions about Christianity. Sadly, the adults I meet are no different. Kenya is not a Christian nation; it is merely Christian-ish.

Agape employs 80 Kenyans who work as children’s pastors, house parents, cooks, social workers, guards, counselors, and teachers. These men and women minister daily to Agape’s children, and God works incredible things in young lives through their efforts.

One month after arriving in 2011, I was asked to teach a class on baptism for Agape staff. During a Q&A, class members openly asked about practices within their churches. “Is it okay to be baptized by having a flag waved over your head?” “My pastor says you can’t be baptized in a lake, since that’s where Jesus sent the demon-possessed pigs.” “Shouldn’t you be baptized in a river, so your sins can be washed away?”

I was shocked by the errors taught in these staff member’s churches.

Growing Staff

That class on baptism grew into others on prayer, fellowship, accountability, and how to study Scripture. I quickly learned the preaching in most Kenyan churches lacks biblical substance. They proclaim instead a syncretistic mix of Christianity, combining traditional African beliefs with the prosperity gospel. This practice has created a church that knows little biblical truth.

Many staff members had no Bible, much less a study Bible—not surprising since a study Bible costs $30 to $40—one-third of a Kenyan’s monthly pay. To remedy this problem, Agape’s missionaries bought study Bibles for 40 staff members. Our staff doubled within four years, and we again needed Bibles.

In August 2015, we applied for copies of the ESV Global Study Bible through TGC International Outreach’s Theological Famine Relief. We were accepted, and the Bibles shipped to Nairobi.

Most staff members speak at least three languages: English, Kiswahili, and their mother tongue (Luo, Luhya, Kisii, Masai, and so on). However, I was surprised to learn English is the easiest language to read for most Kenyan workers. They were pleased to find the ESV simpler than the King James Version they were accustomed to reading.

“The Global Study Bible helps young, growing Christians to understand [God’s Word] better than other Bibles,” said Julius Sere, Agape’s security manager. “Its language is understandable [and] very simple. This study Bible has been a blessing to me and my family.”

More Confident Workers

Bible commentaries are too expensive for most Kenyans, so having easy access to cross-references and verse explanations has been of great value. But these Bibles have offered Agape’s workers more than personal biblical knowledge—they’ve enabled staff to minister more effectively to the children God has placed under their care.

“The introductions for each book make it easier to prepare Bible lessons and teachings, since we now know what was going on when the book was written and who wrote it,” said Winfred Otieno, manager of Agape’s girls center.

Since receiving the Bibles, many Agape staff have grown more confident in their faith. And this confidence has fueled evangelism.

“My joy is to present the gospel so simply that the simple can see the saving power of Jesus Christ,” said Dixon Mahero, a children’s pastor. “The study Bible has helped me grow in the grace of God and in my love for the lost; this makes me share the gospel with a God-given zeal.”

Agape has experienced immediate and profound results through TGC’s global Theological Famine Relief and the generosity of its supporters. God’s work here has only begun. We look forward to all he accomplishes through the study and proclamation of his Word. 

Editors’ note: The Gospel Coalition has copies of the ESV Global Study Bible in English, available for free giveaway, through your missions efforts. Inventory is available in the United States and United Kingdom for you to take overseas and put in the hands of church leaders. Join us in the cause of Theological Famine Relief.

Chris Page is the Kenya field director for Agape Children's Ministry. Chris and his wife, Tammy, have five children. They have lived and worked as missionaries in Kisumu, Kenya, for five years. Previously, he served as an officer in the U.S. Army and worked in the information management industry.

Alex Duke is an assistant editor for The Gospel Coalition, where he oversees the Arts and Culture channel and writes for TGC International Outreach. He also works as the editorial manager for 9Marks. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with his wife, Melanie. You can follow him on Twitter.

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